Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ratatouille: c'est si bon

Pixar's latest gem, Ratatouille, does not match the brilliance of Finding Nemo, which remains the crown jewel, but it has all the ingredients of a great animated film: stunning graphics as only Pixar can create (the Eiffel Tower never looked so good), terrific voice talents (Peter O'Toole's sonorous baritone was perfect for unforgiving food critic Anton Ego), and cute furry creatures that talk (and in this case, cook). The story itself is a delicious mixed stew of classic themes: it's a buddy movie (although the buddies in this case are a kitchen garbage boy and a rat with remarkable culinary skills), with a dash of romance (it IS set in Paris, after all), plus a sprinkling of good old-fashioned family (or I should say "colony") values. And it finishes with the timeless but not trite message espoused by jolly, roly-poly chef Auguste Gusteau's motto, "Anyone can cook!" (or, as interpreted later in the movie: "Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.").

The only thing I thought was a little bland was the script, which didn't have as many zingers as Nemo, or even Monsters Inc.
With a whole menu of French and food jokes to choose from, the writers only threw out a few crumbs ("I hate to be rude, but we're French"), and relied more on physical/visual gags.

I never thought I'd ever find a rat adorable, but Remy (a.k.a. Little Chef) won me over, washing his tiny paws before throwing spices into the soup pot, making breakfast for himself and his pal Linguini (one tiny rat-sized omelette, and a regular human-sized one), and expertly plating the ultimate
piece de resistance-- what else, ratatouille. Of the human characters, however, my favorite was Anton Ego, a cross between Mr. Burns from the Simpsons and Lurch from the Addams Family. Without giving anything away, I can say that Ego's best moments come toward the end of the movie, and he also delivers my favorite line:
"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."
Ratatouille makes this critic's work easy, as it is by no means "an average piece of junk". As charming as a French bistro, as satisfying as a gourmet meal, it has revived my faith in the future of animated films, and it's this close to being a 5-star experience. Whatever Pixar serves up next, I hope it's just as magnifique.


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