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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Review: Ratatouille

Here’s a question for the mini-masses that might come through: is there anyone in the world making better family movies--animated or otherwise--than Pixar? I honestly don’t think so.

Pixar has found a magic formula for family films, and Ratatouille continues their tradition of excellence. Pixar has figured out that movies for kids don’t need to be so dumbed down that adults don’t enjoy the show. They understand that “for kids” doesn’t mean automatic potty humor. Most important, they understand that there has to be a sense of wonder and magic that is only brought out with exquisite art direction, superb storytelling, and characters that, while perhaps not quite complex, have enough depth to be compelling.

The most natural comparisons for Ratatouille are to other Pixar movies, so here is the quick rundown before talking specifics. Ratatouille isn’t as funny as Finding Nemo or as action packed as The Incredibles, but it is as heartwarming as Toy Story and more satisfying than Monsters, Inc. Last year’s Cars was a solid entry in the catalog, but Ratatouille is something closer to to a classic.

The story, about a rat who wants to be a cook, is far better developed and more involving than I had expected. Forgive me for doubting directory Brad Bird or The Incredibles and The Iron Giant--the man has a wonderful touch with light drama and sense of comedy that most Hollywood directors could only wish for. His consistency is astonishing.

Another thing that Pixar does is cast great voice talent. From Ellen DeGeneres hilariously loopy turn as an absent minded fish in Finding Nemo to Dave Foley’s ant with grand plans in A Bug’s Life, Pixar chooses the right voices to fill their casts. Patton Oswalt, as our hero Remy, strikes the right tone of an eager young man (ahem, “rat") without ever becoming irritatingly earnest. The casting coup, though, is putting Peter O’Toole’s voice to the character of critic Anton Ego. Not only is Ego rendered perfectly, but O’Toole’s voice gives him a brooding presence and flavor that makes him one of the more memorable characters in any recent animated feature.

The artwork on the movie is breathtaking. The views of Paris--at times misty and dark or gorgeously lit at night--raise the art of animation another notch. While I hadn’t thought that an animated could be better than the underwater scenes of Finding Nemo, but there were moments in Ratatouille that the scenery looked as real and as solid as any photograph. Little touches and details abound (take a look at Anton Ego’s typewriter) that keep the scenery not only lovely but constantly interesting. The animators employed by Pixar are, like the rest of the crew, simply brilliant. These men and women are artists.

Ratatouile is a wonder--it’s family friendly entertainment that hasn’t been watered down for the kids, that’s safe for most families (I noticed one--arguable--profanity and there are a few tense moments early on when Remy and the rest of the rats are chased from an old woman’s country home), and that has a great message for anyone who pays a little attention. While it drags just a bit in the third act, and isn’t quite as funny as some of Pixar’s other films, it’s message, acting, and astonishing beauty make it well worth the price of a ticket.

And Peter O’Toole’s big moment, with a commentary about critics, is simply perfect.

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