Dir. Brad Bird. 2007. G. 115mins. Voices of Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Janeane Garofalo, Brad Garrett, Peter O'Toole.
If Bird’s last movie, The Incredibles (2005), really was a critique of affirmative action, then Ratatouille amounts to a tacit apology. Whereas the earlier film suggested that the Incredible family was lost in a culture that celebrated nonachievement, Ratatouille argues that, placed in the right circumstances, anyone can cook.
The chef manqué is Remy (Oswalt), a rat whose highly developed sense of smell is wasted in his role as the colony poison sniffer. Via sewer, he travels to a former five-star Parisian restaurant, the likeness of whose late chef (Garrett) plays Jiminy Cricket to his Pinocchio. Hiding under a hat and puppeteering the new busboy (Romano), Remy goes to work on soups and sweetbreads. His ultimate challenge is to serve a critic named Anton Ego (O’Toole), whose nasty caricaturing would, in a just world, inspire picketing by the Association of Food Journalists.
Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but the idea of rats scurrying in haute cuisine is still less than appealing, even if the vermin rinse in the dishwasher beforehand. Selectively concerned with realism, the filmmakers consulted actual chefs, and the cooking scenes are first rate, with Oswalt’s voice making Remy the most charismatic rodent since Splinter. But by the time it ends, Ratatouille seems more charming in concept than in execution. Bogged down by too many climaxes, it’s a little overcooked. (Opens Fri; Click here for showtimes.)—Ben Kenigsberg