Rats! Poo! Duck!

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Disney / Pixar

Ratatouille

(3 of 5)

In our little group portrait of new animation, Ratatouille — a rat-out-of-sewer fable about Remy, the country rodent who tries to fulfill his dream of making great food by befriending a jerky kid named Linguini in a Paris restaurant — is the most familiar face. It has the format (a journey of self-discovery and friendship) and virtues (grace of movement, narrative power) of Pixar, the pioneer foremost practitioner of CGI features. It has set pieces worthy of the old Disney masters, as when Remy, on his first night in Paris, scurries and jetes to avoid the heavy footfalls of pedestrians who'd scream if they noticed him. Though the story takes place in today's Paris, the movie has the vibe of postwar years, when the light was softer, the shadows longer. The subtle colors and textures of the food alone make Ratatouille a three-star Michelin evening.

By the way, in this Paris top restaurants get five stars; and the garbage boy doesn't normally wear a toque. There's also a logical-logistical challenge. Remy, too small to do the handiwork himself, hides in the toque and directs Linguini's movements by tugging on tufts of the kid's hair. Thus does he manipulate Linguini's arms, legs, shoulders! We understand that the boy is the rat's marionette — but strings through his entire body? Whatever quibbles you may have, you would have to be an idiot of elephantine proportions not to appreciate Ratatouille's grace, humor and power.

Queer Duck, though also California-made, couldn't be farther from Ratatouille. No family film, this; it's a bathhouse vaudeville of nonstop gay gags and homoneurotic songs. The movie sends its main character, Adam Seymour Duckstein, away from his menagerie of friends and lovers (Openly Gator, Bi-Polar Bear, Oscar Wildcat) to be deprogrammed by a preacher. After a dose of an ungaying potion, Queer Duck pronounces himself in love with Cameron Diaz and Camryn Manheim. Liza shows up too.

You'll recognize the Reiss touch from both The Simpsons and The Critic: constant sidesteps into movie and TV burlesques, and a very high ratio of good humor to bad. But if Queer Duck has a godfather or bachelor uncle, it would have to be the classic old Rocky and Bullwinkle show (or, as it's called in a gay TV-porn collection Queer Duck owns, Rockhard & Bullsprinkle). And since that was the smartest pre-Simpsons cartoon series, I mean this as high praise indeed. For all its bitchiness, the movie manages to be frisky and genial. One last odd fact: Reiss is straight. "I write about [gay life] the way someone would write a Civil War novel," he told an interviewer for Planet Out. "I just research, research, research."

And talk about the Dangerfieldianism of animation: this movie opened in no theaters; Paramount financed Queer Duck, then denied it a theatrical release and dumped it in video stores. Search it out!

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