As part of Pixar’s move away from the early childish topics for their films, their 8th feature, Ratatouille, focused on the broad topics of ˜family vs. career’ and the need to improve, move forward and change. The budget for the film was $150m, which showed an increase in production costs necessary to improve the computer animation and it took over $620m at the box office. Ratatouille was nominated for five Oscars, at the time a record for a computer-generated animated feature, and won the award for Best Animated Feature at the 80th Academy Awards.
Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a rat in France who dreams of overcoming his heritage to become a chef. Inspired by the legendary French chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett) he resents being chosen as a poison-checker by the rest of his clan. After being caught stealing food from a kitchen, the clan is forced to retreat to the sewers where Remy is separated from his kin. Following the advice of the spirit of Gusteau, he emerges in the streets of Paris and finds himself in Gusteau’s kitchen where he inexplicably befriends budding kitchen cleaner Linguini (Lou Romano) and the two work together to become the talk of Paris. This unexpected fame and popularity comes to the attention of renowned food critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole).
There is a level of detail, research and subject immersion that helps Pixar create the beautiful worlds that audiences see each year. For Finding Nemo everyone involved had to learn how to scuba dive, while Cars say key production members going on various road trips across America. As part of their preparation for designing Ratatouille, production members visited France to tour the city and try various restaurants. They also kept pet rats in their offices so that animators could see how the animals moved and reacted to various stimuli. They even consulted with top chefs about how to prepare a beautiful and delicious-looking ratatouille, which was later used in the closing review scenes with critic Anton Ego.
Director Brad Bird allows his characters time to breathe, evolve and learn from the situations that they presented with. Unlike the more bland animated films of recent years, there is a level of intricate detail and loving care apparent in every frame of Ratatouille. The stylised vision of France gives the film a very different atmosphere to any other Pixar film to date and the voice cast, while more recognisable than most, is still utterly compelling. The narrative moves along at a determined pace and there is no chance for the audience to lose patience with the action.
With such a blend of voice-acting, narrative pace, comedy and pathos, Ratatouille does what all great animation, and films in general should do. It takes you on a journey is discovery and adventure, never stopping, never slowing down or making excuses for the decisions it makes.
There is no finer summary for this masterpiece than Anton Ego’s speech In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends and in Ratatouille, the world has an exceptionally talented new friend.