To say I was excited for Ratatouille would be an understatement. As a film from the best American animation house (Pixar) directed by one of the best animated directors working — Brad Bird, whose previous films include The Iron Giant (1999) and The Incredibles (2004) — I was really hoping for something wonderful. I am happy to report that, unlike Live Free or Suck Hard (more on that one later this week), Ratatouille is a masterpiece, a wonderful film that met my expectations and then some.
I honestly feel that knowing what I’ve covered so far — Pixar, guy who brought you The Incredibles — I really shouldn’t need to say much more about the background of the film. Besides, to summarize the story is to rob it of some of its greatness. Look, it’s about a rat in Paris who wants to be a master chef. See, it sounds terrible when I try and explain it. But Bird’s script takes what could be a silly idea and infuses it with a constant sense of wonder, and by the time the movie ended I was amazed at the depth of the story. It’s not a film about a cooking rat at all; it’s really a film about art and artists, and if I compare the story to something FranÃ§ois Truffaut might have directed I’m not being pretentious at all.
When we talked about Pixar in Episode 37, I said that one of my favorite things about their films is how mature the stories are. They’re accessible for children, but like the best children’s literature, they don’t shy away from touching on adult themes. Unlike movies about wacky talking animals, Pixar films have real characters and stories that don’t talk down to kids. Ratatouille continues this trend, and the film’s climax moved me in the same way that both Toy Story movies did. That should tell you something about how powerful the story is in this film about a cooking rat.
And we also get something else in the movie that we talked about in the Pixar spotlight: wonderful action. Pixar is just miles ahead of any other American animation house when it comes to animating action, and Bird comes close to topping his amazing set pieces from Incredibles. When our rodent protagonist is being chased by a shotgun-wielding old woman or scampering across the floor of a busy kitchen, the audience is treated to amazing, jaw-dropping visuals that truly live up to the potential inherent in animation.
I’ve seen the big spectacles of the year, including Pirates 3 and Die Hard 4, and nothing has even come close to being as visually stunning as Ratatouille. This is a movie that pairs a wonderful story with amazing spectacle, and it is simply dazzling. You really need to see this movie in the theater if you have any interest at all in seeing it.
In case you haven’t figured it out, Ratatouille is my favorite film of the year so far. How it fits into the Pixar ranking chart is an interesting question, but it’s definitely as good as Incredibles or Finding Nemo (2003), and potentially on par with the two Toy Story films. Go see it.