Saturday, June 16, 2007

Review: Ratatouille (2007)

110 minutes
Rated G

By Scott Mendelson

One of the tragic consequences of our hurried age is our acceptance of less. We are too busy to pay attention to current events, so we demand our news be delivered in easily digestible sound bites that often obscure the real issues. We are too busy to truly enjoy dining, so we settle for fast food and chain restaurants that use the same frozen ingredients that can be found in a grocery store. Never mind smelling the roses, we are often too busy or stressed to even acknowledge those roses.

Pixar and Disney's Ratatouille is a celebration of that which is better than expected, finer than demanded, and a cut above to that which we settle for. Of course, all of those adjectives can be used to describe the movie itself, as it validates excellence by being embarrassingly superior to other 'acceptable' cartoons. It is, along with the stunningly overachieving Meet The Robinsons, a call to arms from Disney to all of its rivals in the realm of the cartoon feature. It shames the makers of the pedestrian Shrek The Third and does unmentionable horrors to Happily N'Ever After. Disney has rebounded from three years of mediocrity (Cars, Chicken Little, The Wild) and it is a joyous revival. Disney is back in prime form and lovers of quality can rejoice.

Some plot, in brief... Set in modern day Paris, France, this charming cartoon concerns the hopes and dreams of a single rat named Remy (Patton Oswald). He lives with his rat family, yet scorns the low-quality dining options that are available (i.e.- garbage). For Remy, food is not just fuel, but art to be savored and appreciated. He yearns to cook like the late, fabled chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett), who once ran the finest restaurant in Paris but died brokenhearted when his restaurant was ruined by a review from a scolding, influential critic (Peter O'Toole, doing his best Vincent Price impression). By happenstance, Remy quickly finds his way inside the kitchen of the legendary eatery and his arrival is simultaneous with that of Linguini (Lou Romano), a nervous would-be dishwasher who also yearns for better things.

That's all you get, for the wonderfully literate screenplay is full of genuine surprises. That the film is peerlessly drawn and richly animated is a given; yet the work should not go unnoticed. Like Meet The Robinsons, the cast is filled with real voice over talent with only a token amount of celebrities (all of whom deliver real performances of warmth and passion). The score by Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles, Lost) is lively and completely different from his previous stellar work. The technical credits are all peerless and they only serve to supplement a wonderfully clever story.

The film is perhaps the first mainstream American cartoon that is truly intended for adults. Yes, kids will enjoy it, but this celebration of talent over luck and high class dining versus frozen microwaved meals is aimed at intelligent adults' pleasure center. The manic mayhem is kept to a minimum and the comedy is subtle and sharp. At its base, it is a character drama about those who refuse to settle for their place in society, not because they can't fit in, but because they want to contribute more. It is also, in a fashion, about the joys of discovering that glorious 'superior'. There is a monologue towards the end that is stunningly beautiful, an ode to the joys of finding new treasures and new wonders to behold. Nothing beats finding something that, to paraphrase Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, you love so much that it hurts.

The film is also a declarative yelp against the acceptance of mediocrity. Why shouldn't we demand better food, better movies and better politicians? Pixar, as a company, has always been a stand-in for Hollywood's best-case scenario (talent + resources + heart + commitment to character and story = success!). Director Brad Bird asks: why shouldn't every movie be as good as this? And if they are not, why should we give them a pass? Ratatouille demands better by being much better than we are accustomed to. Ratatouille IS a movie that is so good that it hurts.

Grade: A

Note - If you can arrange it, make sure you have dining reservations after the movie, preferably somewhere you've never tried before. And for another food-related masterpiece, track down Big Night, a 1996 comedy starring Tony Shaloub and Stanley Tucci as brothers attempting to operate a small restaurant.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails