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Five Hearts

"Don't Watch Hungry"

Written by Steven Walker

I was fortunate that I ate a large, satisfying meal before sitting down for Ratatouille, because the following two hours would have been a torturous experience otherwise. This movie is filled with so many images of wonderful food, and gives so much lip service to the art of its preparation, that you will be salivating despite knowing that all the food is CG.

I don't know what they spike the punch with at Pixar, but I want some. Of course, we all know what it is. Pixar is the only movie studio in the world that honestly cares more about the quality of their stories than the money they make. Every Pixar movie, no matter what you think of them, are sincere labors of love from everyone involved. Ratatouille is , for me, their best work since the first Toy Story and that is high praise. I even thought Cars was great, despite a lot of people thinking it was Pixar's weakest. (For me Pixar's weakest is A Bug's Life. Not that it's bad, but it is the least adult-friendly of Pixar's canon, and it was released right after the superior Antz)

There will be heavy spoilers ahead...you have been warned.

The opening scene teaches us a very important lesson....wrinkled old ladies should not have access to shotguns. Also, there is something irresistibly cute about a bunch of wet rats huddled on a floating box getting shot at.

Brad Bird is one of the great working directors, and he's only made three films! But when your prior efforts are masterpieces like The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, I'll take quality over quantity. I think the main reason for his success is that his stories are really about something.

Look at something like Shrek or Ice Age to see how to do it wrong. Despite fluffy dialogue implying the movie is about friendship or seeing beneath the surface, they are really about making kids laughs while winking at the adults with pop cultures references that guarantee the movie's limited shelf life. In ten years, no one is going to get half the gags in Shrek 3 because they are tied to this place and this time.

All of Pixar's movies will remain accessible 100 years from now because they are self-contained worlds that create humor and drama out of the characters and the environment. Take the scene where the hero, Remy, first ends up in the kitchen of the restaurant he adores. His desperate attempts to get to an open window are as exciting and harrowing as any chase scene in an action movie, while still being funny and character driven. And from a screenwriting point of view, it is a brilliant way to introduce the geography of the kitchen without feeling the slightest bit expository.

Don't let the G rating fool you. This movie is aimed squarely at intelligent audience members who like to think while they watch. I wouldn't be surprised if the ADD crowd starts to tune out between the numerous chase scenes because they bore quickly with things like compelling character interaction. It would be a crime to label this a "kid's movie" because it's smarter than most fiction meant for "grown ups."

Take the villain, food critic Anton Ego. Everything about this guy screams PURE EVIL the moment he steps on screen. He is tall, thin, and wears dark clothes. He speaks with a deep, menacing voice provided by the great Peter O'Toole. He works in a room shaped like a coffin and writes with a skull shaped typewriter. Brad Bird knows we are aware of these clich├ęs and milks them for laughs before transforming the character into something like a hero near the end. Ego's final monologue makes us realize this is not a movie about cooking after all, but a movie about artistic integrity, the importance/danger of criticism, and the idea that greatness often comes from places you weren't looking for it.

I reserve the fifth star for movies that have some kind of moral value to offer humanity beyond entertainment, and Brad Bird saved his best trick for last. After all the tension, drama, and build up...the restaurant is shut down by the health inspector for having rats in the kitchen. By pulling this rug out from under us, Bird really takes this story to next level. He still arrives at the happy ending that Disney requires, but it is not obvious, forced, or cloying. The characters tried their very best and they failed. Yet in the attempt, they learned what they needed to do it right the next time. How many of us have done so well in real life?


Copyright 2008 Flaming Heart Enterprises, L.L.C.