By Don Simpson | June 28, 2007
Director: Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava (co-director)
Writer: Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Bob Peterson
Starring: Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Peter Sohn, Brad Garrett, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Janeane Garofalo, Peter O’Toole
There is a new rat in Paris – besides Nicolas Sarkozy – called Remy (Patton Oswalt). He has a well-defined palate which makes him a lover of great food. While the other rats laze around blissfully munching away on whatever trash is quick and convenient (“once you muscle your way past the gag reflex, all kinds of possibilities open up”), totally oblivious about keeping a healthy diet, Remy braves the dangerous terrains of neighborhood kitchens scouring for the finest selection of fruits, vegetables, cheeses and breads to accompany the most complimentary of wines.
One day, Remy is helplessly whisked down the sewer away from the rest of his clan. Remy fatefully finds himself beneath the delectable City of Lights where he befriends a fumbling, bumbling noodle of a human named Linguini (Lou Romano).
Linguini was recently hired as a janitor in the kitchen of Remy’s culinary idol, the recently deceased Chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett). Remy’s mad kitchen skills cloaked by Linguini’s human figure prompts Linguini’s accelerated ascension up the ranks of the kitchen.
And what is a story based in Paris without a little love? Enter the only female of the kitchen, Colette (Janeane Garofalo), who instantly becomes Linguini’s love interest.
As a film stirring with dietary concerns and cooking techniques, the plot and dialogue may be a little meaty for most kids (perhaps more appealing to their parents’ taste) to adequately digest. However, it may encourage more children to request quality food from their parents (“I don’t wanna eat garbage, Dad!”) or at least convince the kids to eat their vegetables. And, hopefully, Ratatouille won’t instigate a cross-promoted frozen food line sponsored by Disney.
The opening animated short film Lifted (directed by Gary Rydstrom) earned the biggest giggles from the tykes despite its lack of dialogue. The lead character gets his butt stuck in his bedroom window, personifying what kids are entertained by these days – violence and butt jokes. Ratatouille offers no cheap low-brow thrills. The script (like a fine wine) is mature, refined and intelligent; the complete antithesis of most Disney-Pixar productions (more like highly caffeinated soda beverages).
Brad Bird has written and directed two of the most intelligent and creative animated features of the past decade: The Incredibles (2004) and Iron Giant (1999). Bird has brought a newfound legitimacy — along with Disney’s acquisition of Hayao Miyazaki’s oeuvre — to the animation behemoth’s output. Leftie comedians Janeane Garofalo and Patton Oswalt aid in making Ratatouille even more (dare I say?) digestible for the more politically-aware audience members.
Remarkably enough, only one month after Bush’s nemesis (Jacques Chirac) passed the French presidential torch to Sarko, Disney releases a film in humble praise of the cuisine — and, to a lesser extent, the culture — of Paris. This coming from a country (yes, the U.S. – how quickly we forget) that until relatively recently counted anyone that said “French fries” (rather than the more patriotic “freedom fries”) as a suspected terrorist.
Lastly, I imagine a lot of kids requesting ratatouille from a lot of very perplexed parents. So for all you parents out there, ratatouille is a traditional French Provençal stewed vegetable dish (rural peasant’s stew) containing tomatoes, garlic, onions, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers and herbs. It can be served with bread, rice or potatoes. The name is derived from the French touiller (“to stir”) and “rata” is slang from the French Army meaning “chunky stew.” Listen to your children, don’t feed your family trash, go to your local farmer’s market and get stewing, Mom and Dad!