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Friday, June 29, 2007

Ratatouille

Ratatouille gives me diarrhea. Not the movie Ratatouille, I mean the southern French dish itself, a plate of cooked eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, and stuff cooked into a coma and then piled high like a precision-built doggy doo. That’s probably what “ratatouille” actually means in French and they just aren’t telling us because you know how they are.

Fortunately, my family is less interested in fine cuisine than they are in fine movies and so when the new Pixar/Disney release opened this week at the
Essex Cinemas even Colonel Sanders took a backseat to this Ratatouille. At first, my hubby was skeptical when he saw the poster and realized that this Ratatouille was going to actually star a rat. He has a dreaded aversion of all things rodent ever since he was eleven and his brother put peanut butter on the back of his neck as they “camped” outside in the backyard one night in their sleeping bags and he was awakened by an opossum licking him with the enthusiasm of a head cheerleader. I, on the other hand, have never even seen a rat in real life (unless you count watching Willard on tv). Cartoon rats, I assured him, were nothing like the actual thing. These rats are bound to be cute, cuddly, and capable of speaking more cleverly than George Bush on just about any subject. And sure enough, they were.

The star rat of this film is a cuddly little gourmand named Remy, voiced by cuddly little stand-up comic Patton Oswalt (tv’s “The King of Queens”). Remy lives with the rest of his colony
(regrettably never referred to as a rat pack) in the sewers of Paris, but Remy has greater aspirations than his comrades. While they make do with their lot in life as the natural enemies of humankind and dine only on the scraps and garbage of their foes from the world above, Remy wants to learn from these people. In particular, he is a fan of the famous French chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett; tv’s “Til Death”), owner of a renowned Bistro bearing his name, star of his own television cooking program, and author of the best-selling book “Anybody Can Cook”. Ironically, just as a flood separates Remy from his father,Django (Brian Dennehey; Welcome to Paradise), and brother Emile (voiced by Peter Sohn, one of the film’s animators) and deposits him literally on the doorstep of Gusteau’s restaurant he arrives in the midst of a crisis generated by the death of the Great Chef himself.

Now the restaurant is struggling to keep its reputation intact since the magic of Gusteau’s cookery is gone and the rest of the staff was not privy to his secrets. Next in line is the weasely little Sous Chef, Skinner, who is deliciously drawn to look more like a squat, bug-eyed rat than the actual rats of the sewers. He is slimy-looking and downright untrustworthy, perfectly played by Ian Holm (The Treatment) who sounds like the ultimate French used car salesman, dripping in false charm while he’s sharpening the knife for his kill. Skinner, you see, has much to gain if no legal heir arrives to claim a legitimate relationship to Gusteau within the next three days. Then the restaurant and all the products and marketing rights to the name will become his. Nice, huh? Not too surprisingly, he already has a scheme in mind to turn the Gusteau trademark into a frozen foods empire all over the globe.

So what has all of this got to do with a cute little cooking rat? Well, I can’t tell you everything. It would spoil the movie! Let’s just say a lot happens in three days that affects the lives of some human folk in addition to one particular rodent. First, there is Linguini (Lou Romano; an animation artist as well as voice talent from other Pixar films such as Cars), an awkward young man who has come from the country with a sealed letter of introduction written by his recently deceased mother
to Mounsieur Skinner. For Linguini, this brings with it the hope of a job and a new life in the city. When he discovers that his hero Gusteau is dead his dreams look to be heading that way as well since the only job he can get from Skinner is the lowly task of garbage boy. But it does get him into the kitchen where he meets the beautiful, talented, and terribly underappreciated cook Cosette (Janeane Garofalo; The Wild), and where fate brings him together with that most hated of all kitchen dwellers ~ a rat!

Unfortunately, top restaurants, even in Paris, frown on rats in the kitchen, and so it falls to the garbage boy to dispose of the rascal, but Linguini quickly learns that this rat is no dummy and so a secret alliance is formed and what happens next… well, you’ll have to see for yourself, but I can assure you that you will laugh yourself silly.
Ratatouille is a delightful romp, the best family film of the year, and certainly one that everyone from six to one hundred and six can thoroughly enjoy.

Look for the inspired casting of legendary Peter O’Toole (Venus) as the droll food critic Anton Ego, a figure so frightening in the restaurant world his name strikes terror in the hearts of chefs everywhere. Known as “The Grim Eater”, Ego can make or break an eatery with a single review and
he states flatly that if he doesn’t like the taste of what he’s served he simply doesn’t swallow it. That, no doubt, explains why he makes Nicole Ritchie look morbidly obese by comparison.

Ratatouille is the brainchild of Brad Bird, who wrote and directed the film as he also did The Incredibles. He’s also well known as a long-time contributor to “The Simpsons” on tv, so if you have any doubts about the caliber of plotting, pacing, intelligence or wit, you can rest assured that Ratatouille works on all levels. It is destined to become another jewel in the Pixar/Disney crown, along with Cars, The Incredibles, Toy Story 1&2, Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life, and Monsters, Inc.

I can not recommend this film highly enough. This Ratatouille is absolutely delicious!

1 comment:

Bill said...

Saw it at the drive in last night. Great stuff. Check out The Iron Giant for more Brad Bird genius.