Only Pixar could make me empathize with a rat, and they did it with true style and sensitivity like they have done many times before. Ratatouille is often a forgotten classic that I easily forget in a repertoire that boasts such modern masterpieces as Up, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and of course the Toy Story trilogy. However, Brad Bird’s tale of a gifted rodent and a hapless chef deserves to get its just desserts too and so I will attempt to do that now.
As was already hinted at, Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a very unique rat, because he has an incredibly sensitive palette thanks to an impeccable sense of smell. He cannot stand digging through the trash heaps like his brother Emille and he has higher aspirations than his single-minded father. One day Remy comes across the revelation of mixing foods and flavors in a culinary epiphany. His family doesn’t quite understand his more cultured aspects (walking upright, reading, cooking, etc.), and it ultimately gets him into trouble.
He winds up in none other than Paris and sitting on a rooftop he sees his own personal Mecca. The restaurant of Gusteau (Brad Garret), the man who famously said that anyone can cook, before he was taken down by pernicious food critique Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole). After his tragic death, Gusteau’s lost two of its stars and that’s right about where a young man named Linguini (Lou Romano) comes in.
He’s a bumbling nobody with little talent and only a note from his deceased mother vouching for his character. The incumbent tyrant of a chef (Ian Holm) reluctantly gives him a job as a wash boy which he barely is able to perform. In a fateful moment, he ruins a soup and Remy drops in to salvage the dish. Now after an initial berating, great things are expected of Linguini after a critic loves his new dish. Skinner suspects something is up.
In this predicament with nowhere to turn, Linguini looks to this little chef, and Remy decides to help him. Thus, begins the strangest of symbiotic relationships as Remy learns to control Linguini who acts as the front for the artistic genius who just happens to be a rat. For a while it works really well. They keep Remy hidden under Linguini’s hat while also keeping Skinner constantly delusional with visions of rats.
Then, success continues to come Linguini’s way. Thanks to Remy the restaurant is a hot spot once more, he gets the girl Colette, and he has become the main attraction at Gusteau’s displacing Skinner. But it gets to his head a little too much, and he and Remy part ways.
The big night of Anton Ego’s return to Gusteau’s is fast approaching and the culinary dream team is no more. Once again Linguini is lost without his culinary partner. But the ever faithful Remy gets the support of his family and returns to the kitchen to aspire to his dreams. Linguini also finally has the courage to tell the truth which ultimately loses him the respect of his staff.
However, Remy and Linguini both learn something about family and relationships, realizing the need to be who they are. In a brilliant stroke of genius, the ever resourceful Remy makes a simple yet elegant Ratatoullie. Everyone expects the disdain of Ego and yet it never comes. You see Ego also learns something about himself. Upon seeing the mind behind the dish that took him back to his early years, he remains pensive for once. He finally understands the wisdom in Gusteau’s simple adage.
The voice talents of this film are obviously wonderful, from the impeccably-casted Patton Oswalt to Brad Garrett as the jolly Gusteau and Peter Sohn as rollie-pollie Emile. However, I want to focus specifically on the late great Peter O’Toole.
It is rather extraordinary that just before seeing this film again, I took in How to Steal a Millionaire. It too is set in Paris, involves deception, and has its share of drama. Featured in that film is a younger O’Toole, handsome, blue-eyed and far from world-wearied. But the reality is, he had a hard life and you can hear it in his wonderfully Shakespearian, but still noticeably older voice. He brings such a wonderful lineage to this film, and he turns in one of his great roles. Peter O’Toole was part of a dying breed of theater-trained actors who will be greatly missed for their tour de force performances. But once again many thanks to Pixar for doing the impossible. In some weird, disgusting way I love rats now.
“In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.” – Peter O’Toole as Anton Ego