Ratatouille

I’ll admit it: I’m not exactly the target demographic for computer-generated animated films. As a mid-20s American male, the movies that are marketed to me contain partial to full nudity, violence, swearing, and a general sense of adolescent bad-assery that, studio executives have determined are what I must like.

I pride myself however on my ability to buck these assumptions every so often. And after seeing Ratatouille, I would definitely consider them pretty well bucked. Ratatouille is a great animated film. It may be the best one I have ever seen.

Computer Generated Animation

I haven’t even seen many of more recent CGI films. If they contained talking penguins of any kind, I passed. The last CGI film I actually saw was Cars, which, like its peers, is visually stunning. Despite the impressive animation, I walked away from the theatre unsure whether my money was well spent. I chuckled at a few jokes but the message of the film, that interstate highways are somehow bad, didn’t resonate with me. Before Cars, there was The Incredibles, which was smartly written and well-received. And yet, it was a watered down, kid-friendly version of Alan Moore’s graphic novel magnum opus, The Watchmen.

The Next Level in Animation

Ratatouille, however, took me by surprise. Gone were the throwaway pop culture references. Big name “stunt casting” was virtually nowhere to be found. And finally, finally, I wasn’t bludgeoned with the self-serving sequences put together by animators who scream “Look! Look at what I have created, in all its digital glory!”

This isn’t to say that the animation wasn’t incredible. But the way Pixar has never weaved their animation into the story of a film with this much skill. Instead of trying to overwhelm the senses, the effects are done so subtly that you practically forget that what you’re watching animation. In one scene. a main character, a young rat with a penchant for the culinary arts, is floating through a sewer on a book. He passes beneath a storm drain which rains water down on him, and his hair becomes matted to his body, as it would in reality. This small detail unique detail is so well done, it defies notice.

Characters

Remy, the young rat, has a problem. He is torn between his rodent heritage and his attraction to fine foods. His powerful senses of smell and taste make him a gifted chef, but he lacks the means to carry out his dream. Enter Linguini, a young man with few prospects. He can’t  hold a job and his mother has just died. As her dying wish, she requested that he be given a position at Gusteau’s, once one of the finest restaurants in Paris. Since his mother was a personal friend of Gusteau, who is also recently deceased, Skinner, now the new head chef of the restaurant, begrudgingly gives him the glamorous position of garbage boy.

Fate brings Remy and Linguini together. Linguini learns the ability to act as Remy’s proxy, realizing the rat’s culinary potential in one of the funniest scenes in the film. The two form a close bond and a mutually beneficial relationship. Remy is finally satisfying his desire to experiment with ingredients and create new recipes, and Linguini quickly finds himself elevated from garbage boy to famous chef.

Plot

Soon Remy comes to feel that he must give up his dream and face the inescapable facts of his existence. His family, content to scrounge for garbage to eat, represents everything he wants to move beyond. Despite that, he is devoted to them and is compelled to give up his fantasy to fulfill his commitment to them.

As gifted as Remy is in the kitchen, Linguini obviously cannot give credit to his puppet master. He has also caught the eye of Collette, a female chef, and Remy begins to feel increasingly unappreciated. But when Anton Ego, the most brutal, scathing food critic in Paris, decides to dine at Gasteau’s to provide Paris with some “perspective,” Remy must find a way to accept both halves of himself–chef and rat. The result is a satisfying conclusion that eschews the common Disney convention the happy ending.

Performances

The voiceover performances were exceptional, and surprisingly populated by actors I was already familiar with. The most pleasant surprises were the main characters, which aren’t voiced by big name stars. Patton Oswalt (Remy), is best known for his role in The King of Queens. His portrayal of Remy is sincere and sympathetic. Lou Romano (Linguini) puts on a highly entertaining performance and delivers some of the funniest lines in the movie.

Ratatouille represents the next level in computer animation. With this film, the genre has finally grown out of the topical humor, big name stars, and over-the-top visuals. Instead, Pixar focused simply on making a good movie and let the rest of the pieces fall into place themselves. If Ratatouille is any example, it is fair to say that Pixar will continue to pioneer in a genre which it largely created.

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