Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 06/29/07 20:00:00

"Brad Bird: The Anti-Ed Wood"
5 stars (Awesome)

Considering the fact that the last two films he's directed have been the grossly underrated 'The Iron Giant' and the Oscar-winning 'The Incredibles,' it's hard not to expect something amazing from animation director Brad Bird. Fortunately, his latest effort 'Ratatouille' has all the wit and charm of its predecessors. With lovable characters, clever writing and startling visuals, the film is like a gourmet meal that begs you to gorge on it. Bird's movies so far have been aimed at children, but the craftsmanship in them can leave an adult spellbound.

The story, written by Jan Pinkava (who created the project and is credited as a co-director), Jim Capobianco and Bird, follows a French rat named Remy (Patton Oswalt) who wonders if there is more to life than simply stuffing his face with refuse and stealing to live.

His acutely sensitive nose makes him valuable to his colony because he can detect poisons. But it also leaves him with a svelte physique because he won't put just any morsel into his mouth. He loves watching humans on cooking shows demonstrating how to cook.

Remy would like to be a master of the culinary arts, but his father Django (Brian Dennehy), however, distains any activity that might bring his son closer to beings who want them dead simply for being rats.

Remy gets his chance when an accident forces his colony to leave their home and he gets left behind. Guided by the ghost of the great chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett), Remy winds up hiding in the kitchen of Gusteau's once great restaurant. He inadvertently joins the ranks of cooks when he prevents a garbage boy named Linguini (Lou Romano, who was the production designer on "The Incredibles") from ruining a soup.

Linguini lacks Remy's instinctive ability to turn ingredients into sublimely tasty dishes, but he's smart enough to know the rat is on to something, even if the critter can't speak in a way that Linguini understands. By hiding in the aspiring chef's hat, the two develop a symbiotic relationship that keeps Parisian diners happy.

The two get some guidance from a feisty cook named Colette (Janeane Garofalo). The odds of continuing their tasty ruse are almost insurmountable. The proprietor of Gusteau's, the domineering Skinner (Sir Ian Holm), hates Linguini and suspects that something furry and potentially disease carrying is involved.

The restaurant also has the Herculean task of pleasing Paris' toughest food critic, Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole) and preventing the star cook from being discovered by the health department.

Bird and his crew prepare "Ratatouille" with a precision and flair that would make Julia Child blush. As with "The Incredibles," there are some hair-raising chases and escapes. But the Pixar crew also manages to create subtle visual gags that require a viewer's full attention and reward it accordingly.

As Remy scurries through the Parisian sewers, notice how the fellow discovers why his new home has been dubbed "The City of Love."

From the breathtaking cityscapes of the French capital to the computer generated food that taunts hungry viewers, "Ratatouille," which is named after a French vegetable stew, is a treat for the eyes.

But it's Bird's effortless and subtle storytelling that makes the film an enduring delight. As much fun as it is to see a kitchen overrun with rodents who are helping instead of harming an eatery, the film's greatest charm is watching the relationship grow between Remy and Linguini. Using only glances (because Remy's speech means nothing to his human friend), you can see them developing a synergy that words would probably ruin.

One of Pixar's strengths is that despite casting familiar actors for plum roles, they consistently hand the lead roles to performers who may not be household names but are perfect for the roles. Oswalt has made dozens of television appearances but is known primarily as a standup comic. Nonetheless, he's absolutely lovable as a well-intentioned rodent. O'Toole's turn as "The Grim Eater" is so spot-on that it's a shame they don't hand out Oscars for cartoon voice work.

So many of the recent movies I've seen that have been aimed at children have been made assuming that tots need only a few crotch kicks and bursts of flatulence to be entertained. As a fan of Mel Brooks and the Farrelly Brothers, I have to admit these gags can be hysterically funny in the right hands.

Nonetheless, Bird and his collaborators prove that aiming their humor and hearts at a higher plane results in movies that lead viewers to happily do the same.

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