Ratatouille

I wasn’t looking forward to watching Ratatouille. Yes, I know it’s a Pixar film, and yes, I’m well aware that it got great reviews, but the premise, for me, was difficult to overcome. When the trailer played, I had to laugh at the absurdity of the premise. Here is a film where a rat attempts to become the greatest chef in all of France while using a human surrogate to hide his true identity.

That rat is called Remy (Patton Oswalt), who has always had a proficiency for cuisine. He can smell whether a food will taste good before another rat tasting it can. His father (Brian Dennehy), puts him on poison control duty. If there’s rat poison in the garbage they’re eating, Remy will find it, much to his disdain. Remy dreams of making things, not just stealing garbage that the humans throw out. He studies a book published by Chef Gusteau (Brad Garett), despite the kitchen being owned by a lady with a shotgun who will shoot rats that she sees.

That’s exactly what happens one day. All of the rats living in the ceiling of her home are revealed, and they have to escape from her. Remy’s family ends up getting separated, while Remy reemerges from the sewer they all used to escape in Paris, conveniently right outside the late Chef Gusteau’s restaurant, which is now owned by chef Skinner (Ian Holm). The restaurant is in disarray, has been downgraded from five to three stars — in large part thanks to a scathing review from Anto Ego (Peter O’Toole) — but Remy wants to check it out anyway.

It’s in the restaurant where he finds the perfect pawn for his diabolical scheme. Alfredo Linguini (Lou Ramano), is just starting work as a garbage boy. Remy sees him tampering with the soup, and decides to go in and make alterations, fixing Alfredo’s mistakes. The rat is caught, Alfredo is told to kill it, but the soup ends up being enjoyed by the customer. The garbage boy and the rat make a decision: Remy will control Alfredo’s body, making all of the food, and the human will allow him and get all the credit. Remy’s love for food will suffice; he doesn’t need accolades. He is, after all, just a rat.

What follows is a pretty basic story told in an engaging way. Of course there will be conflict between the human and rat, of course the head chef will be angry and try to thwart the duo’s plans, and of course there will be a love story at one point or another. And that critic from earlier will inevitably come back for one final round with the restaurant, because that’s what his job is. The critic and head chef serve as our villains in this movie, although only one is particularly “evil.”

There’s one twist thrown into the mix, although it didn’t factor in as much as you’d expect. Alfredo hands a letter to Skinner early on in the film, and its contents become very important. Or, you’d think they’d be important, but once the reveal happens, it gets passed on through and doesn’t get much thought. At that point in the story, there are more important things like real characters for the film to focus on.

While it’s not particularly surprising in the way it plays out, Ratatouille is always involving and quite touching. Despite its main character being a rat — and make no mistake, this is a film to make sure you know it’s a rat in a human’s world — Remy feels more like a human than many of the actual human characters. He’s very personified, and not only because he gets a voice actor. This is a very heartfelt film, and as we progress through it, we grow to care a lot about this rat. He has a dream, and he’s going to see it through. That’s a message that anyone can take from this film.

Ratatouille looks great, but do you expect anything different at this point in Pixar’s history? All of the animation is smooth, the detail put into everything is superb, and you’re not going to find a flaw in the aesthetics of the film. You can mute it and simply watch the skill and artistry on display here, and you’d still probably have a good time. Voice actors imbued their characters with distinct personalities — most of them lending life to the wonderfully animated models.

Where Ratatouille doesn’t quite work is in the villains. While Skinner was sinister and the food critic initially seemed evil, none of them seemed particularly menacing or difficult to overcome. I never worried that the characters wouldn’t be able to defeat them, and as a result, the times when the film is going for tension don’t quite work. The predictability also doesn’t help, even if the quality of Ratatouille overall makes up for a fairly basic plot.

Ratatouille is absolutely worth watching. It has gorgeous animation, a very solid cast of voice actors, a ton of heart, and an inspirational — albeit very simple and predictable — story that’s enjoyable to watch for both kids and adults. It’s another winner from Pixar, and ends up being a very fun watch. While I laughed at the premise when I first saw it, I wasn’t after the film was over. Instead, I felt bad for initially mocking it. Remy became a character to root for. You have no reason not to watch Ratatouille, even if it would have benefited from stronger villains.

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