"The Best Reviewed Movie of the Year!"
The claim is somewhat dubious. The Pixar name alone is almost synonymous with quality. But within five minutes of watching the film, you understand why it is so highly regarded.
Ratatouille is the second paring between Pixar and director Brad Bird and their effort is as good, if not better than their previous film - 2004's The Incredibles.
The movie is centered around Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), a passionate French rat with a highly developed sense of smell and taste. Remy dreams of an existence beyond scavenging for trash with his dim-witted brother (Peter Sohn) and loutish father (Brian Dennehy). He fantasizes about being a 5-star chef, like his hero Gusteau - a celebrity chef whose book "Anyone Can Cook" Remy has been stealing glances at in the home his family hides out in.
Remy's life changes dramatically the day his family is discovered by a shotgun wielding grandma and he is flushed down a storm drain into the sewers under Paris. His family lost, he emerges top side in front of Gusteau's world-famous restaurant. Kismet at it's most unlikely.
From there the movie kicks into high gear as Remy forges an unlikely alliance with a lowly garbage boy named Linguini whose ambition to cook is offset by his complete lack of talent. By pulling locks of his hair to manipulate his arms, Remy puppeteers him into creating fantastic dishes that excite the restaurant’s patrons and brings glory to our heroes.
There is conflict with the Napoleonic head chef Skinner (an unrecognizable Ian Holm) who has taken over for the now deceased Goustea and with Anton Ego - a rail-thin ghoul of food critic who refuses to swallow anything he finds unpalatable. Peter O'Toole as Ego delivers a mesmerizing, menacing performance that transforms the character from more than a mere food snob into a frightening threat.
What follows is a predictable arc about pride, humility, teamwork and family. But woven throughout the film are much more rich subtexts about creativity, authenticity and passion - both good and bad.
Gusteau's motto that "anyone can cook" is pervasive throughout. One must only have the desire to cook, to experiment, to be successful. If one is brave and injects their heart into what the love, they can create beautiful things. It's a life-affirming message and applicable to all forms of artistic expression.
Alternatively, Brad Bird pulls no punches against the critic character Anton Ego whose passion for food has corrupted his ability to appreciate it at all. Scathingly, Bird identifies critics at large to mostly irrelevant and the potential death nail to creativity. Everything from Ego's tone, to his look, to his coffin shaped office and grim hollow typewriter facade that looks like a human skull re-enforce this.
It goes without saying that the film is a seven course meal for the eyes. Pixar continues to refine its technology to the point where water effects and the rendering of hair and fur look nearly as good as the real thing.
The DVD's extras are surprisingly thin for a film experience so sumptuous. Two hilarious animated shorts, the theatrical feature "Lifted" and the DVD exclusive "Your Friend the Rat" are excellent. The three deleted scenes animatics introduced by Brad Bird are less so.
The last and most interesting extra on the DVD is the 15 minute documentary "Fine Food and Film: A Conversation with Brad Bird and Thomas Keller." Keller is a name familiar to foodies. A world-famous chef, he was a consultant on Ratatouille and the signature dish in the film bears his signature for its unique preparation.
The documentary explores the unlikely similarities between animation and cooking as Bird and Keller separately discuss inspiration, collaboration and mentorship. There are several valuable insights. Producing more extras like this would have made the supplemental material much more satisfying.
Obviously DVD extras do not a successful film make. But for an animated feature that is so lovingly crafted, it would have been a real treat to explore more of the process and effort that went into its creation.
We may never understand all of the mysteries that lead to great art. But in any case, my compliments to the chef.