directed by Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava
(Pixar, 2007)

Rats in the house -- not usually a great idea.

But stand Remy the rat in my kitchen anytime, put a spatula in his hands and get him whatever he wants. He's a tiny little Parisian fellow with the appetite of a true gastronome, whiskers twitching as he adds a bit of garlic, a bit of broth to the soup simmering away.

He's at work at Gasteau's: a shabby-around-the-edges restaurant, demoted from five stars after the death of its namesake and now run by a chef more intent on merchandising than meritorious cooking.

Chef Skinner is upset that his new kitchen mopper, Linguini, has tampered with the soup. If he -- and the restaurant critic in the dining room just beyond the swinging kitchen door -- only knew it was really a rat wielding the fresh herbs, Gasteau's would be done for.

Ratatouille is the most recent release from Pixar's Brad Bird, whose animation work, like The Incredibles and Iron Giant, has an emotional resonance at its core.

And here again, the story has not been sacrificed for the jaw-dropping animation. But instead of a boy and his dog, we have a young man and the rat under his toque blanche.

For Remy is the offspring of peasant rodent stock who don't understand his refusal to burrow in the compost heap with the rest of them. Separated from his clan after they're chased down a storm sewer (he's left behind lugging a huge cookbook), Remy finally finds his way to the surface and discovers he's in the neighborhood of his culinary idol, Gasteau.

But instead of the chef, he finds a restaurant on hard times, ignored by the public and run by a kitchen staff yearning for the old days. That same night, the new kitchen boy, Linguini -- who may or may not be the long-lost son of Gasteau himself -- also arrives at the restaurant doors.

They need each other: Linguini can't cook but needs a job, and Remy can cook but can't be seen. Together, the odd couple works out a system for prepping and seasoning and serving that wows the jaded palates of Paris.

But they labor under the suspicion of head chef Skinner; dreaded reviewer Anton Ego; and Linguini's romantic interest and fellow cook, Collette.

In the strict hierarchy that is the restaurant kitchen, can they fool everyone long enough? If Collette discovers the truth, will it chill romance? Not every woman can fall in love with a man who has a rat on his head.

As Ego writes, at the end, "Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." Even from the garbage pile.

review by
Jen Kopf

19 January 2008

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