Ratatouille is an example of Pixar storytelling at its finest. At face value, the story seems to take quirky to levels too high for adults. Rural rat Remy (That's right, I said rat, the vermin) has a deep passion for cooking that is being stifled by his father. But, when Remy's colony is forced to flee into the sewers, he is separated and suddenly finds himself in Paris.The big city, for Remy, is a liberating experience, it expands his possibilities. It is here he meets the hapless Linguini, a struggling garbage boy in the swanky kitchen of the great Gusteau and the two end up forming a strange partnership. Remy can cook but doesn't have the opportunity, Linguini can't cook but has the opportunity. So, in a narrative device that teeters dangerously towards the unbelievable, the film makes Linguini Remy's puppet through the use of his hair.
All this in the first 45 minutes. Good job the direction is zippy, especially in manufacturing action sequences out of very little. This, in fact, continues throughout as Bird makes excellent use of his Parisian location. Sure, it's very much a tourist's view of Paris, the eiffel tower is on show as often as possible, but this isn't what makes the movie's use of the city effective; instead it's the detail. A chase along the river Seine later in the day exposes the level of research the animators went into here. If you wanted to go all subtext, you could also argue that Paris is a beauty that is only attainable when we are brave enough to follow our dreams; but it's also there to look pretty too!
Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with Linguini's subsequent elevation into cooking stardom and the remainder of the film is a sort of mix of suspense thriller with a bit of romance thrown in for good measure. But, turning away from the narrative for a moment, this movie is about so much more than cooking. It's about ego, jealousy and staying true to yourself.
Quick word on the voice work: outstanding, as always. Patton Oswalt and Lou Romano are likeable enough as Remy and Linguini respectively. But the star that really shines, however, is Peter O' Toole's sneering critic Anton Ego (pictured left). You see, Ratatouille is also a smart critique of criticism itself, a dispelling of snobbery everywhere. Let me tell you, the famous starring system doesn't come out of proceedings too well. And O' Toole's character suggests that critics need to put down their pens and enjoy things a bit more. It also, more importantly, makes the point that a critic should always be looking to champion the new and the different, instead of constantly ostracising the successful.
"I'm not talking about cooking, I'm talking abouts guts" Remy's father says to him towards the film's joyous climax.
Well, Pixar had guts, lots of them. And boy, did it pay off.