Ratatouille (2007)

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Ratatouille
Dir. Brad Bird
Premiered June 22, 2007

If 2007 is indeed the best year in movie history, its greatness cannot be measured in dollars. A cursory glance at BoxOfficeMojo reveals that the blockbusters of 2007 are mostly outright garbage, some of which I’ve already reviewed. And while the passion projects that made the year great speak well of the filmmakers and studios that produced them, the same cannot be said of we the audiences: among the top-ten worldwide releases, nine were adaptations, remakes, or sequels.

The lone exception is Ratatouille, the year’s contribution from the great animation studio Pixar. Though Pixar’s glory has begun to fade now, there was a time not long ago when it seemed as if the spirit of Uncle Walt had deserted his own studio and gone to Emeryville.

Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a young rat with an advanced sense of smell who has accordingly become fond of human society through the art of food. Separated from his family by a disaster of his own making, Remy emerges in Paris, at the doors of the once-revered fine restaurant Gusteau’s. Guided by his imagination of the late chef Gusteau himself (Brad Garrett), Remy endeavors to become a great cook through the assistance of janitor-turned-cook Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano). However, Linguini has a secret not even known to him, and his sudden skills draw the suspicions of current chef Skinner (Ian Holm), and legendarily fussy critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole).

What makes Ratatouille exceptional is not merely its animation, or sense of humor, or heart, though all are exemplary. At a time when Disney had burnt itself out trying to distill goodness into a formula, and rival Dreamworks refused to take itself seriously, Pixar– and especially Brad Bird– gave themselves the freedom to make something new. Something that, like all of Pixar’s best films, isn’t afraid to have heroes who are kind of jerks. Something that could be fun and heartfelt, rather than splitting the difference between two perceived opposites. This is a family film in the truest sense, the same sense as can be said for Nintendo or the Muppets or The Simpsons. I never felt like this movie was made for a different audience from me. And if I were a kid, I’d probably feel the same.

Ratatouille touched me in a way I did not expect. When it was released in theaters, I didn’t remotely get the hype. I believed it could be good for what it was, but truly great cinema? This? The cartoon with the rat who controls a guy like a puppet? To call it cute would be accurate but misleading, and neither the trailer nor my plot summary can do it justice. Communicating how food makes people feel should be impossible in a medium that you can’t taste, and yet Ratatouille succeeds. You simply have to see it.

Additional Notes
If there’s one criticism, I think the kitchen crew besides Linguini and Colette (Janeane Garofalo) kinda get the short end of the stick in terms of characterization. We’re introduced to them, but don’t get much else.

There’s no limit to the praise Michael Giacchino deserves for his score.

How Did It Do?
Ratatouille was one of the biggest successes of the year by every measure one could use to judge a movie’s success. Grossing $620.7 million against a $150 million budget, it was the sixth-biggest movie of the year worldwide. With a 96% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes, it was one of the highest-rated wide releases of the year (and that’s saying something). It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, I imagine quite easily, in addition to nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. Pixar continued on its hot streak for a few more years, but eventually the rest of the animation world– and the sky-high expectations of critics and hardcore fans– began to catch up.

Next Time: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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