Brad Bird is the best director of animated features working today. He has surpassed his bosses, John Lassiter and Andrew Stanton with only two films. The secret of course is writing good stories with sympathetic characters. This makes the action more engrossing and the jokes funnier. All the directors at Pixar, where Bird now works, know this. Brad Bird just does it better.

His latest, Ratatouille is about a rat named Remy who longs to be a great chef in Paris like his idol Gusteau. The problem is that rats generally aren’t welcome in restaurant kitchens. But Remy has talent and a hypersensitive nose that is able to parse out ingredients just by smell alone. Remy’s father wants him to stay with the pack of rats and sniff all their food for poison. He tries but finds that he just can’t confine his horizons to a rodentlike existence.  Eventually he winds up in Gusteau’s kitchen and strikes a bargain with an unambitious bus boy named Linguini. Remy hides in Linguini’s chef hat and guides his actions while cooking.

Just that plot alone would not get me to see this movie. But the Pixar name and especially Brad Bird make this one to get excited about. And while it’s not as good as The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, it doesn’t disappoint. It is, in fact the best animated feature in a couple of years, miles ahead of Shrek the Third and Happy Feet and it even edges out Cars.

The voice work is up to the usual standards. Patton Oswalt bring passion to Remy. Lou Romano is oddly sympathetic as Linguini. And the great Peter O’Toole is terrific as Anton Ego, the evil restaurant critic.

The rats in this film are not Disneyfied at all. They are, in fact pretty ratlike. Bird has them walking on all fours, eating disgusting looking garbage and twitching their nose hairs. When they swarm,it’s actually kind of creepy.

But the best thing is the setting. This is a beautiful film that brings the city of light to glorious life. It is as stunning as any vista in any Disney animated film. Just beautiful.

I’m not sure how kids will react to the impassioned endorsement of haute cuisine built into the script, but they might like it. I’m not a foodie in any sense and I was able to enjoy the movie.

Ratatouille continues the untarnished reputation of Brad Bird.


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July 2007
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