Since I couldn't stand in line for an iPhone last night (no AT&T service in Vermont and, even worse, no Apple store in Vermont either) I did the next best thing that I could think of, which was to see the premiere of Pixar's new movie Ratatouille. To my surprise, the movie theater wasn't even close to sold out. This could have been an effect of the nice weather, or it may be a sign that Pixar is slipping, if only a little. The short version of this review is that I really enjoyed the movie and would certainly recommend it. The long version is somewhat more complicated, so keep reading past the adorable rat pictures if you want to hear my thoughts.
Ratatouille is a charming story centered around Remy, a rat whose passion is making and eating delicious food. Early in the movie, Remy is separated from his family and thrust into the middle of the big city - Paris. In fact, he ends up right under the restaurant of his idol, Chef Gusteau. Although Remy enjoys watching the neverending action in the kitchen, he really wants to try his hand at cooking. He goes on to form an unlikely friendship with Alfredo Linguini, a bumbling, incapable, but lovable new cook at Gusteau's. Linguini provides the hands, and Remy the brains, and together, they accomplish many great things in the kitchen.
Visually, this may be Pixar's best work yet. The colors and lighting are superb and create dynamic moods and themes that define the settings of the movie. Much of the time, the viewer gets to see through the eyes of Remy, experiencing what it may be like to be only a few inches tall. The wide angle shots of Paris at night are simply gorgeous. The characters are well-developed, although some are quite one-dimensional, and all of them are endearing and memorable. The plot kept the story moving most of the time; only at around the halfway point was I unsure of where we were headed. The ending is the best part, filled with delightful surprises that would make anyone smile.
All Pixar movies, though, carry a deeper message. Monster's, Inc. was a story of a friendship that crossed boundaries, Nemo was a coming-of-age quest that helped a father learn how to let go, and Cars was about not letting ego get in the way of doing what is right.
Ratatouille is all of these. It is also about bravery, not stealing, not selling out, and the mindset that you can do anything if you set your mind to it. It is simply chock full of morals. And unlike other Pixar movies, the morals seem to be thrown directly at you. Throughout the movie, Gusteau is Remy's conscience, continually admonishing him for his poor choices. This is the movie's one flaw, the insistence on getting these values across. By no means does it ruin the movie, but it leaves you feeling a bit like a child getting lectured by your parents.
On the other hand, the portrayal of relationships in this film is spectacular, especially the relationships involving Remy. Much like real life, Remy is pulled in very different directions by all those who are close to him. Even though Remy wants to pursue his dreams of becoming a chef, his father would rather he stay home and be the poison sniffer for the clan. His brother comes to him with a difficult (and immoral) request for a favor that will help to support the family. Linguini, as well, presents an interesting set of problems for Remy as his fame grows. These issues cause Remy visible stress, and cause him to question his dreams more than once. I found that many enlightening parallels could be drawn between Remy's life and what we all experience as we grow up.
I went into this movie with very high expectations, having read a number of good reviews both in the traditional print media and on the web. After seeing it last night though, it's clear that Ratatouille is no Finding Nemo; I would put it more on the same level as Cars. Ratatouille went in too many different moral directions, and lacked the solid cohesiveness of some of Pixar's other films. This doesn't keep it from being a very good movie, and I would still recommend it. It is entertaining, funny, and a joy to be able to experience a totally different world, if only for two hours.
Or, as a food metaphor, the crust was a little bit burnt, but the inside was still delicious!