animated vermin have held an intriguing if not oft-clichéd
place in the heart of American pop culture. Films like The
Secret of NIMH or An
American Tale have used anthropomorphized mice or
rats as a metaphor for an impoverished working class
swept into a world they find terrifyingly more grand
than their humble beginnings, but who are ultimately
saved by unflinching senses of self and purpose. On the
other hand, the poor critters are also prone to comical
and near-tragic jeopardy involving household pets and
devices. Believe it or not, the skillful combination
of both of these themes has made Pixar and Disney’s Ratatouille one
of the best films of the year.
From there on out, the film’s plot meanders through a few too many characters and conflicts for it to ever locate the same emotional satisfaction of The Incredibles or Finding Nemo, but its truly standout pleasures lie elsewhere. Without a doubt, this is a film to be appreciated on the big screen, as that’s the best vantage point to get the full benefit of its remarkable artistry. Ratatouille’s rats showcase painstaking detail, eerily authentic movements, and more expressive facial contortions than the actors voicing them can keep up with. Trailing close behind in notable achievements is the attention paid to the creation of the film’s many edible delicacies, which not only impressively ape authentic French plate compositions, but go so far as to visually convey the food’s sensate presence. You can practically smell the simmering Gruyère and Béchamel.
In addition to indulging in the finer details of French cuisine, Ratatouille also manages to combine exhilarating kinetic momentum with choreographed action sequences rivaling the best classic animation, not to mention every blockbuster film of the summer. Thankfully though, all of this visual intelligence is matched by the film’s thematic intelligence, provided by writer/director Brad Bird’s incisive script. It’s hard to imagine that a big-budget animated movie made in conjunction with Disney could climax with an eloquent treatise on the critic’s role and the artist’s soul (from a phenomenal Peter O’Toole as restaurant critic Antono Ego), but Bird’s willingness to sacrifice marketability for quality is one of the factors that makes him one of the greatest mainstream filmmakers working today. Yes, parents, your kids will like this film—but a few of you may genuinely love it.