Ratatouille (2007)

(In theaters, July 2007) After a temporary half-eclipse with Cars, the Pixar team returns in full force with an unbelievably slick film about a gourmet rat and the pleasures of gastronomy. An unlikely mixture, but one that works well: through a mis-matched pair of protagonist who each need something from the other, we’re able to explore the inner workings of a French restaurant. But as usual for Pixar’s best offerings, there’s a lot more under the surface here: Terrific comedy, strong details, sweet romance, superb action scenes, heartfelt moments (including a number of epiphanies, a rare-enough emotion in movies) and exceptional characterization. None of it would be possible without a solid script that allows itself third-act curveballs (it’s not over until it’s really over) and some of the best computer animation ever seen so far. Pixar takes pain to make it appear as easy as they can, but there’s a lot of sophistication under the surface. Witness, for instance, the cleverness in which the photo-perfect food and backgrounds are integrated with the more stylized human and rodent characters: It allows identification and sympathy for the cartoons, while immediately exploiting all we know about food and the physical world. There’s a neat bit of synesthesia at play during some of the sequences, and very clever use of imaginary characters as an expository device. But the mechanics are there for a good reason, and the result is nothing short of a movie-long delight. Funny, thrilling and effortlessly accessible, Ratatouille, like director Brad Bird’s previous The Incredibles, immediately vaults to the top of this year’s list of films.

(Second viewing, In theatres, July 2007) Worth seeing a second time? Certainly! Freed from the constraints of the story, I’m left to enjoy the flawless slapstick animation, the details of the photo-realistic backgrounds, the way the filmmakers set up the shots and the reaction of the crowd around me. A few flaws appear (I’m not too thrilled at who says the line “That’s bad juju”, or the dumb line “I hate to be rude –but we’re French”. After all, you seldom hear “I hate to be the immature product of a delusional capitalistic imperialist society –but we’re American”), but they’re really minor things: The film holds up in every aspect, sign of the meticulous care in which it was fashioned. Ratatouille confirms its place in the yearly Top-10 list, and makes a serious contender for best-of-the-year honours.

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