A production of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, the brilliant production house that also gave us "The Incredibles" and "Toy Story," "Ratatouille" has a three-dimensional, so-real-you-can-touch-it quality, with characters that seem more like tactile puppets than two-dimensional beings. But unlike its computer-generated predecessors, "Ratatouille" -- written and directed by Brad Bird ("The Incredibles") -- doesn't center on the over-familiar surfaces of contemporary life. It harks back to Disney's older era, when cartoons seemed part of a more elegant world with less edgy characters.
As with such Disney classics as "Lady and the Tramp" and "The Rescuers," the animals here are softly appealing, the repartee is bright but not postmodern and the irony is easily understood. You can feel an almost antique atmosphere in the elegantly stylized renderings of alleys, cobbled streets and restaurants in the background. This is family-friendly filmmaking at its most appealing: fresh yet familiar, playfully mischievous but also subtly reassuring.
Remy (voice of Patton Oswalt) is a rat with a gourmet's sense of taste and smell, a skill set that means nothing to his fellow scavengers. When he becomes fixated with the writings of celebrated master chef Gusteau, author of "Anyone Can Cook," his heart swells with grand purpose. Through an entertaining series of calamities, Remy literally lands in Gusteau's very kitchen, where he's swiftly pressed into service.
It seems Linguini (a charmingly goofy Lou Romano), the gangly kitchen cleaner, must prove he's a great chef or be fired. Learning of Remy's phenomenal abilities, he persuades his newfound acquaintance to hide inside Linguini's white hat (don't want to scare people) and direct him with strategic tugs of the boy's hair. The two become a formidable team.
Observed mostly from Remy's rat's-eye view, Gusteau's kitchen is a memorable world-in-miniature with its vivid old-fashioned stoves, bright, brassy pots and general air of frenzied industry; never did sliced red onions or simmering soup look so fresh and real.
-- Desson Thomson (June 29, 2007)
Contains kisses and mild cartoon violence. Area theaters.