By Vic Holtreman
Short version: Pixar knocks another one out of the park with this extremely smart, touching and funny movie.
Well I'm happy to report that it's not just very good, but Ratatouille is in fact great.
Ratatouille starts out as your basic fish out of water story, the same concept that has been used over and over again in movies aimed at kids. However you'll be engaged almost immediately by Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), with his charming personality and matter-of-factness. He's just not cut out for the rat lifestyle of stealing and skulking about - but worst of all he has a very sensitive palate and cannot abide by the idea of eating garbage.
He's the son of the rat pack's (sorry, couldn't help myself) leader, and he has a not-so-bright but endearing brother (named Emile and voiced by Peter Sohn) who will eat anything that isn't nailed down. Remy is entranced by Gusteau (voiced by Brad Garrett), the world's greatest chef, who he watches on the television in the house where his clan resides. Gusteau believes that anyone can learn to cook, and he's a huge guy with a heart to match. Unfortunately critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole and looking like an escapee from a Tim Burton animated film) has taken a dislike to Gusteau and writes a scathing review with dire consequences for the great chef.
Skinner (voiced by Ian Holm) who was the sous-chef (aka second-in-command in the kitchen) has taken over and is more concerned with creating a frozen-microwave dinner empire based on terrible food with Gusteau's name than he is on creating any new dishes for the patrons of the restaurant. Along comes the very endearing and bumbling young man Linguini (voiced by Lou Romano) who eventually becomes a threat to Skinner. Through a very funny sequence of events Remy ends up helping Linguini cook amazing meals that immediately become the most popular at the restaurant.
The characters in this film are amazing, but what really surprised me was that here I was watching a G-rated animated movie - and I was dying to find out what would happen next! I don't recall feeling that way while watching a movie of any rating in a very long time, and Ratatouille did not disappoint with it's results. The animation was top notch, with the backgrounds at times seeming so real that I think they were indistinguishable from live action. One thing I found interesting after sitting all the way through the credits is that Pixar uses NO motion capture techniques when creating their films. Very impressive.
There is also a great cast of extras, including Collete, who is instructed to take Linguini under her wing, and a cast of other characters in the kitchen all with mysterious (but not scary) backgrounds.
This movie was funny, touching and had me wondering what would come next. I don't know how Brad Bird and company continue to produce G-rated films that are so incredibly watchable by adults, but I look forward to their next film Wall-E and wish that other makers of animated films aimed at kids would learn something from these guys.
The only reason that I didn't give it 5 out 5 stars is that frankly there were a couple of scenes that creeped me out when the rats were shown en masse. One little fuzzy rat is cute, but showing a couple hundred of them scurrying about, especially in a kitchen gave me the willies.
Oh, and make sure you arrive early enough to catch the animated short film Lifted, which was hysterical!