Ratatouille is by far the greatest film about a French rat who also happens to be a world-class chef that I’ve ever seen. Of course, I suppose that isn’t saying much, since Bio-Dome (1996) is the best movie I’ve ever seen about being trapped inside an enclosed, artificial ecosystem starring Stephen Baldwin. Ratatouille is the latest from Disney animation juggernaut Pixar Animation and director Brad Bird (The Incredibles), and while for many this is enough on spec to guarantee its place in the pantheon of great animated films, it is simply too deficient in the story department to be anything more than a big fat OK. This is only made more obvious by the fact that the aspects the movie does nail down are done extremely well.
First off, the movie is visually amazing (and features what is easily the best looking CGI bread ever committed to film), and the voice talent, led by Peter O’Toole, is top-notch. But there is simply too much lacking as far as character development and story are concerned. And while I can appreciate Bird’s attempt to do something different, at the end of the day, the movie simply remains a picture about a rat who likes to cook. And at 110 minutes—with a pointless, lackluster animated short tacked onto the beginning—Ratatouille, much like the previous Pixar/Bird undertaking The Incredibles (2004), it is just too long for what it has to offer.
The film follows Remy (Patton Oswalt, TV’s The King of Queens), a French rat (inexplicably sans French accent) with a natural talent for cooking, who lives in the French countryside until his colony is run off from the house they live in. Remy ultimately finds himself in Paris, outside the restaurant of the now deceased and once famous French chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett, Music and Lyrics), author of the popular book Anyone Can Cook (and all this time I thought just Yan could cook). Gusteau also happens to be Remy’s idol—and the focus of Remy’s occasional hallucinations. It just so happens that after Gusteau’s death and a bad review by cantankerous food critic Anton Ego (O’Toole), Gusteau’s once five-star restaurant has fallen into the realm of tourist curiosity and has been reduced to a microwave-dinner enterprise. Remy decides to rectify the situation by making his way into the kitchen in order to cook, but being a rodent, is quickly caught. However, the person chosen to dispose of Remy is a recently hired garbage boy with an unexplained ambition to become a cook. The boy, Linguini (Lou Romano, Cars), also happens to be the only person to have witnessed Remy’s prowess at the culinary arts, so the two decide to team up.
While the setup is there, Bird too often seems to think the striking visuals are enough to carry the film. The characters always seem to react in ways that are strictly functional to the plot (and the audience’s expectations), like when Linguini, after maybe three or four scenes of interaction with female cook Collette (Janeane Garofalo), suddenly declares his love for her out of the blue. And then there’s the fact that Linguini’s aspiration of becoming a cook comes completely out of left field. These things don’t arise from the story, only from the needs of the next plot device.
The movie should be commended for not falling into the trap of reel after reel of cheeky pop-culture references, but unfortunately the rest of the humor is uneven and most of the film’s laughs are of the unintentional kind. While kids, families and the Pixar faithful will find Ratatouille just what they wanted—and there are definitely worse animated films out right now—everyone else might just find the film a bit wanting. Rated G.
— reviewed by Justin Souther