This is a movie about a rat who wants to be a chef. That’s it, really; it’s not a profound meditation on the human (or animal) condition, nor is it a rich, deeply felt character study. It’s a cute and well-animated movie about a Parisian rat named Remy (voiced by Oswalt) who has a taste for gourmet food and idolizes a rotund celebrity restaurateur named Gusteau (Garrett). Gusteau’s gone to the great kitchen in the sky, and his eponymous eatery has been taken over by his money-grubbing sous-chef. When Remy finds himself by chance in the restaurant’s kitchen, he inadvertently helps busboy Alfredo Linguini (Romano) create a marvelous dish and becomes a sort of culinary Cyrano de Bergerac to the nervous young man.
Along the way Linguini falls in love with female cook Colette (Garofalo), Remy comes to terms with his uncouth, garbage-eating family (and they with him), and the restaurant struggles to return to its former glory while facing off against humorless food critic Anton Ego (a hilarious Peter O’Toole). The animation, as one would expect from the geniuses at Pixar, is delightful and technically flawless, and the humor is gentle and winning. Although grand proclamations of brilliance have been made about past Pixar films, including writer-director Bird’s previous effort, The Incredibles, Ratatouille has no such large ambitions and thus its pleasures are mostly small.
The plot moves along familiar beats, setting up its conflicts simply and resolving them the same way, which allows the emphasis to shift to the visual much of the time. The camera roves swiftly around Gusteau’s massive kitchen with the nimbleness of Remy himself, and the amount of time the animators spent studying with real chefs is evident in the sensuous scenes of food-preparation. As Pixar heroes go, Remy and Linguini are a little bland, and their rapport is unfortunately limited to the nonverbal (although it’s well-expressed).
For those expecting the Pixar brand, or Bird himself (whose pre-Pixar traditional-animation effort The Iron Giant was also excellent), to soar higher and higher with each film, Ratatouille may be a bit of a disappointment. The plot meanders a bit, and the characters’ charms are limited. As a palate-cleanser after the inferior Cars, though, it perfectly whets anticipation for the studio’s next course.