(2007)4.5Perry SeibertPixar's Parisian-set Ratatouille tells the delightful story of Remy (Patton Oswalt), a sewer rat with sophisticated taste buds who wants desperately to become a gourmet chef. Artistically employing state-of-the-art CG animation, director Brad Bird uses colorful imagery to create a visual metaphor for what this rat with a highly refined palette experiences whenever he eats good food. The bright, playful splashes of color that symbolize Remy's exploding taste buds have the same effect for the audience as they do for the rat, pleasurably tickling the senses of audience members of any age. If Ratatouille accomplished nothing else, it would still be a very good movie, but the film goes even farther. Remy is such a likeable, sympathetic character that his story translates to anyone's calling or interest, from cooking to filmmaking to sculpture. Without doubt, Ratatouille is a heartwarming story, but its subtext expresses why art matters so deeply to those who make it, as well as to those who appreciate it.
Bird knows how to orchestrate a frantic chase through a kitchen with the precision of the old Warner Bros. Looney Tunes team, and the timing of Buster Keaton. Like Remy, Bird knows how to utilize a variety of elements that play off each other to create something new and memorable that's greater than the sum of its parts. As with all Pixar films, the animation is exquisite. Watching wine pour from a bottle into a glass is almost sensory overload, as attention is paid to every instant of the liquid's movement, and the way different lighting affects its burgundy hue. Bird also paces his story with masterful skill, inspiring the audience to care for his characters and understand their desires. There's always a reminder of what's at stake for Remy and the other characters before Bird plunges us into another brilliantly enthralling set piece. Bird even portrays the fearsome restaurant critic Ego (gloriously voiced by Peter O'Toole) with just as much respect as he does the film's hero. Perhaps this helps explain why the film opened to such rapturous reviews from critics, but there is so much more to Ratatouille than simple flattery. The film reflects the fact that Bird understands the way cuisine, film, or any art form can trigger the senses -- which in turn trigger our emotions, inspiring our own warm memories. From beginning to end, Brad Bird's Ratatouille offers as pure a statement of purpose for an artist as one could imagine.