In the new movie Ratatouille, Remy has a problem. As with many who live in France, he has a passion for fine food, and a gift for making it. His keen sense of smell serves him very well as an enthusiastic gourmet, and in his ability to pick just the right combination of ingredients to create magical flavors. And great food is that to him – magic. It has a power that fills him with wonder and awe.
Only problem is, Remy is a rat.
Merde! What’s a rat to do?
His pragmatic father, Django (Brian Dennehy), otherwise unimpressed with Remy’s culinary ambitions, puts his son to work as the family clan’s official rat poison detector. Remy (Patton Oswalt) makes do as best he can, until he is caught pilfering some saffron from a little old lady’s countryside cottage kitchen. The little old lady is not too happy with this, and reacts by spraying her kitchen with shotgun fire.
Chaos ensues, and the rat clan, which had been residing in the attic, is forced to evacuate into the sewers. Remy becomes separated from his family, and eventually finds his way into the heart of Paris. With the help of his imaginary sidekick who has taken the form of his idol, Chef Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett), he finds his way into Gusteau’s restaurant.
The restaurant has seen better days. It’s previous owner, Gusteau, died of a broken heart after a vicious review from the powerful food critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole) resulted in the loss of one of the restaurant’s 5 stars. The new chef, Skinner (Ian Holm), a pint-sized conniving tyrant with a Napoleon-complex, has not helped it. He is more interested in exploiting Gusteau’s reputation to produce a line of microwavable food products than in restoring the old restaurant’s grandeur.
Remy becomes involved in the restaurant’s fate when he reacts in horror at the sight of the garbage boy, Linguini (Lou Romano), making an inept attempt at spicing up a soup behind the cook’s back. He rescues the soup by adding some choice ingredients of his own, but is discovered. Linguini, realizing that the rat has a talent for cooking that he himself does not possess, takes him in. He and the rat work out a system whereby Remy controls him like a puppeteer, using Linguini’s hair like strings. Thus, a great culinary partnership is born.
Ratatouille is the eighth feature film by Pixar Animation Studios, and will only help to continue to cement the studio’s ever-growing reputation as a creator of technically brilliant and beautiful films that are paired with wonderful storytelling.
Movie-lovers occasionally express the lament that the soul of a movie, the story, often gets sidelined in favor of glitzy, eye-catching computer wizardry. Pixar has proved that you can have it both ways. Its talent for stunning and breathtaking computer imagery has gone hand-in-hand with compelling stories that are packed with heart and moral depth.
Following in this tradition, we are treated to the gorgeous skyline of Paris with its Eiffel Tower, the subtle detail of each scallop and piece of fruit, as well as the great depth of emotion each character shows on their face. The message of believing in yourself, of never giving up your dreams, comes through loud and clear. The importance and strength of family ties, even when those same family members don’t always understand you or your dreams, is also shown.
Foodies will appreciate the respect and reverence given to gourmet cuisine in this film. Throughout the movie, it feels as if the creators are as passionate about great food as Remy is. There is a level of sophistication and knowledge about how a gourmet kitchen works that is impressive, and is an element that will draw grownups to the film along with their kids. And even though those same kids may not quite understand what “sweetbreads” are, it would not surprise me in the least if Ratatouille ends up inspiring another generation of future chefs.
This degree of familiarity with haute cuisine is the result of cooking classes the Ratatouille crew took, as well as their consultation with professional gourmet chefs. Producer Brad Lewis even interned with Thomas Keller, the legendary chef and owner of The French Laundry. It also didn’t hurt that the Sets and Layout Manager, Michael Warch, was a professional chef before working at Pixar and holds a culinary degree.
The sense of authenticity extends into the rhythm of work displayed in Gusteau’s kitchen, which is also filled with some of the characters one might find in Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. There is the Sous-Chef who had been in prison for some mysterious reason (he keeps changing the story) and the tough-as-nails Colette (Jeanene Garofalo), who teaches the hapless Linguini the down-to-earth gritty realities of working in a busy restaurant kitchen.
There are some last caveats for young ones, even though the movie is rated G. Remy is often running for his life and avoiding various deadly implements. There is also a scene of a rat-poison shop that has a grotesque display of dead rats in its window. Despite all this, my 4-year-old daughter was engaged throughout the whole movie, though she did start to cry at an emotional low-point when Remy & Linguini weren’t getting along.
By the ending credits, the audience was applauding – further evidence of just how special this film was. All in all, this is a grand film fantastique that both adults and young children can enjoy (a rare treat!). You may not be able to take your child to a real gourmet restaurant yet, but you can visit Gusteau’s. Go, see it and enjoy this feast of a movie. Bon appétit!