Animation giants Pixar have rarely made a mistake. From Toy Story through to Cars their standard of animation and storytelling has remained unsurpassed in the American industry. However, my worry is that their consistently high quality might remain moribund without a challenging industry surrounding them. Other animations released this year are unlikely to give the Pixar big wigs sleepless nights, but without the competition snapping at your ankles it could be easy for stagnation to occur. Is their latest film Ratatouille a gastronomic gaffe?
Ratatouille tells the story of Remey (Patton Oswalt), a young rat whose heightened sense of smell has left him desiring the finer foods in life. After reading a book by acclaimed chef Gustaeu he harbours a desire to be a chef, and after he and his family are driven from their homes by a gun-toting granny Remey finds himself in Paris living under the recently deceased Gustaeu’s restaurant. Just starting work there as garbage boy is Linguini (Lou Romano) a gangly-legged buffoon who after a soup related mishap discovers Remey’s talent they team up to take the gastronomic world by storm.
Ratatouille’s major problem is overcoming an over familiar script that anyone could guess the outcome to. Remey and Linguini are essentially a romantic comedy couple, unlikely partners from different worlds who get on brilliantly, become selfish, take advantage of one another, then in a moment of revelation…ah well you get the idea. You can spot the plot points coming a mile off and what’s worse is the gag quotient doesn’t make up for this. Ratatouille has its moments but it’s easily the least humorous Pixar film to date.
In fact, it’s po faced in its overt dealings with issues surrounding artistry. “Great artists can come from anywhere” is the noble message of the film, but the drippy ending gets so tied up in hammering home the message, you wonder when Bird forgot he was making a film about a rat controlling a human like a puppet to concoct a slap up meal. At least Bird keeps out the pop culture gags, pointless celebrity voices and cutesy characters. Unlike so many animated films of recent years, Bird has the decency to give us a real story populated with real characters.
Bird never falters as a director however, and it’s joy to watch his camera lapping up the gorgeous recreation of Paris or frantically whipping around the kitchen after Remey and table-to-table acrobatics. His handling of the Blake Edwards-esque physical comedy is also fun to behold. Scenes where Remey controls Linguini’s limbs by tugging his hair are riotously choreographed, whether he is knocking up a tasty morsel or courting the kitchen’s feisty Madame Colette (Janeane Garofalo). Bird here solidified his position as one of America’s finest filmmakers.
Ratatouille isn’t a massive misstep for Pixar, after all the quality record has been fairly impeccable to date and everyone has to stumble sometime. It’s just a sad state of affairs that there is no one out there likely outshine a lesser Pixar film this year. On the bright side, Ratatouille is the best argument for Pixar to let Brad Bird break down the notions of ‘toons only being for kids and finally make animation for adults like Mayazaki and co. have been doing since the 1980s.