Anthropomorphism in animation can vary in its interpretation and success, but rarely does a film come along where the animals are gifted human-like emotions and expressions whilst maintaining an authenticity in the portrayal of their original species, let alone one where realism is embraced whilst the world is created in a distinctively cartoonish style that seems to perfectly fit. Ratatouille is that film, and from a critical viewpoint it is very hard to fault. The plot, the pacing, the structure, the style, the performances, the animation, and the concept all tie together in a wonderful tale of a rat who dares to cook. Pixar, Disney, and director Brad Bird have excelled.
The film itself is about a rat with a heightened sense of smell and taste. A Goodfellas-esque voiceover starts the film, with a freeze-frame mid-action, as the rat becomes separated from his family. After a dramatic escape, he finds himself at the restaurant of his idol, a deceased famous Parisian chef who believed anyone can cook, where he befriends a new kitchen assistant who cannot cook and so is in need of the rat’s help.
Patton Oswald voices the rat in question with charm and enthusiasm. The occasional French mispronunciation aside—he is a rat, after all—Oswald brings a naturalistic approach along with naïve innocence and holds the film together, imbuing so much personality into his voice it is captivating. The rest of the cast is simmering with talent like Janeane Garofalo, Brad Garrett, Will Arnett, Ian Holm, and Peter O’Toole, though the heavy French accents employed by the majority of human characters hide the obviousness of their voices, improving the immersion in this fantastic world. Lou Romano plays the human lead with suitable comedic verve and gusto, though it is Brian Dennehy’s rat patriarch that deservedly gets the most subversive comic moments.
Ratatouille is a charming and very funny film that has made its mark on pop culture. It is a story with heart but no schmaltz that will entertain toddlers to grandparents and everyone between. It is a true family favourite.