a critiQal film review Ratatouille (2007)

Plot: A rat named Remy (Oswalt) dreams of becoming a great chef. When fate places Remy in the city of Paris, he finds himself ideally situated beneath a restaurant, where Remy forms an unlikely partnership with Linguini (Romano), the garbage boy who inadvertently discovers Remy’s amazing talents. They strike a deal, ultimately setting into motion a hilarious and exciting chain of extraordinary events that turns the culinary world of Paris upside down.

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Pixar’s latest film, Ratatouille is now on DVD! Since we are both huge fans of pretty much the entire Pixar library of films (including their short films), we couldn’t wait to check this out. Sadly, we weren’t alone, as Blockbuster® had “long wait” listed next to the title, despite it being first on our list. Last week, we were in the store picking up our reserved copy of Shrek the Third (2007) (her idea) and nabbed a copy of Ratatouille while we were there. Finally, feeling pleasantly stuffed from our Thanksgiving feast, we jumped at the chance to check out the film before our annual turkey-induced Thanksgiving nap.

Breaking from the norm, Pixar has decided to go for less famous voices for Ratatouille. Instead of big names like Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Ellen Degeneres or other well-known names, they chose Patton Oswalt, a lesser known comedian (who recently had a part in “Reaper” (TV), one of our new favorite shows), to voice Remy the rat, the main character of the film. Sure, they tossed in Peter O’Toole as the voice of food critic Anton Ego, and Janeane Garofalo as the voice of chef Colette, but for the most part they stuck with lesser known actors.

Usually, Pixar films, with their well-known voices, have to work extra hard to get the viewer to disassociate the voice with the face, and concentrate on the character of the film. With Ratatouille, this wasn’t a problem for them. Instead, the viewers can immediately associate the voice with the character and move on. While usually this would seem like a good idea, here it seems more that Pixar wasn’t sure if the movie would be able to overcome the well-known voices as easily as their previous films.

Whatever the reason behind using the lesser known voices, the actors do a decent – but not outstanding – job of voicing the characters in Ratatouille. Nothing really worth mentioning, either good or bad. All in all, pretty much forgettable voicing (aside from Peter O’Toole’s critic), leaving most to hope Pixar goes back to their formula of working with big names in future films.

The plot of Ratatouille doesn’t lack in originality. Putting an actual rat into a restaurant in Paris as a chef has to be right up there with some of the wildest and wackiest plots, but it’s inventiveness is also a contributing factor to its downfall. Despite previous films having cars, monsters, fish, toys and bugs talk, Ratatouille stands out as being the most far-fetched plot the folks at Pixar have yet to come up with. Despite the film’s desperate attempts to get the viewer to buy into this plot, most will still come away still a bit skeptic.

But the plot of Ratatouille is hindered more so in its presentation. After all the previews highlighting the relationship between Remy the rat and Linguini the garbage boy, it comes as quite a surprise when Linguini doesn’t actually show up in the film until almost 20 minutes into it. With this rather long introduction to our main character, the viewer already knows that the film is going to be a bit drawn out…and at an almost 2 hour running time, it most certainly is.

After that long intro, the viewer gets to what they assume is the meat of Ratatouille..and instead discovers that while the film has a running theme – Remy making his way in Paris – it doesn’t actually feel like a movie. Instead, the viewer is presented with what seems to be a multitude of short films pieced together into a lengthy film. When the next section starts, the viewer is taken aback, and their preconceived notions about the film are tossed out the window as they surreptitiously glance at their watch.

The final section of Ratatouille is the silliest part, as the filmmakers toss in another enemy for Remy and Linguini, in the form of (what else) a food critic. While the premise seems sound, the way it is played out is a bit on the simplistic side, and most will guess the ending of this segment long before it happens.

But, what review of a Pixar film like Ratatouille is complete without comments on the animation? Here again, their animation is top-notch, creating a rat, that despite its human actions, is still undeniably a rat. The character goes through a lot in the film, including an exciting kitchen escape attempt sequence that has him bouncing and skidding from hiding spot to hiding spot (including a dip in a sink full of dishes), and the animation never once falters. While the characters and the rats are all done with a bit more of a cartoonish hint to them, Pixar doesn’t skimp on the details, making each scene a feast for the eyes.

Ratatouille, unfortunately, is another slight bump in the road for Pixar. Focusing this time more on the animation than on refining the plot, they’ve created what feels to be 3 vignettes about the same character, rather than an entire film. Sure, each vignette is entertaining, but the film’s plot seems to have been pieced together from Saturday morning cartoon episodes, rather than seamlessly working with the voices and the animation to create something spectacular, as most previous Pixar films have been able to do with out even seeming to try.

Decent enough, but decent isn’t what we’ve come to expect from Pixar. We expect extraordinary by this point, and Ratatouille misses. Not by much, but enough to cause some disappointment. For the first time in years, a Pixar film has come along that I wouldn’t urge people to rush to see as soon as possible. Instead, wait for the “long wait” to die down, and rent it when you get a chance later on down the road.

However, as buzz is already starting to build for the formula-breaking WALL-E (2008), it would be a little early for anyone to say Pixar has lost its top dog status in the animation field quite yet – although Dreamworks’ recent Over the Hedge (2006) was a brilliant effort.

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