Ratatouille (2007) dir. Brad Bird
Voices by: Patton Oswald, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Lou Romano, Brad Garrett, Peter O’Toole
Critics went overboard on the praise of “Ratatouille”, another Pixar/Brad Bird collaboration, the previous of which resulted in “The Incredibles”. Of course the animation is fantastic, and the restaurant environment provides an interest locale for more computer animated animal hijinks, but the film is surprisingly devoid of the interesting and funny characters that we have come to expect from these blockbuster films.
The lovable protagonist in the film is a talking rat named Remy, an outcast rodent from the country who despises the diet of garbage and leftovers eaten by his family. He yearns for a better life, a life of culture and haute cuisine. So he leaves his family and travels to the big city - Paris - to eat in style. Remy’s idol is the world famous Parisian celebrity chef, Gusto, who has recently died and whose restaurant has lost its ‘stars’ and become a shadow of its former self. But while stealing food from the restaurant he accidentally prepares the best soup Gusto’s has ever made and had it served to a customer. It becomes a hit, and when the head chef asks who made it, the only person in the room to take credit is a lowly kid janitor named Linguine.
In order to save his job Linguine and Remy are forced to work together to cook not only the soup but a series of other fabulous dishes Remy has invented. They develop a system where Remy controls Linguine’s movements by tugging at his hair while hiding underneath the hat on his head. The ploy works until Linguine’s greedy head chef Skinner discovers his secret. The only way for Remy and Linguine to save Gusto’s from being taken over by Skinner is by hijacking the restaurant and wowing the snobby food critic that took away it’s stars.
I’m reviewing “Ratatouille” long after the film made gobs of money around the world and critics hailed the film as a masterpiece – check out the 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And so when the film sailed along on a very predictable narrative path with barely a chuckle from my face, I was more than surprised. Remy is a fine character and Bird’s cooking sequences are cleverly constructed. His passion for fine food is a pleasant ironic twist of character. But the story arc is shamefully predictable and all the other characters in the film are adequate story placeholders.
As well, I don’t understand why Remy couldn’t actually talk to Linguine. They communicate with each other like they speak each other’s language – Remy shakes and nods his head when Linguine speaks to him - but we only see Remy talking to his other rat friends. As a result I never felt a true connection between these characters who needed each other so much. If indeed they could have a dialogue between each other this would make their relationship so much more interesting.
We now take for granted the phenomenal animation these new CG films create. The Paris Bird creates is as photo realistic as ever. Watch the lighting effects and the way the camera can change focus in a shot like a real camera. Top marks on all levels here.
But my main complaint is that it just wasn’t that funny. Of course, humour is a matter of personal taste, as it’s mostly an uncontrolled involuntary reaction. But I didn’t laugh at all in the film. Brad Bird just didn’t have the supporting characters like, say, the Gingerbread Man from “Shrek”, or the Penguins from “Madagascar” or the Swat Team from “Monsters Inc.” to make the comedy soar.
“Ratatouille” bests all other films on a technical level, but in terms of story and humour it’s unfortunately only competent.