Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Film Review | Ratatouille (2007)

It's testament to the quality of Pixar's output that any film of theirs which isn't hailed as an instant animated classic is considered a relative failure. It's also unfair, as an average Pixar film is, in many ways, still a superior piece of cinema when compared with the standard work of most other animation studios. Ratatouille is a curious example of this; lauded by many as yet another Pixar masterpiece upon its release five years ago, it's probably the first film of theirs which I remember being genuinely disappointed by. Revisiting Ratatouille on Blu-ray for the first time since I saw at the cinema was nonetheless something I was genuinely looking forward to, with the HD experience likely to allow every pixel to shine all the more brilliantly.

Showcasing the highest of high concepts, Ratatouille asks the question: what if a rat wanted to become a high class chef? The rat in question, Remy (Patton Oswalt), is passionate about food but of course has to contend with his species as a seemingly insurmountable barrier to success. But after teaming up with kitchen hand and decidedly untalented chef Linguini (Lou Romano), Remy seems destined to become living proof of the credo of his culinary hero Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett) that "anyone can cook".

Rewatching Ratatouille served to confirm what I had found impressive as well as what I had been less impressed by on its initial release. The top quality animation, although something that can almost be seen as a given for any Pixar film, is nonetheless still incredible, possibly the most beautiful of any Pixar outing before or since. The realisation of Paris, from the artistic skyline to the rat's-eye-view of the cobbled streets, is superb. So too is the film's presentation of one of its key elements: food. From crusty baguettes to plump grapes, Disney's premier CGI wizards create a visual feast so sumptuous that your salivary glands may go into overload as your brain begins to pleasantly forget that the treats you're seeing are no more real than the anthropomorphic rat standing next to them.

There's also no doubting that Ratatouille is great fun with some fantastically realised humour here and there. However, there are problems. Remy, whilst no Woody or Wall-E, is a loveable hero to root for. But whilst Woody is so much more than just a cowboy doll and Wall-E greater than the waste-processing robot he was built to be, Remy seemingly only has one string to his bow. He's a rat who wants to cook, and that's it. There is unfortunately something missing from Remy to make him a truly memorable Pixar protagonist.

There are problems elsewhere in the cast, which is solid but with no outstanding performances. Linguini's back story feels underdeveloped; his romance too with fellow chef Colette (Janeane Garofalo) is somewhat flimsy, with only a single montage sequence and short Bergerac-esque scene involving Remy to move them from an unwilling professional pair to romantically linked couple. Even veteran Peter O'Toole in full scenery-chewing mode as the antagonistic food critic Anton Ego can't distract from the fact that his character is - aside from one brief flashback - decidedly lacking in depth. Away from the human race, Remy's brother Emile (Peter Sohn) and his father Django (Brian Dennehy) also feel disappointingly one-note, afforded too little screen time to become genuinely memorable.

The plot too has pacing issues, with a rushed start in media res, and a finale I find more unsatisfying the more I think about the unnecessary loose ends and nagging questions it leaves. In fact, with so many issues, I should really be congratulating Pixar on making a film I genuinely did enjoy, and will almost certainly enjoy upon any future viewings. I suppose my major gripe with Ratatouille is that it;s a film that you'll enjoy as long as you don't think too carefully about it. But when I watch a Pixar film, I want to think about it. That's what Pixar do best: intelligent, intricately thought-out animation. If I didn't want to think about it, I'd put on something by Dreamworks. Ratatouille ultimately comes out as too much style over substance. It's undeniably gorgeous, but delve a little deeper and this is missing some key ingredients of the studios more impressive works.


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