Review: Ratatouille (Bird and Pinkava, 2007)

I have to admit that I have a rather large soft spot for Pixar films; Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles are all superb examples of how to make an animated film which makes the screen come to life as if the characters on it were real. They all managed to acheive a wonderful balance between entertaining whilst having a human message behind the story, something which other animation studios seem not to be able to do as well; let us not forget that, as entertaining as they are for adults, these films are primarily aimed at a younger audience.

The story centres on a rat called Rémy with a nose for a good recipe, who one day accidentally gets separated from his family, and ends up in Paris at the failing restaurant of his favourite, but now deceased, chef. There, by way of some good fortune, he ends up guiding the young inept heir to the restaurant, Linguini , in preparing new recipes which start to restore the restaurant to its former glories, much to the dislike of the newly-deposed former head chef Skinner.

The main theme of the story, namely the prejudices not just in the kitchen but in everyday life against outsiders, is nicely explored, though there is some messy business with a notable food critic which sometimes falls a bit flat (having a dig at the critics, Brad?). Otherwise, this is great fanily-friendly fodder, though perhaps a little too uncontroversial at times. Brad Bird, who stepped in to helm the project after original director Jan Pinkava was removed by the highers up at Pixar, once again hits all the right notes direction-wise, proving that the fantastic The Incredibles was no fluke on his part.

Visually, the film is again one step up from what has gone before. One can’t help feel that Pixar are permanently engaged in a spot of oneupmanship with Dreamworks, for instance constantly trying to outdo each other in terms of things like ‘realistic water’, and so on. Here, Paris is wonderfully recreated as a bustling, beautiful city, though oddly the city’s labyrinthine sewer system is not exploited as a setting as much as might seem suitable. Small details are, as usual, painstakingly rendered, which add up to helping to create the micro-universe of the film’s setting.

Another of Pixar’s strong points, the characterisation, is perhaps a little underplayed here, similarly to Finding Nemo; the main characters in these films tend to be interchangeable, but it is the peripheral characters, much like in the best work of the Coen Brothers, which give the films their depth. Here, the prize for the best of these must go to head chef Skinner, wonderfully voiced by Ian Holm, who falls only just short of Pixar’s greatest creation, The Incredibles’ Edna Mode.

I find it hard to believe the nay-sayers who are criticizing this film. Perhaps Pixar’s problem is that they have set such a high standard for animated features, that anything that falls just short appears to be a failure; Ratatouille, in my eyes, is a wonderful work which easily ranks alongside their other films in terms of sheer enjoyment.

***ATTENTION: FOOD BASED PUN FOLLOWS****

All in all, a thoroughly wholesome platter from Pixar.

***FOOD BASED PUN ENDS HERE***

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