BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Nov 6th, 2007 •

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I’m neither a fan of rats nor of mice in animation. It dates back to Mickey Mouse, who I found shrill and bland, although, credit where it’s due, I liked his performance in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence in FANTASIA. Minnie reminded me of the kind of woman I’m unattracted to, and Mickey’s devotion to her made perfect sense. They were meant for one another.

The mouse in DUMBO was tolerable. The mice in CINDERELLA stunk. I very much liked Vincent Price in THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE, but whose fault was that – the mouse’s or Vincent’s? There were some fairly vicious rats in WATERSHIP DOWN, and I bought them. I didn’t flip over Spielberg/Bluth’s immigrant mice in AN AMERICAN TAIL. I’ll have to see THE SECRET OF N.I.H.M. again, but I don’t remember loving the rodents therein, and similarly I’ll have to revisit Mighty Mouse, which was directed by Ralph Bakshi, so there could be hidden treasures to be unearthed in his approach. When it comes to Tom & Jerry, do we really remember the mouse? And I’m not about to get into WILLARD.

Which skips a few, I’m sure, and brings us to RATAOUILLE. This film sort of reverses my feelings: I like the rat more than I like the hapless kitchen kid. There is also some captivating animation of other members of lead rat Remy’s extended family overrunning the sewers below Paris. But as with Vincent Price, I must ask again, whose fault is this: the animals in question, or the great animation director, Brad (THE IRON GIANT) Bird? I would see anything Bird puts his name on, even a film about rats.

This story also invades the world of high cuisine, a popular film topic with adults (LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, BABETTE’S FEAST, THE BIG NIGHT, CHOCOLAT, DELICATESSEN, EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN, LA GRANDE BOUFFE, TAMPOPO, SUPERSIZE ME, etc.) but not usually with kids (there is WILLIE WONKA…). So, approximately $150,000,000 later, how did it do?

It did great! $206,000,000 theatrical in the US alone, not counting DVD and TV. So what do I know about the drawing power of rats…

I do know something about narrative structure. RATATOUILLE, the engaging tale of a country rat with a gift for cooking who stumbles into the best restaurant in Paris and finds a way to indulge his passion, meanders through its 110 minute length, which is a bit risky, but the animation is always compelling. In fact, the CGI makes the mice’s proboscises so soft and pink and cute, I found myself liking them more than I thought I would.

The voice performances are good, though the evil homunculus of a chef is too grating for my taste. Peter O’Toole, as the arch food critic, disguises his voice with both tone and accent. Janeane Garofalo does the same. Brad Bird does not do a commentary track, but does appear in a featurette with, or rather opposite, Chef Thomas Keller, wherein the two of them attempt to strike analogies between cuisine and celluloid.

The film has two of the best moments of the year, and that’s saying a lot. The first comes 30 minutes, 30 seconds in, as Remi the Rat shrugs modestly when asked if he can really cook. It’s a brilliant piece of character animation and got a huge reaction from the audience when I saw it. The other, which occurs in the third act, I will not identify since it is a spoiler, but you’ll know it when you encounter it.

The Menu animation looks more like UPA work than Disney work. And the weirdest thing about the DVD, which may be more commonplace than I’m aware of, is that inside the box is a bunch of product coupons, presented exactly as if I were thumbing through the Sunday papers, looking for cut-out bargains. What makes work, rather than seem like utterly misplaced commercialism, is the fact that one of the food products being offered is cheese!

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