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A Whole Nest Of RATATOUILLE Reviews Come Scampering In!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. So Disney ran that nationwide sneak on Saturday night, and sure enough, we got in a ton of reviews for it. I asked Nordling, one of our oldest friends here at AICN, to write in if he got a chance to go, and he basically hit the computer as soon as he got home, so let’s check in with him first:

One of Patton Oswalt's comedy routines is about KFC's Famous Chicken Bowls. Basically, he rants about how people tend to settle for the basic when they can strive for something more, even if that something is just separating your food instead of consuming it in one amorphous blob. I had to feel a little guilty hearing that bit. I love KFC's Famous Bowls. But, he's right. We should require something more... substantial from our food, and from our movies. Which brings me to RATATOUILLE, Brad Bird, and Pixar. Let's face it... so far? This summer, moviewise, sucks. SPIDER-MAN 3 had moments of grace, but it's as clunky as an Edsel. PIRATES 3 was like cotton candy, except it disappeared before it got to your mouth, instead of in there. I didn't even bother with SHREK 3. Same with FANTASTIC FOUR. I think I hate mediocre films more than just plain bad ones. At least with bad movies, they had a goal in mind and missed it spectacularly. There's something admirable about that. Mediocrity is the safe pitch, the easy pop fly out. And this summer's been cranking them to centerfield. Until now. RATATOUILLE is a godsend, a breath of fresh air, pick your metaphor. Pixar, you crazy kids, you gone and done it again. Pixar is the Wonka Factory. I bet all that talent and magic and wonderment makes the catering taste terrible. I've just stopped watching their films for amazing visuals. They can literally do anything, go anywhere. And it's all in service of the story. And the story is still the most important aspect to them, more so then selling toys, or franchises, or Happy Meals. I'd say Walt would be proud, but they've far surpassed him. At this point, God would be proud. Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a rat living in France that pines for more than the daily routine of going through garbage for his next meal. He studies the great French Chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett), who has written his bestselling cookbook, ANYONE CAN COOK! He has a nose for flavor and fine spices, and he has a talent in putting them together to make symphonies of cuisine. Except, he's a rat. Not exactly the most clean of creatures. However, fate intervenes and separates him from his dad (Brian Dennehy) and his brother Emile (Peter Sohn), and he winds up in his hero's 3-star - formerly 5-star, but due to Gasteau's death and a through trashing by food critic Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole) it got knocked down to three - restaurant smack in the middle of Paris. He winds up with Linguini (Lou Romano), who can't cook a lick but just might be Gusteau's lost son. Linguini needs a job, and Remy needs an opportunity. But whoever heard of a rat cooking French cuisine? One of the wonderful things about Pixar is how they place complicated themes and emotions into what are essentially children's films. Not only that, but they trust the audience to follow them. That's becoming increasingly and disconcertingly rare in popular film today. RATATOUILLE is a terrific family film, but it also dares to challenge the audience to not settle for the simple, but to seek excellence in every endeavor and every experience. To not grab the KFC Chicken Bowl every time out, but to savor something different. That's a wonderful message for children, and it's presented in an inspiring way. The reason we have limitations is so that when we surpass them, the victory is that much sweeter, that much more meaningful. The voiceover work is superb. Patton's Remy is a hilarious creation, funny and adorable in spades. All of the voice work, including Janeane Garofalo as the chef Colette, Will Arnett as Horst (Beware the thumb!) Ian Holm, and of course John Ratzenburger, is terrific. Peter O'Toole's Anton Ego is wonderful, part vampire, part, well, food critic. And he has a wonderful monologue towards the end of the film, that I'm sure everyone who reviews anything for a living would appreciate. Which brings me to Brad Bird. He's made three films so far. THE IRON GIANT and THE INCREDIBLES are masterpieces. Yes, to that guy shaking his head in the corner, they are. I'll have to let RATATOUILLE stir in the pot a little bit before I apply that title to the film, but this is the first film since ZODIAC that really had me replaying it in my head on the way home. It has resonance, and depth. Sure, there's a couple of unlikely plot contrivances that are a little difficult to swallow (and even the film acknowledges this in the hilarious coda), but if you can get past them to the deeper themes of the film you'll find a film rich in variety and emotion, which is much more than the other summer films thus far. And the food in RATATOUILLE... Jesus. I was starving when the film was over. For computer animated food, it looks delicious. And Paris is breathtaking as well. The film is very much a love letter to France (I imagine this went over really well at Cannes) and I admired that about it. But, yeah, I think it's safe to say we have another genuinely great filmmaker in our midst. Brad Bird is an auteur, and RATATOUILLE is excellence. The first great summer film has arrived. Alan "Nordling" Cerny

Surely Nordling is just overreacting. I mean, could an animated film about a rat really be the first film this summer to unite audiences and earn this sort of glowing praise across the board?

Although reviews of Ratatouille will undoubtedly be flooding the Internet over the next day or so, I wanted to add my voice to the choir of praise that this film deserves. The Pixar films are both great animated-films and great films because they excel in creating self-contained universes and then dropping us into their universes with the sense that we are seeing something that exists outside of us—when we leave the theater, the toys' lives will go on whether or not we are permitted to see it go on. Ratatouille carries on this tradition, but the universe they drop us into isn't just one where rats can talk and interact with humans: it's the universe where cooking is the be-all, end-all of life. Before I saw the previews for Ratatouille, I admit that I had no desire to see an animated film about the world of cooks and food critics, but the film treats cooking with such genuine seriousness that the audience does not need to think twice about accepting the validity of Remy's passion and the film's focus. Remy's imaginary interaction with Gusteau the legendary Chef, the extraordinarily beautiful animated representations of food itself, and the excitement that Bird imbues with each scene of Remy cooking all throw us into this tiny world where cooking and eating are pathways to larger matters. For the most part, recent non-Pixar CG-animated films (although, to be fair, Cars should be included here) have no idea how to create such self-contained worlds. They have tried to mimic Pixar's success by creating clever alternate universes populated by talking sharks, backyard animals, zoo animals, and fairy tale legends, but all of those worlds are thin gimmicks: their worlds are thinly veiled representations of our own that are supposed to be clever simply because of their thinly-veiled nature. Isn't it hysterical to think of fish having reporters like Katie Couric just like we do?! Ratatouille doesn't bother with being funny in such a cheap manner; it's funny on its own terms and it's clever on its own terms. And, more importantly, at some point, you forget everything about the 'cleverness' of the world being presented to you because you are so involved with the story. Those other movies never stop reminding you of their own pretensions to creative and satirical inventiveness because they have nothing else to rely on. As I loved entering into this world that Brad Bird and his fellow animators created, I realized that the story being told within this world was actually about that love. Remy's love for creating new and exciting dishes (and, ultimately, Anton Ego's love for experiencing them) is a beautiful representation of our love for stories and movies. The rat who takes a human-puppet and turns him into a master chef is the artist who turns the inanimate fictional worlds of words and images into living, breathing creations that we can't get enough of. It may seem like I'm treating this movie too seriously, but I don't think so. It doesn't deserve to be treated like a children's movie with aspirations to be something more—it is as worthy of discussion and analysis as anything made 'for adults' with serious actors, writers and directors. And if you don't think it's possible for such a movie to be talked about in this manner, then this movie is probably not for you anyway. Brian

Okay. So maybe it’s not just Nordling. Maybe there’s really something to this film, something more than just the comedy and the amazing animation and the exceptional voicework and the typical Pixar attention to detail. Maybe...

"Where are you going?" "With any luck... forward." My love for Pixar's films and my admiration of Brad Bird's talents as a writer and director are hard to hide, so I won't try. I think Brad is a genius of the highest order who deserves a place in the Hollywood Pantheon, and I have liked all of Pixar's films more than a little bit (even 'Cars'). I went into the sneak preview of Ratatouille tonight wondering (hoping?) if I could love this film as much as my favorite Brad Bird film ('The Iron Giant') or my favorite Pixar film ('Finding Nemo'). I go into every Pixar film hoping to love it as much as I've loved the rest - only 'Cars' was a let down, and even it was pretty good. So, take this with as many grains of salt as you like, but 'Ratatouille' is the best film I’ve seen so far this year and approaches the greatness of my all-time favorite animated films – and may actually surpass them with repeated viewings. What’s right with the film? Practically everything. From the first scene, the computer animation is breathtaking. Every movie Pixar makes sees them make a jump forward in the quality of their craft and this is no exception. The voice acting is top notch all the way around. Patton Oswalt is dynamic as Remy and his abilities as a stand-up comedian are obvious – there are scenes where Remy must command a room (sometimes literally) and Remy’s voice is perfect for this. Peter O’Toole is excellent as the food critic Anton Ego and as others have said, his monologue late in the film, while fantastic, may be bait for critics with an axe to grind (which would help prove the point the film is making, in my opinion). Pixar was smart in handing the reigns of Linguini to Lou Romano. He has a “regular guy, every-man” quality that you really can only get from someone who is not a professional actor and the bold move works. Of the supporting players (of which there are many), Jeanine Garofolo stands out as Colette. She nails the French accent and is perfectly cast as the woman in a kitchen full of testosterone. Which brings me to characterization – all the characters are wonderful. Remy, Linguini, Ego, the vile Chef Skinner (Ian Holm in a very funny performance), but in my opinion, Colette is the best character in the film – they wrote her so well that in many ways she is stronger than Linguini, which in most films would be a problem but in this one, its intentional – she needs to be that much stronger to be noticed – as a chef (which she eludes to) and as a character. It’s a nice parallel. While all that is well and good, the stick I use to measure Pixar films concerns what each has beneath the surface. All Pixar films look great, and all are funny in their own way, but the best Pixar films tackle real-life personal issues with elegance and subtlety. 'Toy Story 2' looked at growing up, 'Finding Nemo' focused on letting go and letting your children live and 'The Incredibles' was a tale about defying society's pre-set limits. 'Ratatouille' is about people’s need for society’s validation, and how, in the long run, the only validation that matters is your own. It really is a brilliant film, and there are several bits of dialogue that made me simply smile and shake my head in awe. I will say that there are going to be some people who won’t like this film nearly as much as I do. If you are someone to watches animated films for their laughs, you’ll like this one – its very funny – but I know many who didn’t like 'Finding Nemo' because “it wasn’t as funny as I expected.” If that is your only barometer for what makes an animated film great, then you may come away disappointed. The laughs, while plentiful, are for the most part not in your face, but play off of the characters, who they are and why they do what they do. There are also subjects referenced in this film that surprised me. This film is distributed by Disney, after all, and after seeing 'Ratatouille,' I am convinced Disney is giving Pixar its autonomy. You see a character get drunk. You see someone trying to shoot rats with a shotgun. You see a character very clearly checking out the body of a female coworker. I am not condemning this – I am merely mentioning it as evidence that Pixar is – thankfully – calling its own shots. In closing, this is my first review for AICN and I am sure there will be people that will read it and scream “plant!” When that happens, I'll smile, because that means that my passion for this wonderful film has shone through. Thanks for listening. If you decide to use this, call me “Scot Free.”

So... it’s perfect, right? That’s what you’re all saying?

Moriarty, I saw RATATOUILLE last night at one of the advertised pre-screenings on Saturday night and while not perfect I really loved it. In fact I think that its one of my favorite Pixar movies. I won’t spoil it for everyone, but will talk about a number of the elements that I liked and didn’t like. The thing that really struck me was that it reminded me of some of the classic Disney movies, in particular 101 Dalmatians. Since I have studied animation in art school and also done some freelance work in character design I really appreciated the wonderful use of different shapes that they used to design the human and rat characters. I also loved how the Rats looked like they came from the Muppets. I felt that the story was very classic Disney also, very magical while being grounded in reality. It showed the imperfections of France with its sewers and personalities while still being able to reveal the true beauty and magic of Paris . The story moved at a quick pace, I brought my four year old and the whole time he was just entranced. He loved the part near the end where the Rats all got together and cooked the Ratatouille best. Besides the great designs I really loved the characters and how we even learn the stories of the background chief characters. The little head chief even reminded me a little of Cruella Deville, during the chase scene I could just see her in my head as she slowly drove by and the puppies were hiding from her. I would almost have to say though that while all of the voice actors did an exceptional job the one that I really thought did great was Peter O’ Toole as Anton Ego the Critic. I just loved that rich voice. I also liked the fact that it was totally clean, since I had my four year old with me. We saw Surfs Up and while it was also a great movie and technically very beautiful. I didn’t like the fact that the first half had a lot of words like pecker and crap and a scene with Tank making out with his trophies. I’m glad that I can count on Pixar for a clean kid friendly movie. The movie did have a few flaws though, like how nimble the old granny with the shotgun was at the beginning. She was a lot faster then Geri from Geri’s Game. I also thought that the ending was a little choppy. Another thing that bugged me was the Lifted short, the main alien reminded me to much of the “I Will Survive” animation that was everywhere online about five years ago where the alien was singing “I Will Survive” and then at the end a disco ball falls on it and flattens it. There were some funny parts in the short, but not great. All in all it was a very enjoyable movie. If you use this call me Orion Pax

Okay... last one of these for today. I’ve got more, and I’ll look through and pick out others to run this week, but for now, let’s end with a self-described animation fanboy’s point-of-view on the film:

Hey Drew, I attended a sneak of RATATOUILLE on Thursday night in Cincinnati and thought I'd send my thoughts. I suppose I should begin by admitting that I'm a rabid animation fanboy. Good animation, to me, is one of the best things this life has to offer. I spent some time volunteering for the Library of Congress in their Film Preservation Center a while back and got to handle the original negative to SNOW WHITE. I'll always remember that moment. It made me all giddy inside. I'm also a huge fan of Pixar. For a long time, there just wasn't much in the way of theatrical animation that was worth watching. Pixar changed all that. They have brought back a feeling that the animation industry hasn't seen since the golden years when Walt was in charge of the Mouse House. Think about it. Until TOY STORY came in and shook things up, animation hadn't really changed much since the late 1930's. It wasn't just the technology, as has been proven time and again by the awful cookie-cutter CG films that are spat out on a regular basis by competitors. Pixar uses the computer as a tool to tell stories and to paint the screen with images that have heretofore only existed in dreams. Yeah, I like them. So when some passes to a sneak preview of their latest, RATATOUILLE, showed up at the library where I work, I literally squealed like a little girl. A new Pixar movie is like a new gift to the world. That's how I feel about them. So, how does this one stack up? Let me start by saying that every time you think that computer animation can't be improved, Pixar comes in and says, "Oh yeah? Look at this!" There were scenes in this film that made my jaw hit the floor. It's gorgeous. There is a big difference between animation that looks lifelike and animation that looks like it's alive. Every Pixar film moves the art of creating the latter further along. The world of RATATOUILLE is totally alive. You won't believe what you're seeing. I do have some gripes when it comes to the film. For one, it's just a shade too long. I'm not sure exactly what I would cut, but it needs to be about fifteen minutes shorter. Secondly, (and this is less of a gripe than an observation) the film is a very dry comedy for the most part. It's a satire about food snobs. It's a good satire about food snobs. I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I don't know of too many kids who will get the satire. There is less kid-friendly humor in this one that any of the other Pixar films to date. My son got a little restless. I think that perhaps they should have gone whole-hog on this one and made a film aimed firmly at adults. I know that's risky in America where animation is still considered "kid's fare". As it is, it tries to straddle a fine line whereby it attempts to appeal to everyone and it doesn't always succeed. The voice cast is great with the standouts being Peter O'Toole and Janine Garafalo. O'Toole, especially shines in a role that could have easily come across as a stereotype in the hands of a lesser actor. All that being said, even a lesser Pixar film is better than 99% of anything out there. This is one to see on the big screen, if for nothing else, because it is a work of visual artistry. The film is enjoyable as heck; just don't go in expecting a home run. It's more of a solid triple. Thanks for the site! Geekzapoppin
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