Thursday, June 28, 2007
Movie Review: Ratatouille
It occurred to me, waiting in line for a Saturday night preview of Ratatouille, that I might be a little out of place in the theater. I was there a half an hour early carrying a notebook and Don Rickles’ autobiography, my pretzel bites and a big diet Coke. Most importantly, I am a thirty-four year old guy going to see a cartoon by myself. For a minute, I imagined worried mothers clutching their children close like in the pool scene in Little Children.
But then, this is a Pixar film that stars, among others, indie cool comedians Patton Oswalt and Janeane Garofalo. Not only was I not the only thirtysomething sitting alone in the audience, I wasn’t the only thirtysomething sitting in the audience reading a book. There was a smattering of kids but they were outnumbered by the adults by at least two to one. Even better, the father sitting behind me was quizzing his kids. True or false, it’s okay to kick the seat in front of you. False! This was going to be an unusually good movie experience.
Among Pixar’s many talents is, apparently, the ability to tame the downtown movie audience for two hours, adults and kids alike. Ratatouille kept this crowd focused enough that they forgot to talk or be rude (the exception being the adults to my left). Ratatouille is a wonderful story perfectly realized in every detail. Remy the rat is a sort of rodent Don Quixote, pursuing his dream of becoming a chef in Paris after being separated from his family. There he meets Linguine, a down and out kid trying to find a job he can hold down. They meet in a restaurant founded by the now deceased Auguste Gusteau, whose mantra, “anyone can cook,” Remy has adopted for himself.
And there are no self-indulgent technical fireworks – everything serves the story. Shadows are deeper, gravity works perfectly. There are amazing action and chase scenes, but they all further the plot. The Paris skyline is beautifully rendered, in day and nighttime scenes, not to show off, but to provide Remy’s inspiration. There is legitimate physical comedy reminiscent of John Cleese’s best silly walk in the way Remy and Linguine interact in the kitchen. The Pixar team even found a more clever way to solve the problem of the language barrier between humans and animals. And you won’t find a more brilliant (and economical) use of a flashback.
Animated movies tend to be packed with star power in a way that’s distracting to the character development. You want a wacky character, cast Robin Williams and the audience will bring their own ready-made expectations. Ratatouille avoids that brilliantly. Patton Oswalt plays a perfect geeked-out gourmand, and there was no better choice to play venomous food critic Anton Ego than Peter O’Toole. Janeane Garofalo, Brad Garrett, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Will Arnett, and the ubiquitous John Ratzenberger are the core cast, but you won’t find yourself drifting trying to place each voice. Most everyone has some sort of accent that hides their identity a bit, and nothing sounds overacted or out of place.
Without a doubt, all the characters are furry and cuddly and will move a lot of stuffed animals and happy meals. But Pixar goes beyond cute. Cute is easy – you can draw cute on a matchbook. Charming is hard, and that’s what Ratatouille pulls off.