Ratatouille

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Ratatouille
Review (9/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

When I think of the warm and fuzzy creatures that have made the successful transition from the animal kingdom to the animated kingdom, I have to admit that the rat would not have been on the top of my list. Bambi the baby deer, Thumper the fuzzy rabbit, Simba the cuddly lion cub - I can easily see how they would have become beloved animated animal characters. But a rat? Never in a million years. The mere sight of them in real life makes my skin crawl.

My suspicions about the lack of appeal of rats was recently confirmed by my two-year old, Jack. During a recent trip to The Disney Store in Toronto, I handed him the plush toy version of Remy, the star of Disney Pixar's latest animated creation, Ratatouille. With a look of sheer horror on his face, he let loose a blood-curdling "eek", slapped it on the head and ran into the corner to hide in the stuffed animal bin with Winnie the Pooh. Actions, I suppose, speak louder than words.

Now, if anyone could accomplish the daunting task of transforming the unlovable into the lovable, it would be the folks at Disney Pixar. After all, these are the people who made us want to hug a fish ("Finding Nemo"), befriend a monster ("Monsters Inc.") and adopt an ant ("A Bug's Life"). Would they be responsible for a rat renaissance?

Ratatouille tells the story of Remy, a young rat with hidden culinary talents. Unlike the other members of his colony who feast nightly on whatever garbage they can scrounge, Remy refuses to settle for castoffs an instead raids local gardens and kitchens in search of fresh and tantilizing ingredients. Unfortunately, rats are not welcome visitors to anyplace where food is stored or served, and he soon finds himself chased into a sewer. He resurfaces in one of the finest restaurants in Paris where he establishes a relationship with Alfredo Linguine, a hapless kitchen hand, who he quickly guides to notoriety among Parisian culinary circles. Unfortunately, great chef or not, a rat is not a welcome fixture in any restaurant kitchen, and Remy and Alfredo find themselves undertaking farcical measures to conceal the secrets of their success.

Ratatouille is, without a doubt, one of the best animated films that I have seen since "Finding Nemo". Everything about this film is simply outstanding. From its original story to its picture-perfect animation, Ratatouille is a feast for the eyes from start to finish. The distinctly Parisian flavour of the musical score and the intricate detail of the film's sets managed to capture the romantic beauty of Paris. The film was so realistic that there were fleeting moments when I forgot that I was watching animation.

One thing that particularly impressed me about this film was the research that was dedicated to ensuring that the subject-matter of the film was accurate. It would be easy with a children's film to be factually inaccurate - how many five year olds (or adults for that matter) do you know who are aware of the role of a sous chef in a restaurant kitchen? But, for the folks at Disney Pixar, as much attention was paid to factual details as was to visual details. Animators trained with world-renowned chef Thomas Keller (his restaurant, The French Laundry, is a haven for "foodies" the world over when they are in the Napa Valley), and visited some of the oldest and most well-known restaurant kitchens in Paris to develop storyboards and dialogue. The quality of their research and their strict adherence to factual accuracy was apparent throughout the film.

The final element of the film, the casting of the voice actors for the animated characters, was also perfectly executed. Actors such as Peter O'Toole, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Brad Garrett and Janeane Garolfolo, as well as several veteran voice actors collaborated to create a cast of characters that were identifiable and lovable. And Remy the Rat? Well, he was one of the most lovable characters of all.

Ratatouille is an animated film that is as much for adults as it is for children. Younger audiences will appreciate the film's lovable characters and the film's farcical comedy. Older audiences, particularly "foodies" (you know who you are), will enjoy the culinary tour, even if it is taken through a rat's eyes. Ratatouille may not inspire a rat renaissance but, in my house, any rat who is as gastronomically inspired as Remy will be welcome in my kitchen any day (although he may want to watch out for Jack).

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