After toiling for years in the anonymous television trenches as a director, screenwriter, and consultant for The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and Amazing Stories, Brad Bird exploded onto the big screen animation stage with the critically-admired, financially-disastrous Iron Giant in 1999. Reportedly after his experiences surrounding the Warner Brothers studios' poor promotion of the movie's release, Bird retired from film making. Only after his friend John Lasseter convinced him to direct a feature for Pixar Studios would he return. Both a financial and critical success, Bird's Pixar debut The Incredibles won the 2004 Academy Award for Best Animated Film. Ratatouille marks Bird's first film since winning the Oscar.
Set in Paris, the movie revolves around Remy, a rat gourmet with a hyper-sensitive nose, who uses his enhanced sense and knowledge of cooking to help Linguini, a young dishwasher who accidentally becomes a chef at the famous French restaurant Gusteau, founded by the late chef of the same name. Chef Gusteau's former assistant Skinner now manages the formerly five-star bistro and even uses the legendary chef's persona to sell a line of decidedly down-scale frozen dinners.
Unable to communicate with humans, Remy, voiced by the likable Patton Oswalt, formerly of King of Queens, controls Linguini's movements through the unlikely means of tugging on the young chef's hair while hiding underneath his hat, similar to a puppeteer and his puppet. This leads to several comical incidents especially in encounters with the only female chef of the restaurant staff, Colette. Expertly voiced by Janeane Garofalo, Colette befriends the confused and scared Linguini.
Ratatouille offers a glimpse into the inner workings of a fine dining establishment, a unique setting for an animated film. The varying roles and interpersonal relationships of the staff play such an integral part of the plot that a cameo by Anthony Boudin or Ruth Reichel would not have been surprising.
Food critic and long-time Gusteau nemesis Anton Ego, played by the always excellent Peter O'Toole, completes the restaurant tableau. Initially appearing as the classic Disney-style villain, Ego thoughtfully explores the nature of creativity and criticism.
More than a movie about food, Ratatouille explores the well-trodden territory of characters reaching beyond their limitations and with a little help from their friends overcoming the obstacles to their dreams. Remy's relationships with his huge extended pack as he struggles with his dream of being a chef and Liguini overcoming his fears of, well, almost everything form the core of this charming film. Unlike other animated features, dialog moves the story, not action. While there is plenty of enjoyable action, it plays second to the main storyline. Unlike the ultra-loud explosive scenes in Bird's Incredibles, Ratatouille lowers the decibel and intensity level, suiting the subject. Though, early in the movie, there is a scene eerily reminiscent of Willard.
Once again Brad Bird has directed and written a classic. A humorous, intelligent movie, Ratatouille should garner another Academy Award nomination and will entertain children and adults alike.