Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Movie Review: Ratatouille

In recent years, the world of animated film has had a drastic increase in quality and acceptance by a wide audience. The genre, which seemed exclusive to children and the young at heart, has evolved into a form that can express ideas that both juveniles and adults can identify with. And the famed animated studio Pixar is likely the most responsible figure in this transition.

With their recent computer-animated feature Ratatouille, it would appear Pixar has taken an even greater leap ahead in terms of crafting an amazing story that can appeal beyond the typical family-friendly audience. It stands as a wonderfully fun tale about the potential for greatness in anyone (or any rat). I was further surprised to discover by utilizing the cooking process in a symbolic sense, director Brad Bird also says much about the process of composing and directing a film.

The plot of the film concerns a confused but intelligent rat, Remy, who has an unusually sharp palette. This fact causes him to seem drastically different than the rest of his rat family and friends, and feels alienated from the rest of his rat family. When an unfortunate accident separates Remy from his family, he finds himself at an upscale French restaurant named after his late cooking idol, Gusteau. He quickly befriends a young man who has just gotten a position at the restaurant, and their secret friendship enables the man, Linguini, to achieve massive fame for Remy's work in the kitchen. Yet as the friendship continues, Linguini becomes more unappreciative of Remy's skill, and Remy becomes more disenchanted by the fact that his appearance is requiring him to be hidden from the rest of the restaurant employees.

This is director Brad Bird's third animated feature film after The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, and like those two previous efforts, this film is an animated masterpiece. The first thing that is very apparent is the visual style of the film; not only does the art of computer animation continue to become finer and more enchanting, but Bird takes the technique further by utilizing very skilled live action camera techniques for a number of the animated sequences. This provided the film with a live action feel in many scenes, despite the fact that it is an animated feature. But the film's appearance is not its only strength; story has always been the driving force to Pixar's success, and this film continues that trend. Bird was likely intrigued by the subject of cooking by its parallels with directing; it requires seeing a final result that has yet to exist, and directing a number of unique and different elements to make the final result successful. Can Fellini's 8 1/2 be remade with a rat serving as the protagonist? With Brad Bird at the helm, it might be a possibility.

Whenever each new film is announced from the studios of Pixar, I have always felt that for film lovers, this is a joyous occasion. Pixar has yet to truly fail the general public with one of their films, and if Ratatouille is any indication, they actually succeed in raising the absurd expectations of their fans even further. Perhaps the most amazing fact is that they have made a series of films that are appeal to the parents of children as much as to the children themselves.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

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