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Brad Bird is by far the best writer/director of animated films coming out of America in a long time. Besides Hayao Miyazaki, there is no one else with the track record that this guy has. From The Iron Giant to The Incredibles to now Ratatouille, Bird just gets better and better with each new move. This new Pixar installment is definitely the most intellectually stimulating yet, but really which of his films haven’t been intelligent first, kiddie-catering second? Ratatouille is by all means cinematic in scope and execution. There is nothing to this movie that screams animation besides the fact that it is a cartoon. The characters are all well fleshed out with emotions and inner struggle to survive the lives they want at the expense of that laid before them. Each frame is also composed with a sense of cinematography for real life. The expanses of Paris are breathtaking to behold and many camera movements stay within the constraints of a true machine there to capture the action. Bird’s world on display is all encompassing and you will be fully immersed into the tale, no matter what age, because it never loses its integrity or ability to surprise with its never ceasing authenticity.

Pixar will always be at the top of the computer graphic echelon because they have never catered to the increasing trend of dumbing down to the lowest common denominator. It appears that the current trend in America has been to try and make everything too equal, thus simplifying things in order for those less motivated souls to understand and laugh at, at the expense of the intellectuals which should be allowed some intellectual stimulation as well. Rather than go for the “fart jokes” and clichéd old-hat humor, Disney’s newly bought animation studio has proven time and again that story is paramount and that without it, no means of skill or effects can survive. Locking up a talent like Bird for his most recent two films shows the dedication they have in getting the right people involved in the creative process.

The backbone impetus of this story is not at all truly original. It is very much an ugly-duckling type tale of someone who has decided to go along a path different then his people have for generations. While being slightly ostracized at home, he goes into the world in order to find meaning and a use for his extraordinary skill. Since that skill is a keen sense of smell, what better occupation than gourmet chef is there for mixing those flavors at his service in unique and wonderful ways? Unfortunately, our hero is a rat, and we all know that they don’t go with hygienic kitchens very well. He must find a kind soul to help him do what he was born to do, and with that fateful meeting in Gusteau’s restaurant, our tale unfolds. By going against the stealing mentality of his fellow rats and living amongst the humans, I was starting to think we would eventually get to a point where his clan speaks of how he has angered the rat Gods and their supply of garbage has been cleaned up by environmentalists around Europe. I quickly hit myself in the head, remembered that this wasn’t Happy Feet with rats, and sat back to enjoy a real fairytale story that didn’t try to shove an agenda down my throat. Fairytales tell of morals and happiness and originality succeeding over prejudice and Disney/Pixar still knows how to deliver.

Animation-wise, Ratatouille is a sight to behold. The fur on each rat is as tactile as that on Sully from Monsters Inc. and the liquids on display are gorgeous. Whether sewer water, Parisian streams, or blood red wine, each fluid is rendered with amazing clarity and realism. Even the human characters, something not often attempted by Pixar, are caricatured enough to make them slightly abnormal so that instead of looking at their humanistic flaws, we see them as just other animated creatures in a world of their own. Also, the set pieces are elaborate and highly detailed. The restaurant dining room is fantastically displayed and each swoop through the double doors of the kitchen brings you into a new world beyond the sinks and utensils. Even the underbelly passages of the rats are highly detailed as we go through them fast and furiously while our hero Remy runs to get above ground, going past numerous rooms that are seen through cracks—a comically French domestic dispute among them—until we get our first glimpse at the grandeur of Paris.

Despite the beautiful graphics and the unobtrusively effective voice-overs—when you find you aren’t wondering who is who, you know the acting is successfully integrated into the whole—it is the story that really shines. Bird has culled his imagery from many sources, including a bit of what I feel is Tim Burton for the nemesis food critic Anton Ego who eerily reminded me of Christopher Lee, yet has made everything his own. Remy the rat must fight against his heritage and his very being in order to live his life the way he wants to. There is a lot of comedy involved in getting the human Linguini to become his friend and partner on the journey to culinary perfection, but there is even more heart behind it all. We are treated to some nicely quirky supporting roles, but none are ever put to the forefront in order to overshadow the real stars. While not the ensemble these types of films usually are, our leads are strong and never falter to the point you wish we had more of the others. I accepted the terms of the plot early on and never tired of the journey Brad Bird and company led me on. Pitch-perfect at every turn.

Ratatouille 9/10
As comparison: Toy Story 9/10; A Bug’s Life 7/10; Toy Story 2 9/10; Monsters Inc. 8/10; Finding Nemo 7/10; The Incredibles 9/10; Cars 8/10

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photography:
[1] REMY and LINGUINI in Ratatouille – 2007. © Disney, Pixar.
[2] REMY (left) EMILE (right). ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved.

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