When Brad Bird last teamed up with Pixar the result was The Incredibles, a brilliant take on the super-hero genre that made kiddie films more grown-up and, like, “real” entertainment. Bird’s second collaboration with them-what-draw-with-computers is just as good, though the subject couldn’t be more different.
Ratatouille sees Remy, a rat with an impeccable sense of smell and taste, which leads him to pursue culinary greatness via Linguini, a hapless kitchen-hand who’s willing to learn from his whiskered friend. As far as concepts go, it’s pretty much kiddy-friendly. Nonsense, really. So the fact that Brad Bird manages to get us fully grown, uber-educated, very highly mentally developed adults to actually care about Remy succeeding, proves just how great a force the Bird/Pixar combo is.
The winning formula seems to lie in the tone. It’s remarkably grown-up, despite the subject matter. There’s no brash childish tosh, and no wink-wink in-jokes for the disgruntled parents. The story’s delivered straight up, with some fun chase sequences, slap-stick moments and dancing rats to keep the tots (and grown-ups) amused, and some fabulous caricatures (the food critic marvellously vilified) and smart undertones for the adult folk. Remy wants to be himself and aim higher, but his pa informs him that the ‘lower’ rats can never progress, kept in place by fear created by the ‘higher’ humans. My stupid analytical nature could have a field day, but I’ll shut it up for now.
Instead you can sit back and enjoy a solid piece of film-making, where story resides over the need to make stuff look good. Not that it doesn’t look good - great in fact, and at times flabbergasting when you see flawless bustling city streets and swirling sewer tunnels, and remember this is an animated world. They even managed to make street rats look endearing. Especially when they’re whipping up an omelette.
There are a few niggling holes, though. It’s certainly funny, but still not close to the sheer hilarity of the Toy Story duo (yet to be beaten, in my opinion). The running time is a shade over-long for the contents, yet several characters drop off the edge of the plot into nothingness. The very American portrayal of France (a choice of American accents or mega-French) can grate a little. And if I want to be completely pedantic, there is only one female character, portrayed as a bit of an angry cow until she’s softened up by a guy who would never in a million years be able to get her in real life.
But here’s me talking about ‘real life’ when this is a cartoon about rodents that can cook (as my International companion described it). And this brings me back to Bird’s success - I’m treating Ratatouille as a proper film, not just some kid’s film I guiltily saw (like I might with Enchanted…) Thoroughly entertaining, beautifully animated and the closest I’ll be to having interest in watching cookery on screen, Ratatouille easily sinks a CF2, just missing out on a 3 for the reasons outlined above. Watch out for the short animation beforehand too - a nugget of fun before the main event. I’m hungry now - where’s a rat when you need one?