20 October 2007
There's something truly and wonderfully magical about Pixar. No matter how fantastic their previous instalment was, you can bet your liver, kidneys and gall bladder that their next will at the very least equal it, if not surpass it. And with Ratatouille, you know they've proven the rule after the first ten minutes - of the actual feature, not the absolutely superb short, Lifted, that precedes it; which is worth the entry fee all by its onesies.
Story-wise, it delivers a swift and rather deft middle-finger to all the post-modern irony that's being chucked about in animation these days. Remy lives in the country-side, and dreams of becoming a big city chef; and despite astonishing senses of smell and taste, he's presented with a rather minor hitch - he's a rat, and thusly humans won't let him near a kitchen without attempting to exterminate him. That doesn't stop him from wistfully pining after celebrity chef Auguste Gusteau's creations on television. Eventually, he gets a little too bold for his britches, and gets his whole colony chased away to Paris; and in a series of rather unfortunate mishaps, Remy finds himself washed up below Gusteau's high-class restaurant. Cue his run-in with Linguine, a garbage-boy at Gusteau's restaurant; like Remy, he longs to be a chef, only he has none of the skill to do so. The two form an unlikely partnership, and start to wow critics across Paris.
It is, pure and simple, rather brilliant; unashamedly surreal, yet at the same time strangely plausible. And to boot, it's hilarious. From the slapstick antics of Remy controlling Linguine through his...eh...hair - 'this is strangely involuntary!' cries Linguine rather fretfully - to the fantastically choreographed set-pieces; if you don't choke out at least one laugh, you probably forgot to bring along your soul. There's a joy to it, a real sense of fun that a lot of the animated dross these days is lacking.
That's not to say there aren't any rather cranial jokes amidst the lunacy; though they aren't quite as thick and fast, they're still there. The poking fun at critics is both playful and poignant, without the mean-spiritedness that, say, Lady in the Water had; and the moments that have a stab at the French are exactly the same - 'We don't mean to be rude, but we're French!' being an inspired piece of scripting. There's also the superbly fleshed out characters, each one with a unique, and frequently hilarious backstory - including a sous chef who's served time, only no-one knows for sure as to why.
On the technical side - if you actually have time to notice such things whilst your sides are splitting - Pixar have once again produced something of a visual masterpiece. The world they've created is so rich, so full of detail and life, that sometimes I found myself honestly wondering if I wasn't looking at an actual photo of a Parisian corner restaurant, or rain-soaked canal banks. The food, too, looks actually edible; a huge amount of detail has been thrown at that particular aspect, and it really does shine. The end result of this is that it sucks you in - detail has a habit of doing that - and makes you really believe in the characters that populate this rather wonderful world. They've also concocted a clever way of putting across the sense of taste through celluloid; using music and rather colourful pieces of rather abstract animation to show the zings and tangs of cheese, wine and all kinds of other flavours. It's a wonderful idea, and superbly - yet sparingly - applied.
This is not to say, however, that it's all brilliant; my beefs with the movie are three-fold. First, and possibly of least overall consequence, is the visualisation of Paris; which is clearly tainted by the Hollywood view of the city. Everything is so clean, so wonderful, so idyllic; even the sewer below the restaurant has a certain quiet charm to it! But obviously, this is Bird trying to juxtapose Remy's lowly start against what he's aiming for, and thusly is forgivable.
The second, however, really isn't; and that is that outside the core trio of human characters and their pseudo-antagonist - Lou Romano's Linguine, Jeneane Garafolo's Collette, Ian Holm's head-chef Skinner and Peter O'Toole's Anton Ego respectively - the voice talent is rather flat; and given the richness of the lungs being lent to their other outings, this came as something of a disappointment.
The third, and probably my biggest problem, is the ending; if Pixar have ever made a film that called for something of a 'downer-but-we'll-still-be-okay' ending, this was it. Problem is, director/screenwriter Brad Bird somehow found need to douse it with a rather soppy water cannon. It's not a bad ending; I'm just saying a little bleakness, artfully applied might have made it a superior film.
Still, these things are hardly more than minor quibbles; I came out of the cinema with a grin on my face, and strange yearning for the ratatouille dish created at the end of the film. It's a film that's frequently funny, occasionally touching, and will plaster a smile across your face for a good long while afterwards.
Ross' Rating: 8