Rats must be the most hated of pests and animals in general. But trust Disney’s Pixar to take the tale of a rodent right out of the Parisian sewers and make him one of the most likeable and cuddliest animated characters of all time. Very few have enjoyed as continuous a success as the studios’ computer animation division. Be it with toys, fish, superheroes or talking cars, their well of talent is seemingly bottomless. Written and co-directed by Brad Bird, the man behind “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” shows all the hallmarks of a true Pixar production that is thoroughly enjoyable for children and adults alike though thankfully steering clear of the endless pop-culture that perpetrate so much of the Dreamworks output. It’s an ode to cuisine, to France and more universally – to friendship, self-belief and to la vie that makes it virtually impossible to dislike.
Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) has always been a special rat in his colony. Not only does he have the most delicate nose around, he has always dreamt of becoming a gourmet chef at Gusteau’s famous restaurant in Paris. Ill luck and a very evil granny sees the rat pack abandon their cosy country home in panic and swept downriver, Remy is tragically separated from his friends. After some time in the sewers, Remy realises he is in fact in the aforementioned city, right at the kitchen door of said famous restaurant. Since Gusteau has since died, the place is now run by tyrannical head-chef Skinner (Ian Holm) who would turn it into a lucrative packed food company. Through necessity, Remy teams up with luckless escuelerie Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano) to save the restaurant from Skinner, harsh critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole) and to win the heart of fellow cook Colette (Janeane Garofalo). And if those colourful character names enticed you in the least, this is made for you – the entire film is hilarious, heartfelt and absolute genius. The love that the Pixar folks have got for their characters is visible in every frame. Equally, the film manages to instil a deep love for food and cooking. This may not be something we’d expect from a children’s film but we didn’t think that about fish either.
Very often in films that feature animals, these are made much too human in their behaviour but that too has been avoided. Remy, even though he can talk, never mind cook, communicates best without any words at all: One of the film’s best scenes is that in which Linguini, told to destroy the rat after Remy is caught in the kitchen, cannot bear to drown him. For all the success Dreamworks have had with “Shrek” and others, they simply cannot match Pixar for touching moments of pure emotion just like this one. In this regard, Bird’s screenplay deserves the ultimate credit. His story is incredibly deep and rich for what is essentially a children’s movie. “Ratatouille” is about dreaming big and the self-belief required to see those wishes through. Remy is constantly being told by his father (Brian Dennehy) and rodent friends that a rat has no place among humans. Although he loves Remy he would rather have his son’s keen nose sniffing out rat poison than poking around a gourmet restaurant. If the film can instil such determination and inspire such dreams in its audience -which no doubt it will – then it has succeeded. Deservedly garnering another Oscar for Pixar, “Ratatouille” is their best film to date and any lingering doubts as to the longevity of their idea pool will have been dispelled.
With “The Incredibles” Michael Giacchino replaced Randy Newman as Pixar’s composer of choice and after providing a great spy-parody score, Giacchino was hired for this film too. Through gentle waltzes, cool salsa and orchestral hyperactivity, the composer perfectly captures the tone of the adventure. Though instruments like the accordion to represent France are cliched, the score kicks off with a great rendition of the Marseillaise, leading into a spirited performance of one of the main themes. This is heard again in the album’s best cue “Dinner Rush” which includes a full orchestral arrangement. Remy’s theme is a bit on the short side on album, making appearances in the Camille song “Le Festin” as well as on beautiful piano and clarinet in the last track. In between Giacchino will have you dancing and whistling along with great action music (“100 Rat Dash” and “The Paper Chase”) and charmingly quirky material like “This is Me” and “Remy Drives a Linguini.” Listeners will hear similarities with Giacchino’s later theme for “Up” and although that score won him an Oscar, this score is probably the superior of the two. Highly enjoyable all round, this is Michael Giachino’s best music to date and will probably see him hired for animated films for years to come. Only the underuse of Remy’s theme prevents it from the full five.
Like “Up” two years later, “Ratatouille” is high on appeal for both adults and children, playing with comedic adventure and much deeper messages, it’s entirely adorable. Nobody within animation (and only very few without) can come close to Pixar’s masterful style.
What’s your favourite Pixar film? Please do leave a comment and discuss. Thank you all so much for reading!