June 28, 2007

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Ratatouille (G)
Remy is Mario Batali with whiskers and a tail in Ratatouille, a charming story about a rodent with big culinary dreams that might secretly implant a tiny nugget of interest in good food in your children.

Remy (Patton Oswalt) the rat does not forage for garbage. While his rat brethren are shifting through scraps, Remy goes in search of items such as wild mushrooms or dreamily watches his favorite food guru, Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett), the recently deceased famous chef who believes that everyone can cook, on the TV of the woman who owns the country house where the rats surreptitiously live.

Remy is an important part of the rat community ó he is the only one who can detect rat poison by smell ó but his desire to use rosemary and saffron make him something of an oddball. In fact, itís a reach for saffron and eventually leads to some kitchen clatter that wakes up the old woman who, rather than depend on traps for her extermination, goes for poison gas and a shot gun. Remyís rat friends and family flee but Remy, who stopped to pick up Gusteauís book, is left behind. So when they head down one part of the sewer tunnel, he heads down another and ends up in the sewers below Paris.

Having studied the principles of good cooking from Gusteau, Remy is enraptured like a Food Network junkie at The French Laundry when he stumbles on Gusteauís old restaurant. He watches the chef and the sous chef do their work but is aghast when he sees Linguini (Lou Romano), the boy hired to take out the garbage and sweep up, attempt to fix a soup heís knocked over. The boy gets the recipe all wrong and Remy absolutely can not bear to have such a soup in a place where it might wind up in a dinerís bowl. He scuttles into the restaurant and, using mise en place pre-chopped vegetables and nearby spices, is able to save the soup.

Linguini catches the rat mid-stir but before heís able to consider the implications of a rat-prepared dish, executive chef Skinner (Ian Holm) catches the rat and orders Linguini to get rid of it. Before Linguini is sent off on his mission, the kitchen is shocked when a waiter returns with raves for the soup that they all now think Linguini created.

Linguini has Remy trapped in a jar but is unwilling to toss that jar into the river. Linguini canít cook and knows that the rat can so he asks the rat, who can understand him but communicates only through hand gestures and facial expressions, to help make him a better chef. The two quickly work out a system wherein Linguini hides Remy under his chefís hat and Remy, by way of pulling Linguiniís hair marionette-style, makes Linguini his puppet stand-in at the stove.

Linguini gets to move up in the kitchen and both Remy and Linguini get lessons in cooking from Collette (Janeane Garofalo), the tough female chef at Gusteauís. Skinner, meanwhile, is suspicious of Linguini, especially when a letter of introduction from Linguiniís mom explains that Linguini is the son Gusteau never knew he had. Skinner, the otherwise heir to Gusteauís and to the chefís image (which heís been putting on frozen foods), becomes desperate to find a way to keep Linguini from ruining the restaurant or from finding out that he could own it.

In addition to the Linguini-Skinner situation, Remy has to deal with hiding his existence from the humans and his chef job from other rats, who think heís getting too cozy with the humans. Ratatouille has a lot of plots ó including one about a sour-faced food critic ó but they never get jumbled. Remy learns to be himself and not to be afraid to do things that everyone says he canít possibly do. Linguini learns this lesson as well ó though his lifeís ambition is not so much to be a chef but to be more than just a student to Collette. The villains ó the food critic (the movie canít resist but getting a little dig in at all critics) and Skinner ó are appropriately bad without being overtly evil (obsessiveness and greed are probably their worst qualities) and are more silly than scary.

In fact, thereís plenty of silly here. Though the seven-year-old I saw this movie with didnít seem like he was overly excited by the film, he did watch it intently and afterwards claimed to love it, citing a couple of the pratfalls as his favorite scenes. And while the physical comedy got laughs from the kids, plenty of the adults laughed at the foodie jokes, the site gags (many of them light goofs on the French) and the surprisingly smart dialogue.

I liked Ratatouille far better than I did Cars (Pixarís previous confection). As a foodie film, Ratatouille perfectly captures the kind of obsession that leads one to spend afternoons hunting for the perfect heirloom tomato or a particular kind of obscure French cheese. As a family film, the movie is just as charming and loveable for adults as it is silly and enthralling for kids. Ah, what a perfect pairing. A

Rated G. Directed by Brad Bird and written by Bird, Jim Capobianoc, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg and Jan Pinkava, Ratatouille is an hour and 50 minutes and will be distributed by Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. Ratatouille opens in wide release on June 29.