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Thursday, August 2, 2007

REVIEW - "Ratatouille" (2007)

Like Disney’s full-length animated films throughout the 1990s, Pixar has started to show its age. Last year's “Cars” was a horrible country-themed adventure that was fine for little children, but dreadful on the parents. This isn’t often the case with Pixar as they’ve created masterpieces for both adults and kids such as, “Toy Story”, “The Incredibles” and “A Bugs Life”. But like most studios that head toward a decline in quality there are always a few gems that pop up before the drought.

“Ratatouille” seems to be one of those gems. While it follows a very familiar formula that’s becoming routine for these Pixar pictures, there’s nothing really wrong with it and it certainly can hold the attention of a much wider audience than “Cars." However, I get the feeling I’ve seen this movie before.

“Ratatouille” follows a young mouse that is sick of eating trash like the rest of his enormous family and aspires to be an actual cook. He comes across a young man who can’t cook at all and helps him come to fame by making delicious foods for him.

The simple story, of course, has a few character twists and some naturally good development which is expected of all Pixar movies. A surprising choice for this movie is that while the mice speak English, the human characters can’t understand them at all. Thus our lead mouse and human have to communicate through non-verbal means.

I was surprised at some of the things coming from Pixar in this movie. Two villains was something new, but neither one of them had the edge that past Pixar villains have had. I suppose both of them being as bad as Sid from “Toy Story” would have been a bit much. The mouse and his human partner have some funny moments with one another due to the lack of verbal communication. It was nice to see this going on for a change since talking animals are normally accepted without question. This move provided something of a parody with the talking animal concept and humans in the same world. Still… these are just different concepts. The storyline is very familiar.

There is, of course, a chapter in the movie about doubt: Can rats and people co-exist peacefully? And that’s followed by an instance where our human lead and mouse part ways. Perhaps this is director Brad Bird’s way of asking the world to get along peacefully? Nah, it’s probably just a preachy moment to tell kids to get along with each other. Why should everything be political, right? In any case, Pixar has always found a way to wrap things up quickly when they start to go down hill. After all seems lost the "unexpected" happens-- Our characters end up getting along okay and Disney provides us with another happily-ever-after.

Perhaps I’m coming off too cynical. “Ratatouille” is really a pretty good movie. There’s nothing technically wrong with it. In fact I can tell very much that Pixar is improving in the animation department. There were several moments in the movie where I felt like an actual set piece was among the CG animation. It’s even more impressive knowing that they didn’t use motion capture.

Furthermore, the story is fine, but formulaic. Perhaps I’m a bit tired of the underdog rising above the challenge story met with protagonists separating themselves before a split second decision of reuniting. (Phew! Did you get all that?) I know these are very appealing stories to small children and the universal appeal of it is what made movies like “Spider-Man” so popular. But can Pixar not do anything more? I eagerly await “Toy Story 3” and an “Incredibles” sequel in hope to see something different. (As odd as that sounds…)

“Ratatouille” isn’t a bad movie, it’s just one we’ve seen before. The animation is probably Pixar’s best and it will offer some really genuine laughs. Yet I can’t help but feel that maybe Pixar is unable to grow itself. The film was certainly miles better than “Cars”, but if Pixar can’t turn out something fresh they’ll find themselves on the same path as Disney’s animated features toward the end of the 90s. I’m sure that the “Atlantis” movie could remind Pixar how lonely it is at the bottom.

**½ out of ****

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