Regardless of where Ratatouille stands in your personal ranking of Pixar films, one cannot deny that it is one of the studio’s most original concepts for a film. On paper, it may sound absurd: “a talking rat decides to become a chef in one of Paris’ top restaurants”. Yet, a studio like Pixar was able to make it succeed and then some.
The film tells the story of a young rat named Remy, whose refined sensibilities make him the black sheep (or rat, if you will) of his family. When their secret colony is made public, the family is forced to evacuate into the sewers, but Remy is unfortunately left behind. With nothing but a cookbook and the ghost of a dead famous chef (Auguste Gusteau) to keep him company, Remy soon ends up in Paris. A series of near-disasters causes his fate to become intertwined with that of Alfredo Linguini, a recently hired garbage boy at Gusteau’s Restaurant, and soon, he is climbing the culinary ladder. (I suppose that a plot summary isn’t crucial given the movie’s decade-old status, but it doesn’t hurt.)
I’ve never been a fan of using celebrities as voice actors in kid’s films because it’s usually done solely for publicity and at the expense of a whole industry of competent, trained voice actors. That being said, if you’re going to go the celebrity route, Ratatouille has staffed its ranks well with a mix of comedic (Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garofalo, Will Arnett) and classical (Oscar nominees Ian Holm and Peter O’Toole) actors. Oswalt has been one of my favorite comedians for some time, and this is where I was first introduced to him. He brings his sadonic sense of humor to the role and he works as a great straight man for his eccentric rat family and as a counterpoint to the arguably weirder humans. Holm’s voice is hard to recognize at first but he oozes the sleaziness necessary for the role. O’Toole’s grim tones give restaurant critic Anton Ego the necessary scare factor to function as the film’s red herring villain. Pixar animators Lou Romano and Peter Sohn turn in solid work as Linguini and Remy’s brother Emile, respectively, and don’t feel at all out of place among their more popular castmates. The actors playing humans try and succeed to varying levels to convey a French accent, but ultimately nobody is going to see Ratatouille for the authenticity.
By this point, Brad Bird had established himself as one of the most creative minds working in the animation industry, both from a writing and directing standpoint. Incredibles is to this day one of the most well-regarded superhero films, and ecen before his Pixar days, Brad’s Iron Giant let people know he was a talent to watch out for. Bird turns in a great script here that absolutely deserved it’s Oscar nomination. First and foremost, the script is funny and sells you on its premise, and it’s competent when it comes to the food vocabulary but still easy to understand. However, it still is filled with heartwarming moments. Bird writes a compelling friendship between Linguini and Remy despite them not sharing any dialogue together. It has an important message for kids (People can rise above their station in life, so you shouldn’t judge based on pre-conceived notions.), but the moral never feels forced and fits naturally within the story. The movie also contains a few adult jokes for the parents dragged along by their kids.
The attention-to-detail in this film by Brad Bird and the Pixar animation staff is astounding. From all the buildings in the Paris skyline to each of Remy’s 1.15 million rendered hairs, the film does everything it can to appear as realistic as possible. My personal favorite example is that they dressed a staff member in a chef’s outfit and had him jump into a swimming pool so they could so what Linguini’s uniform would look like after he fell in the water.
2007 was one of the greatest years for film in recent memory, and Ratatouille stands up there with the best movies of that year. While the film may speak to lovers of food or the French language, you certainly don’t have to be either to enjoy it.