“Ratatouille” may be the first Pixar movie that is so advanced, so sophisticated, it doesn’t feel like it was made for kids.
On a fundamental level, sure, children will probably enjoy watching the animated adventures of Remy, a plucky Parisian rat who leaves the colony to pursue his dream of becoming a gourmet chef. There’s some slapsticky physical comedy, and writer-director Brad Bird, the mastermind behind “The Incredibles,” keeps things going at a lively, engaging clip.
But there’s nothing silly or childlike about it. If you stop to think about it, the main character is experiencing an existential crisis: Stay with the family and safely sift through garbage, as his rodent ancestors have done for centuries, or risk loneliness, abject failure and worse — death — by chasing after a loftier goal? Heady stuff there.
“Ratatouille” is also visually wondrous in ways that are both lush and intricately detailed, in ways that seem to have been tailored more toward grown-up tastes and sensibilities. It would seem that computer-generated technology couldn’t get any better, but wow — it just does. The multitude of animators clearly paid close attention to facets of our daily lives that we take for granted: knife marks on a cutting board, the way raindrops splash when they hit the sidewalk, the glow from a street lamp. Sitting through “Ratatouille,” it doesn’t take long for you to forget that you’re watching an animated movie and just allow yourself to become immersed in this glorious realism.
The filmmakers also have done marvelous things with perspective, often allowing us to see what it’s like through Remy’s small, beady eyes. We feel as if we’re rushing down a sewer or scampering through walls and underneath serving carts, trying to avoid being squished, and it’s thrilling.
The plot may be a bit thin, though: The furry, expressive Remy (voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt) literally manipulates gangly garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano), Cyrano De Bergerac-style, into whipping up his culinary concoctions in the kitchen of a once-revered restaurant. Remy hides beneath Linguini’s toque, yanking his hair every which direction to prompt him to chop, flip or stir. They try not to get caught.
Maybe it just feels paltry compared to “The Incredibles,” Bird’s Oscar winner about a family of superheroes trying to live quietly in suburbia, which worked beautifully both as pure entertainment and as a film with something to say. (Here, Bird has taken over as director for Pixar animator Jan Pinkava, who came up with the idea and gets a story-by credit.)
Blissfully, though, “Ratatouille” is free of the kind of gratuitous pop-culture references that plague so many movies of the genre; it tells a story, it’s very much of our world but it never goes for the cheap, easy gag — no jokes about Emeril or “The Iron Chef.”
Even the vocal cast, which is indeed star-studded, never feels like distracting stunt casting.
Brian Dennehy provides the voice of Remy’s no-nonsense dad, Django, who’s perfectly happy eating trash. Brad Garrett is Gusteau, the famous chef who appears to Remy as an apparition, and whose restaurant falls from five stars to three after his death. Janeane Garofalo plays the very stern, very French Colette, the only woman in the kitchen, with whom Linguini embarks on a romance. Ian Holm is the scheming, diminutive chef Skinner, who takes over Gusteau’s and wants to use the household name to pump out frozen food.
Best of all is Peter O’Toole as a powerful food critic with the fabulous name of Anton Ego, whose office is shaped like a coffin and who looks as if he may fall into one at any moment. O’Toole is ideally cast, his rich British accent making even the most benign, offhanded remark sound like condescending condemnation.
“Ratatouille,” a Disney Pixar release, is rated G. Running time: 110 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.