dir: Brad Bird
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The Pixar name still means something to audiences. They’ve made so many great computer-animated flicks that discounting them because of missteps (Cars) or being purchased by Disney for something obscene like 7 billion dollars and the kidneys of several thousand Asian children, seems wrong.

I’m reassured by Ratatouille, in that even if it’s not breakout tremendous like The Incredibles, or consistently entertaining and engaging like Finding Nemo, the Toy Stories or even Monsters Inc, it’s still pretty damn good and still several million miles ahead of the drek like Shrek and the other crap pumped out by Pixar’s rivals.

As expected, as begins every review of a Pixar flick, the first comment is usually about how the animation is superlative and state-of-the-art, the best seen (until the next one comes along). With each flick they get closer and closer to getting you to forget that what you’re seeing is animated, and not the ‘real’ world. Whilst the animation of the protagonists, rat or human, still remains recognisably cartoony, the backgrounds, scenes of movement or action, even the representation of skies or water are just breathtakingly beautiful, until you forget you’re watching animation.

Our main character here is Remy (voiced by comedian Patton Oswald), an epicurean rat who thinks he’s better than everyone else around him. Who does he think he is… where does he get off …

Not for him the supping on garbage, the ingestion of sub-par fare. He is a gourmand, and a French gourmand at that. In a nearby house, he watches the cooking show for a famous chef, August Gusteau (Brad Garrett), an entirely appropriately hugely morbidly obese chef to the stars.

So impressed is Remy with Gusteau’s approach to cooking and life, and his motto that anyone can cook, that he is embarks upon a life of culinary creativity, sampling all the exquisite flavours that the world has to offer, and figuring out the combinations of taste that are possible.

For a medium, like film, to represent something like scent or taste is, I’m sure you’ll appreciate, difficult. We can only hope and pray that they never figure out how to add smell to films, because I shudder to think what watching Bad Lieutenant would be like, or Trainspotting with the added attraction of aroma.

But with colour and image Ratatouille tries to give us a sense of what Remy experiences, and it kinda works.

Catastrophic circumstances result in Remy’s separation from the rest of his family, and he ends up, in a remarkable coincidence, at Gusteau’s restaurant in Paris.

Gusteau himself is long dead, but, for reasons I don’t entirely understand apart from a table full of Pixar screenwriters asking each other who they can come up with for Remy to talk to when there’s no-one around, Gusteau appears to Remy as a hallucination, giving out his trademark advice, urging on Remy when he’s afraid, and generally acting as his conscience.

In circumstances too complicated to go into, Remy forges an unlikely alliance with a young dufus who doesn’t know the first thing about cooking. Linguini (Lou Romano) appears at Gusteau’s looking for work after the death of his mother, who seems to have known the late chef (just guess where that is going) many years before his death.

Linguini is the classic dumbass who aspires to greatness but who entirely lacks all the requisite skills or greatness. But Remy does appear to have some genius for the culinary arts, and finds a way, I know how ridiculous it sounds, to literally manipulate Linguini into producing food masterpieces.

Gusteau’s restaurant had been in decline for many years prior to his death, due mostly to a bad review from France’s nastiest and most powerful food critic, Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole), but after Remy through Linguini starts putting the restaurant back on the map, Ego ventures forth once more in order to destroy them for their presumptuousness.

Remy competes with his feelings of wanting to be a creator in the world of the humans, with the obvious obstacle that he is a rat, and, despite his abilities (which include being able to understand English, or French, or whatever), is viewed as vermin. With this is the conflict with his rat brethren, especially since his big cheese father Django (Brian Dennehy) thinks he’s an idiot for neglecting his family and aspiring to be more than he is.

Linguini essentially competes with the fact that he is an ungainly, awkward idiot being praised to the heavens for the cooking a rat makes him do in a supremely puppet-like fashion. With his growing attraction to fellow chef Colette (Janeane Garofalo) and the increasing conflict with his head chef nemesis Skinner (Ian Holm), and the increasing pressure of being something he’s not, Linguini essentially is called upon to flail about like John Cleese in Fawlty Towers.

Gee, I wonder if everything’s going to work out for everyone by the end. All of this is achieved with the deft touch, energetic pacing and light humour that we expect and demand from Pixar flicks, which means that even if it’s not all the most stunning cinematic experience of one’s life, it still manages to be pretty entertaining.

A curious bit in the flick involves the depiction of the critic Anton Ego. When the flick gets him to essentially capitulate and speak the thoughts of the filmmakers entirely, you’d think it was the bitter whinings of someone like Kevin Smith or Rob Zombie, just more articulately phrased and delivered. Both previously mentioned directors, and a whole bunch of other sooks have taken time out in some of their films in order to tell the world, and critics and reviewers especially, the contempt they have for the people who make a living ripping the shit out of other people’s work.

Ratatouille goes one better and has the critic admit that nothing he ever does is worth a pinch of shit compared to the most mediocre creation of someone genuinely trying to create something.

Can someone remind me when the film critics or reviewers have been, en masse, anything less than ejaculatory when it comes to reviewing Pixar’s stable of animated movies?

It seems a bit odd to take the time to make such a statement. Also appreciable but odd is the reiteration of the usual Pixar ubermensch Nietschean themes of the individual ‘chosen one’ triumphing over the masses in a manner that would make Ayn Rand proud. Again it is Ego who pronounces that the lesson he learned today is that whilst not everyone can be a master chef, a master chef could come from anywhere. To me that translates to “On my signal, invade Poland”, but that’s just me.

The flick is superbly realised, and takes the time to develop at least some of the characters in a manner that you only get in flicks animated by Pixar or by someone like master Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki; the overall themes might not be stunningly original, but their realisation is enjoyable and entirely avoids preachiness.

And at flick’s end I found myself smiling, and charmed by something which, on paper, I never thought would work. It is a testament to how singular the atmosphere and work environment (still) is over at Pixar headquarters, which should be a fortress ringed with a moat and surrounded by spikes bearing the bloody heads of Mickey, Donald Duck, Tinkerbell and those bloody Dwarves.

Only they could sit around a table and say, ‘yes, we’re going to make a nearly two-hour animated movie about a rat who wants to be a chef, and we’re going to set it in France, and we’re going to call the flick Ratatouille’.

And, instead of having the high-ups go pale, quiver a bit, shit blood and then collapse in terror at the potential drought the flick would enjoy at the US box, and the far more serious loss of their stock options, Pixar’s people say ‘go for it’. And they do go for it, with passion, gusto and tremendous technical and creative expertise, with the audiences being the ones that benefit.

8 years of living in or around sharehouses has made me more than comfortable with the idea of having a kitchen full of rats out of 10

“I don't LIKE food, I LOVE it. If I don't LOVE it, I don't SWALLOW” – the eternal link between love and swallowing, Ratatouille.