Coming off the artistic triumph of "The Incredibles," there was no way Pixar's "Cars" would be anything other than a disappointment. Similarly, coming off the soulless cacophony of "Cars," Pixar's "Ratatouille" could only be greeted as a returning hero.
Indeed, "Ratatouille" is a charming concoction, an animated film that's probably more for epicurean grown-ups who obsess over "Top Chef," "Hell's Kitchen" and Food Network than for children who like watching cute animals. Writer-director Brad Bird and the Pixar team capture the chaotic hustle and bustle of a busy kitchen, a romantic-nostalgic view of Paris and the sensation that comes from combining ingredients and creating magic.
More than any other Pixar director, Bird (also responsible for "The Incredibles" plus the traditionally drawn "Iron Giant") is gifted at finding the universal qualities within the extraordinary. "Ratatouille" is ostensibly just about Remy (Patton Oswalt), a heavily anthropomorphized rat who wants to break free from the bondage of garbage eating to become a master chef, but like so many Disney films before it, it's really about underdogs breaking out from the roles society sets aside and following their dreams, no matter how unlikely. That's a good lesson and kudos to Pixar for assuming that young viewers were able to digest it without the typical animated film condescension -- Robin Williams' ethnic caricatures, bodily humor, etc.
In addition to the studio's always exemplary visual styling, "Ratatouille" features stupendous voice work from Ian Holm, as frozen food-obsessed Skinner, and Peter O'Toole, as uber-critic Anton Ego.
"Ratatouille" is being released on DVD on Tuesday (Nov. 6) that constitutes an amuse-bouche at best. A single-disc DVD lacking in commentary tracks or any sort of behind-the-scenes featurettes, it would be foolish to think this will be the definitive showcase for "Ratatouille."
The 15 minutes of deleted scenes come close to a standard making-of featurette, including excised sequences in a variety of early forms (some merely rough storyboards), as well as Bird's thoughtful explanations for why the trims were made.
In addition to the Pixar short "Lifted," which accompanied the film's theatrical release, kids will be entertained by "Your Friend the Rat," an animated short featuring Remy and his brother Emile. The two rodents make a compelling historical and anthropological argument that rats have been unfairly scapegoated through the ages, though the short ends with a lengthy disclaimer about the dangers of human-rat interactions. It's cute, funny and surprisingly informative.
Older viewers are likely to be more engaged by "Fine Food & Film," a series of conversations with Bird and with technical advisor Thomas Keller, who foodies know as one of the nation's most acclaimed chefs and restaurateurs.
I'm not much of an Easter egg hunter, but it didn't take me long to find a one - minute discussion of the film's title, complete with amusing mispronunciations, and a commercial rat poison.