Monday, July 2, 2007

Ratatoullie (2007)

There is a particular soft spot in my heart for cartoon movies. Until recently I was not aware enough of the differences in animation to really care if something was hand-drawn, CGI, stop-motion, or some other means. All I care about is the over-all look and feel of a movie. I am only aware of the difference when the film-makers themselves draw attention to it such as is done in the credits at the end of Ratatoullie (2007).

This one represented all that is best about cartoon movies. The protagonist was Remy (Patton Oswalt), a blue rat. This is simply not possible in live-action as yet. To be certain we have seen some incredible stuff done in live-action (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie 1990) with animals as lead character but they are just more fun when done as cartoons. It gives a certain feel to the proceedings that just lets you know it is right.

Remy is a rat that loves good food. Unlike most rats he has a conscience and wants to contribute, not just take. He has a loving family but they simply do not understand him. Meanwhile, Linguini (Lou Romano) is a lost soul. He has gone from job to job trying to fit in. He has no notable skills and his last chance is getting a job as a garbage boy at Gusteaus, a formerly high-flying restaraunt that has fallen on hard times. Through a fun series of coincidences the two outcasts form a bond that leads to a productive union of interests and lives.

Meanwhile, Skinner (Ian Holm) and Anton Ego (Peter O 'Toole) provide a magnificent pair of foils, raising obstacles to the inevitable, albeit surprising, happy conclusion. Unlike many recent villains, this pair is fun and likable.

A good movie villain should not just be bad or evil, they should be interesting enough to provide some sort of likability as villains. Think back to how Yosemite Sam could be the villain in piece after piece with Bugs Bunny and yet be an audience favorite. Warner Bros. did the villains so well it is an open question as to who was the hero and who the villain in the Road Runner v. Wile E. Coyote battles...and therefore, an open question as to whether, in fact, the villain won those battles.

Ratatouille does not carry it that far but certainly the Machiavellian machinations of Skinner are fun to watch as he diabolically schemes to take the philosophy of Gusteau that "Anyone can cook" and turn it into a fortune in frozen foods.

In fact, the single place where this movie missed the mark might be the kitchen staff at Gusteaus. They band together against Skinner on behalf of Linguini near the climax...then unexpectedly leave him in the lurch (except, of course, for the love interest Colette (Janeane Garafalo) who returns and, in the end (minor spoiler alert) lives happily ever after with him. After their banding together one expects this likable crew to make a heroic return but the movie is so fun their desertion is a minor quibble.

One thing I truly enjoyed about Ratatouille was the approach to voices. Too often in animated features there seems to be a belief that without famous, "A-list" names doing the voices the movie cannot do well. To be certain, there are times when a famous voice can add to a feature. In the Shrek series, for example, having Eddie Murphy voice Donkey was a brilliant move. It allowed numerous inside Shrek II (2004) when they arrive in Far Far away and they recreat some of the scenes from the Beverly Hills Cop franchise. This added to the movie and Murphy did some brilliant voice work. However, overall the voice thing is way overdone. If the story is strong enough then you don't have to mask the weaknesses by bringing in bigger name talent. For example the upcoming Bee Movie (2007? 2008?) is being marketed as a Jerry Seinfeld movie. From the advertisements I have seen the only reason to see the movie would be if I were a Seinfeld aficionado...the storyline is non-existent, the humor seems to be entirely built around the following joke; "Jerry Seinfeld voices a bee and is a bee character". Ha ha. My sides are splitting from the laughter. Or not.

In Ratatouille there are indeed some names people will recognize on a secondary level (O Toole, Garafalo, a few U.K. actors that are lesser known in the U.S.) but none that are so famous the movie sells based on their names instead of on the story and likability of the characters. And it is good to note that not once did I think, "Wow, what terrible voice acting." or "ooh, that would have been funny if it were voiced by Larry the Cable Guy." No, the voices were perfect.

A brief summation would be solid voices, excellent animation, good jokes, good story, fun movie.

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