Walt Disney once said that he hoped nobody lost sight of the fact that the Disney empire was all started by a mouse. This summer the Disney legacy is continued by a similar creature: a rat. This isn’t any rat, however. Remy is a rat of highly developed tastes, creating another Disney situation in which a character doesn’t quite fit in with his surroundings and goes off in search of a place where he belongs. Remy’s quest is another potential blockbuster hit for Disney and yet again shows Pixar that as a movie making powerhouse that can do no wrong. The empire may have been started by a mouse, but Mickey can take the summer off with the company’s future in Remy’s capable hands.
When we first meet Remy (voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt) he's crashing through a window in a desperate escape from a human. The picture freezes as Remy explains to the audience his number one problem: he’s a rat. As a creature of distinctive tastes, this is a major issue. Remy isn’t satisfied eating the same garbage the rest of his clan eats, and they only view his heightened sense of smell as a means of detecting poison, not as the gift for culinary arts Remy wishes it to be.
With a little backtracking we learn Remy’s desperate escape comes from his attempt to cook up a gourmet treat – led primarily by the core belief of the popular Chef Gusteau that anyone can cook. During his clandestine mission to a human house, Remy learns that Gusteau suffered a setback when his restaurant lost its five star rating, which the media suggests led to his death, which robbed the restaurant of another star. Learning this distracts Remy to the point that he is noticed by the humans and his attempt to escape reveals the hiding place of his whole clan, who have to make a huge escape in one of the most impressive computer animation sequences I’ve ever seen. Watching hundreds of rats escaping from the house with such detailed animation made me cringe uncomfortably and lift my feet up from the floor.
Remy gets separated from his clan and, hungry and alone, starts hallucinating the figure of Chef Gusteau (voiced by Brad Garrett), who becomes a sort of Obi-Wan Kenobi figure to the rat. Gusteau leads Remy to his restaurant, now a shell of its former glory with only three stars. There Remy notices the awkward and disastrous attempts by garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano) to cook. Remy has the skill but is a rat. Linguini has no skill but is a human – what else can they do but team up to try and regain the lost grandeur of Gesteau’s restaurant and legacy?
Although Remy is being sold as the main character of the movie, the truth is that once he enters the world of the humans it’s a lot more difficult to keep him as the central focus. The movie doesn’t break any animal/human barriers like suddenly having Linguini understand rat speak (although Remy can understand what the humans are saying). That means that once we enter the world of man Remy is pretty much relegated to squeaks and some incredibly detailed facial expressions. It would have been easy to break down and just have the characters communicate directly. Sticking with the rules the movie establishes is a nice dedication, though it complicates matters somewhat. The solution of having Remy puppet Linguini is a bit simplistic and childish, but this is a movie for kids – one of those rare “G” rated films. Childish simplicity is not only permissible, but it should be expected to some degree.
The animation quality on Ratatouille carries on the Pixar tradition of being so detailed that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this is an animated movie. The streets of Paris are almost photorealistic and the rats move in an incredibly authentic manner. I was entertained by a little symbol on the end of the credits that reminded the audience that the movie was 100% animated with no motion capture suits or other “shortcuts” used. Pixar continues to be the high water mark for animated movies.
The film is lengthy for an animated feature, clocking in at just under two hours. Pixar’s last film, Cars, also ran long and felt a little weighty in parts. This picture doesn’t suffer that problem, moving forward at a speed that makes it easy to lose track of time. The story does resolve one major conflict so early that I thought the film was going to end without a resolution to some minor points, which makes the last fifteen minutes or so a little awkward because it lacks the major conflict between Linguini and the film’s main villain, Chef Skinner (Ian Holm). It’s worth sticking it out through the end though for a satisfying Disney style conclusion.
Ratatouille is named after a French vegetable stew, and a more appropriate name couldn’t be found. Following the film’s idea of experimenting with flavors and tastes, the movie is a simple, enjoyable dish which brings back to the screen the story ideas that spelled success for Disney’s other animated films – a lost soul looking for its place in the universe. Critics may complain about the simple taste or plain ingredients - there are a few elements of the story that might be considered childish, and the ironic thing is the people who notice that will probably be the same ones who suggest Pixar isn’t making movies for kids anymore. But for those who look a little closer, there's a lot of flavor to this movie. As a company, Disney may have been started by a mouse, but this summer’s success can clearly be attributed to a simple dish, appropriately cooked up by a rat.