Brad Bird | 106 mins | DVD | U / G
My 2007 catch-up continues with Pixar’s highly-praised and award-winning latest, which currently sits as that animation studio’s highest entry in the IMDb Top 250 (their only films not to feature are A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc. and Cars). It seems a bit unfair to begin this review on such a downbeat note, but I personally don’t find such a position deserved. As is all too frequently the case, Ratatouille has become another victim of hype.
It’s been pretty impossible to avoid the praise that’s been heaped upon Ratatouille, be it unanimously positive reviews in papers, magazines and online, or overheard conversations in public, or the numerous high-profile awards it’s garnered (most recently, the best animation Oscar, plus a nomination for original screenplay). I was left expecting to be blown away by the best Pixar film made thus far. Sadly, this was not to be. It’s not as funny as Finding Nemo, or Toy Story, or Toy Story 2, or probably The Incredibles. Nor is it as cute as many of them. Or quite as heartwarming, to be honest. And the characters aren’t really as lovable.
OK, this is getting too depressing. The thing is, Ratatouille is a good film, but it is also a flawed one. It’s not nearly funny enough for a kid’s movie — laughs are almost non-existent in the first half and hard to come by in the second — and it’s too long, needing a good chunk taken out of that duller first half. It’s a bit confused as to who the villain is, meaning there’s a lack of real menace from either of the candidates. Despite a professed aim to make rats lovable, they’re not really. Even the potential love story is lacklustre because they wind up together far too quickly.
There I go again with the negatives. I think it’s far too easy to spot the faults in Ratatouille because everyone else has done such a thorough job on the positives, so I’m stuck analysing why I was so disappointed. There’s no denying how gorgeous it looks though — I can’t think of another CG film that even comes close. The level of detail is stunning, not just in set design (which includes whole intricately designed locations just for seconds-long sequences) but also in terms of what’s going on in the background. Check out Remy’s first conversation with his dad at the rats’ new home in Paris, for example: a simple shot-reverse-shot dialogue scene with two characters, but there’s continuously other rats talking, moving past, and so on in the background — all out of focus, not trying to be showy, like natural background detail in a live action film. No other CG film with such attention to ‘pointless’ detail comes to mind. But it also allows itself to be what it is — for want of a better word, a cartoon. Linguini waves his arms about like rope when he’s out of control, the chase sequences are madness, the design of the humans, cars, and almost everything else are suitably stylised. And it all comes with a soft warm glow that is, frankly, beautiful.
Despite my criticisms, Ratatouille is nonetheless a four-star film as far as I’m concerned. I also think that, with its shortage of laughs and cute characters, and with the main areas of appreciation in facets such as cinematography, it’s more a movie for adult animation fans than children. It’s not Pixar’s best, but true to form it’s head and shoulders above most other CG animated fare. Approach it with lower expectations than most reviews would give you and perhaps you’ll enjoy it even more than I did.