2007; Director: Brad Bird; Writers: Jan Pinkava, Brad Bird, Jim Capobianco
With the voices of Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano, Peter Sohn, Jeanane Garofalo, Brad Garrett, Peter O’Toole
Walt Disney Video
Available Nov. 6, List Price $29.99
If Pixar had presented the premise of this movie to the focus groups that have such power in the rest of the media, it might never have been made. "Ratatouille? Pronounced how? As in tooey?" And then, when told that the hero is a rat who dreams of becoming a gourmet chef: "Rats? Rats!" End of discussion.
Actually, the friendly folks at Pixar don't pay much attention to anything but their own entertainment instincts. Their CGI movies spring not from fairy tales or children's books but from the fertile imaginations of the brain trust at the home office in Emeryville, Calif. And of their seven original features, all hits, only one (Toy Story) has been allowed to spawn a sequel. Through decisions like these, and the application of a jovial wit and astonishing technical expertise to the basic Bildungsroman plot established by Disney, Pixar has become the most trusted name in animation.
Ratatouille fits snugly into the format of growing and learning no hugging this time as Remy the rat (Oswalt) teaches a horrifyingly feckless apprentice named Linguini (Romano) how to be a kitchen magician. There are some implausibles in the story: How does Remy manipulate Linguini's arms and legs by pulling his hair? But the film looks glorious, capturing all the hues of Paris by night. And the character animation is, as always, precise, mature and winning.
Bird, who directed The Iron Giant before coming to Pixar and The Incredibles after, took over Ratatouille midway when Pinkava, who had created the story and supervised the project for three years, was fired. This may explain the absence of a commentary track on the two-disc DVD; it could be a bit delicate for Bird to explain who did what. But animation fans will enjoy the sheaf of outtakes, including a 2min 34sec. restaurant tracking shot worthy of Goodfellas. For serious eaters, there's a colloquy between Bird and Marin county superchef Thomas Keller, who sees their jobs as both conveying "a sense of urgency." And co-story writer Capobianco serves up a sweet dessert: an 11 min. cartoon called Your Friend the Rat, with Remy and his slobby brother Emile (Sohn) giving a short tutorial on rodents: "Our teeth can cut through solid wood, lead pipe, cinder blocks, even steel, with the biting power of 24,000 lbs. per sq. inch. ... A rat can swim for 3 days and, yes, we can enter your home through the toilet."
In the distance, I hear the focus group wailing again.