After the release of Finding Nemo, the general consensus seemed to be that Pixar had made their best movie and it was unlikely that they would top that. And then came Ratatouille. The glowing reviews of this new movie prove that Pixar still have a trick or two up their sleeve.
Ratatouille is the story of an aspiring chef named Remy (Patton Oswalt) who wants to be the best chef in Paris. There is just one problem - Remy is a rat. The movie opens with Remy’s refined olfactory sense landing him the job of a poison detector in his father’s colony. Exasperated with his family’s lack of appreciation of fine food (”If you can sort of muscle your way past the gag reflex, all kinds of food possibilities open up!”), Remy sneaks into the countryside cottage of an old woman and secretly watches a cooking show featuring his inspiration Chef Gusteau (Brad Garnett), whose spirit incidentally, is his guardian angel.
Circumstances then bring him to Paris and fortuitously to Gusteau’s restaurant. Unfortunately, Gusteau has passed away and his namesake restaurant is now being run by Skinner (Sir Ian Holm). Along comes bumbling, loopy Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano) who gets a job as a cleaner in the kitchen. One day, when Linguini accidentally makes a mess of a soup, Remy surreptitiously tries to improve it and gets caught. That is the beginning of a secret relationship between Linguini and Remy. He hides in Linguini’s toque and controls the latter like a marionette by tugging on his hair. In the meanwhile, Linguini begins dating Colette (Janeane Garofalo), a tough yet charming chef.
It then transpires that Linguini actually is Gusteau’s son and after ousting Skinner, he takes over the restaurant. News of the success of the new chef reaches food critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole) who previously had written a scathing review of Gusteau’s that caused not only the restaurant to lose a star but also its head chef’s subsequent death. That day, Remy and Linguini have a falling out and they part ways. The next day, as Ego is waiting for his meal, Linguini admits to his lack of culinary skills as well as to Remy’s help at which all the chefs including Colette walk out. Remy comes back to Linguini bringing with him his rat colony and with the help Colette (who also returns), they all prepare a simple stew (inspiration for the title of the film) for Ego whose reaction on tasting it is nothing short of brilliant. Ego insists on meeting the chef and when the restaurant closes for the night, finally meets Remy. His review the following day is as good as they get. Unfortunately, Skinner, miffed at losing his restaurant has set a health inspector on to Gusteau’s who upon finding the kitchen swarming with rats closes it down. A secondary consequence is that Ego loses all credibility as a food critic. However, this being a Disney/Pixar movie, it all works out in the end.
Rats are nasty, filthy, foul vermin. We hate them everywhere, but especially in our kitchens. That is why the idea of a rat who wants to be a chef should never have worked. Yet, it does. It is impossible to not fall in love with Remy, to not cheer at his triumphs, to not laugh with him or to not feel sad when he is miserable. The animators have performed a minor miracle. They made Remy look like a real rat and at the same time, made him adorable. Pixar has the tradition of using the best voices regardless of the actor’s star power for their characters and that is patently clear in Ratatouille. Patton Oswalt is perfect for Remy. No one else could possibly be better suited. Linguini as the awkward, slightly slow, yet occasionally sharp-as-a-tack janitor/reluctant chef is another lovable character. His scenes with Remy are either hilarious or wonderfully touching. Lou Romano, who actually works for Pixar, was so good as Linguini in the initial rehearsals that the directors decided to keep him on, which was a very clever decision.
Of the supporting characters, Janeane Garofalo as Colette, the feminist chef and Linguini’s love interest is acerbic and very funny. Sir Ian Holm is impeccable as always. He manages to convey Skinner’s meanness, greed and ambition through a most realistic French accent. One of the best characters has to be Anton Ego voiced brilliantly by Peter O’Toole. Everything about this character is supposed to spell doom for the restaurant he is critiquing - from his vulture-like appearance, to his coffin-shaped office and his typewriter which vaguely resembles a skull, and it does quite effectively. Brad Garnett as Gusteau is excellent and does full justice to the portly and benevolent chef.
Ratatouille works as well as it does because it is visually gorgeous. Paris has never seemed so authentic in an animated film. The panoramic views or the cobble-stone streets are so rich in detail that they almost seem like photographs. The kitchen at Gusteau’s looks like one at any restaurant - with all the different chefs, their stations and their pots and utensils. The food also looks like a gastronomical treat. The simmering sauces, the steam wafting up from them, the play of light and shade on the fruits and vegetables makes it all seem incredibly real. The rats as mentioned above are almost life-like. In fact, when one sees the kitchen at Gusteau’s filled with rats cooking for Anton Ego, it is quite difficult to suppress a shudder of disgust. The scenes where Remy gets electrocuted or is soaking wet deserve a special mention because that is exactly what I imagine an electrocuted or a soaking rat would look like.
While the entire movie is fantastic, there are a few scenes which are simply brilliant from a story-telling point of view. One of them is the first time Remy tastes some mushroom with cheese and herbs. The screen behind him darkens and there is a cascade of fireworks in the background to show the audience through his synesthetic experience just how much he enjoyed that bite. Another inspired scene is when Anton Ego first tastes the ratatouille that Remy prepares for him.
Disney/Pixar movies always have a lesson in them. Ratatouille is no exception - in fact, it has a few. However, the central theme is as Anton Ego says, “Not everyone can be a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Remy is testament to that.
In conclusion, Ratatouille is arguably Pixar’s best movie to date. Do go watch it. It will be better than any other movie playing in the theaters - I guarantee it.
Also by Bean
- Harry Potter vs. The Lord of the Rings - July 10th, 2007