Long considered a peasant’s dish, ratatouille enjoys a regal rebirth in Pixar’s eighth feature, a triumph of dazzling animation and genially subversive comedy. Directed by Brad Bird, whose credits include “The Incredibles” and TV’s “The Simpsons,” it is more than sophisticated enough for adults but filled with slapstick so gracefully choreographed and impeccably timed that its appeal should be universal. Sharp-witted and wickedly funny, “Ratatouille” reminds us that Pixar remains the first name in the animation game.
If you’ve ever shuddered at the thought of your favorite restaurant teeming with hungry rats, relax — it just might be a blessing in disguise, especially if they’re led by the unflappable Remy (Patton Oswalt), a Parisian rodent who’d rather craft his own gourmet cuisine than settle for table scraps.
Inspired by his idol, the legendary chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett, of “Everybody Loves Raymond”), he is convinced that anyone can cook, and when he takes up residence in Gusteau’s once-bustling restaurant, he decides to prove it.
He’s an instant sensation, of course — his soup becomes the talk of the town — but being a rat, his access to the kitchen is limited. Rather than scurry about, hiding in the shadows, he forges an unlikely friendship with Linguini (Lou Romano), the gangly garbage boy who is mistakenly credited with having concocted Remy’s delectabledishes. Before long, Remy is guiding Linguini along the path to culinary stardom.
Linguini’s leap into the limelight doesn’t go unnoticed. Skinner (Ian Holm), the curmudgeonly head chef, is skeptical of his newest and most unexpected sensation. Another chef, Colette, with her surprisingly authentic French accent provided by Janeane Garofalo, is jealous, determined not to lose her hard-earned spot in the kitchen to an upstart. And then there’s Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole), the most unforgiving restaurant critic in France and an outspoken opponent of Gusteau’s democratic approach to cooking.
It comes as no surprise when Remy and Linguini weather the storm of controversy that erupts when their unusual partnership is exposed by a humorless health inspector, but then, “Ratatouille” isn’t predicated on suspense. Lacking the emotional depth of “Toy Story” and the endlessly imaginative spirit of “The Incredibles,” it is simply a smart, straightforward comedy, effective at every turn, that is elevated by the artistry of its creators and its striking visual beauty. Thanks to animation so carefully detailed that it glows with the sheen of a still-life photograph, Paris truly becomes the City of Love.
Starring Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano, Brian Dennehy, Janeane Garofalo, Peter O’Toole
Written by Brad Bird, Jim Capobianco, Jan Pinkava
Directed by Brad Bird
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes