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Ratatouille (2007,USA)

22/06/2011

Directors: Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava      Starring: Brad Garrett, Lou Romano, Patton Oswalt, Peter O’Toole, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Janeane Garofalo

I’ve raved before about Pixar and their absolute supremacy (for now at least) over the realm of family entertainment but it’s fair to say that not all Pixar movies are created equal. Ratatouille falls into the category that I am happy to call “Lesser Pixar” (see also: A Bug’s Life, Cars, Bolt), that cluster of films that haven’t experienced the surge of support and emotion from audiences and critics but which no doubt have their fans and aren’t necessarily bad films, just not up the the admittedly high standards of the “Greater Pixar” features.

The premise of Ratatouille is a little bit outlandish, more so than usual I think for an animated film. Remy, a young rural rat living with his rat brethren in the French countryside, is different from the other rats. Rather than being happy to settle for any old decaying morsel of food he has a passion for flavour combinations and haute cuisine. Due to an unfortunate encounter with the owner of the home from which they plunder most of their supplies the nest is forced to flee and Remy finds himself seperated from the rest and alone on the mean streets of Paris. Through some accidental cookery he finds himself in the company of Linguini, a young would be chef who has no cooking ability whatsoever. The pair team up in order to revitalise the fortunes of the restaurant in which Linguini works. Sounds a bit mad no? Well, it is.

I think it’s due to this premise that the film falls short of the truly classic Pixar movies. “Wouldn’t it be cool if toys had a life of their own and got up to mischief when their owners weren’t about?” Yes, sounds good and an idea that gave birth to the Toy Story franchise. “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a parallel world inhabited by monsters that relied on the screams of children to keep their world going?” Yeah, excellent idea, let’s make Monsters Inc. “Okay, okay this is it, the big one! Imagine there’s this rat, right, and he’s a chef, you know. And he’s in this kitchen, preparing meals and stuff….” No. Not cool. Not even remotely close. But for some reason, they made it anyway. There’s just an overriding oddness that’s a bit jarring. Perhaps it’s too madcap. It’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why it feels wrong but it does.

Aside from this, it’s pretty much everything you would expect from a Pixar movie. The animation is beautiful (although some of the character design is a bit odd) and the water effects are particularly satisfying. There are some good action sequences, usually involving Remy being chased which I suppose is a natural hazard for a rat that habitually involves himself in the affairs of humans and there are some good jokes. The Pixar one-for-the-kids, one-for-the-grown-ups method of comedy is evidently at play but there are a couple of jokes that are clearly aimed a little too squarely at adults and seem to miss the fact this is a kids film altogether. One involves a near miss with a pistol in a domestic dispute that (because they are French people) ends in a loving embrace and another is a somewhat extended sequence involving the preparation of a can of mace by a female character in readiness to fend off an anticipated assault by the main human protagonist Linguini when he appears to be a bit mad. I’m a liberal minded person, I saw Robocop at the age of eight and have seen films that would make grown men cry but these two scenes left a slightly nasty aftertase given their context.

The performances are competent if a little uninspiring, barring an excellent turn from Peter O’Toole as the feared and despised restaurant critic Anton Ego. Ego get’s the single best scene of the film and the best lines when he composes his newspaper critique of Remy/Linguini’s cullinary efforts. There is a slightly maddening situation of some of the cast adopting French accents and some (the heroes especially) not. I suspect it’s an attempt to make sure everyone remembers this is set in Paris because barring the occasional exterior with some (admittedly very pretty) shots of well known landmarks it could be pretty much anywhere. Personally I’d have liked everyone in on the act (which would more than likely have become very annoying very quickly) or none at all. Or better yet, get some French actors in to do the job.

The end result is a patchy, although visually arresting, effort that if it had been produced by some other studio, like Dreamworks for example, would probably have felt like a good effort. Sadly, it is doomed to comparisons with the likes of Up, Wall-e and Finding Nemo all of which serve only to highlight the inadequacies of this film. It’s probably above average in its own right but gets crushed by the weight of the expectations that come with the Pixar brand.

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