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Bon appétit

Brad Bird cooks up a masterpiece
By BRETT MICHEL  |  June 27, 2007
3.5 3.5 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Ratatouille

Ratatouille | Written + Directed by Brad Bird | with the voices of Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano, Brad Garret, Janeane Garofalo, and Peter O’Toole | Buena Vista | 110 Minutes
Family. We spend lifetimes breaking away from them, forging our own path, only to discover it leads back to the same place. This undercurrent has flowed through Pixar’s computer-animated films since John Lasseter’s 1995 Toy Story awakened the appetites of audiences used to a diet of 2-D fare –– which Hollywood thereafter relegated to the back burner. An unfortunate casualty of this technology-driven trend was 1999’s The Iron Giant. Directed by Brad Bird (who, at age 14, mentored under Milt Kahl, one of Disney’s legendary Nine Old Men), the mostly hand-drawn masterpiece lost enough money to shutter the fledgling Warner Bros. Feature Animation unit. Undeterred, Bird found his path leading him back to his Disney roots by way of Pixar, and he finally achieved critical and commercial success with 2004’s The Incredibles.

These days, Pixar practically prints money: Lasseter’s Cars raced to one of last year’s highest grosses, despite being Pixar’s first release to stall creatively. With Ratatouille, Pixar is back on track, and Bird is once again behind the wheel. The technical virtuosity may still dazzle, the visual wow factor trumping anything in Shrek’s third sit-com entry, but forget the epic spectacle of Bird’s last outing. The Incredibles was adventure writ large; now he’s telling an atypically small tale, one confined mostly to a single restaurant, and the results are no less thrilling.

Rémy (voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt) is a gourmand with a highly refined sense of smell. He’s also a rat. While his colony scamper on four limbs scavenging for compost, he lives a “secret life,” entering the forbidden interior of the French countryside cottage where they live behind the walls. “Doesn’t it bother you that we eat with the same hands we walk on all day long?”, Rémy asks, walking on two feet as his tubby brother Émile (Peter Sohn) follows him into the bungalow’s kitchen, nervously eyeing the elderly woman sleeping in front of a TV. On it, we see a program featuring Rémy’s hero, the late chef Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garret), who probably didn’t have rodents in mind when he famously proclaimed, “Anyone can cook.”

When the old crone awakens to rats in her spice rack, the colony must evacuate to a nearby river, a single shotgun blast separating Rémy from his clan. Whisked into a raging sewer, he emerges in Gusteau’s once-popular Paris restaurant, where he can’t resist salvaging a soup that’s been almost destroyed by Linguini (Lou Romano), the eatery’s clumsy new janitor. Of course, the patrons love the result, and Napoleonic chef Skinner (Ian Holm) demands that the “garbage boy” replicate the recipe –– or else. An unlikely Cyrano-like tale follows Linguini’s growing celebrity: he attracts the unwanted attention of Anton Ego (a wonderfully sanctimonious Peter O’Toole) –– the culinary critic who ruined Gusteau’s reputation –– while Rémy the “little chef” covertly toils beneath his toque.

Can Rémy retain his “human” creativity, even as he seeks to reunite with his kin? Will a suspicious Skinner expose Linguini as nothing more than a rat? Can Bird’s sensual soufflé avoid collapse? To borrow a line from the film, which includes an insightful look at the art of criticism: my compliments to the chef.

Related: Silver linings on a dark screen, Interview: Patton Oswalt, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, More more >
  Topics: Reviews , Entertainment, Movies, Peter O'Toole,  More more >
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