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Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List: #379 - Ratatouille

Brad Bird’s “Ratatouille” (2007) shouldn’t work. Rats can’t cook and they certainly do not belong in the kitchen of a Paris restaurant. Yet because this is a film made by Pixar, the studio with a nearly impeccable track record, that rat is not only depicted as a great cook but as also looks kind of cute, or as cute as an animated rat can be. Imagine the challenge if this had been a live-action film. As for the food, the dishes devised by the rat look a lot healthier than the frozen food the movie’s antagonist wants to peddle to his customers.

This was yet another occasion when I wanted to wait until the movie came out on DVD so I could watch the original English version and not the French dubbed version. It would actually have made more sense to see it in French since it is set in Paris, but it is funnier to hear Americans speak English with a phony French accent. Besides, the DVD had plenty of funny extras, such as short film about the misconceptions of rats towards humanity. I still blame them for the bubonic plague, but those rats made some compelling arguments.

The movie’s rat is Remy (voice of Patton Oswalt), who lives with his clan of rats in the French countryside. Like all rats, his family eats everything they can get their paws on, trash or otherwise. Remy on the other hand has dreams of eating not trash, but fine cuisine, as cooked by his idol the late chef Auguste Gusteau (voice of Brad Garrett). Circumstances separate Remy from his family and bring him to his idol’s restaurant, only now its manager is Skinner (voice of Ian Holm) an irritable man for whom the bottom line is quantity he can sell, not quality.

From the skylight, Remy observes Alfredo Linguini (voice of Lou Romano) a clumsy garbage boy who ruins a soup. Whether it is his imagination or a ghost, the spirit of Gusteau appears to Remy and encourages him to fix the soup. He takes a chance and climbs down to the kitchen to fix the soup, to the bewilderment of Linguini who sees him add all of the right ingredients. Fearing to be caught in the kitchen with a rat, Linguini hides Remy and takes credit when the soup proves a success with the customers. Linguini is then added to the kitchen’s cooking staff, all thanks to a rat.

Realizing his future at the kitchen depends on Remy’s skills in the kitchen, Luigini strikes a deal with his new friend. Remy will control Linguini like a puppet by hiding in his white cooking hat and pulling on his hair. He will use Linguini’s body to make the best recipes in the restaurant and in return Remy has food and a place to stay. The plan works to the amazement of Skinner who becomes increasingly suspicious of Linguini’s newfound abilities in the kitchen.

As the plot thickens, Linguini learns a family secret kept from him by Skinner, a romance blossoms between Linguini and fellow cook Colette (Janeane Garofalo), and Remy must contend with an uncomfortable reunion with his family, who are not too thrilled to see him working with a human in a kitchen. Ultimately Linguini and Remy’s future as successful chefs will depend on whether or not they can satisfy the aptly named Anton Ego (voice of Peter O’Toole) a critic who can sink a restaurant with a bad review.

This movie is a love letter to good food and the art of cooking. When Ego has a taste of the titular Ratatouille, a stewed vegetable dish, it is so good it brings back happy memories of his mother’s cooking. I get that. My mother was once told she makes the world’s best lasagna. I am sorry to say I am not the one who told her, but it’s true, she does make the world’s best lasagna. I highly doubt a rat in the best Parisian kitchen could ever match her skills, but that’s what movies are for: to make the impossible possible.

The food in “Ratatouille” looks delicious, the characters are charming, and the animation by Pixar is beautiful as always. The studio also knows how to write humor that can entertain audiences of all ages.

This movie won Pixar yet another Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. If I recall well, this was contested by a fellow movie fan at the University of Sherbrooke who believed “Persepolis,” the animated coming-of-age story of a young girl in the midst of the Iranian Revolution, was the better movie. That’s a matter of opinion, but mine is that “Ratatouille” won based on creativity. “Persepolis” is based on a very poignant true story; whereas “Ratatouille” has a concept so ridiculous only Pixar could get away with it. Good thing too. I would hate to think there are cooks out there with rats under their hats.    


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