DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - July 6, 2007

Movie review: Ratatouille ***

Rated: G for general audiences Run time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Chez Pixar and Oscar-winning director Brad Bird ("The Incredibles") serve another delectable animated feature combining fresh ingredients with a beautiful presentation. In food-critic speak, "Ratatouille" is highly seasoned, layered with complex flavors and has considerable sweetness on the finish. Yet the titular dish poses the basic question: Will children eat their CGI vegetables?

Unlike the "Toy Story" films or "Finding Nemo," this stew of culinary humor seems best suited for the sophisticated palates of adults - not kids. The world of haute cuisine has particular demands. Can you distinguish chervil from saffron? A sous chef from a saucier? Does the impending visit of an influential restaurant critic send chills down your spine? While parents will salivate over these nuances and the incredibly detailed animation, the G-rated set may wiggle restlessly until a dash of slapstick or fast-paced action ramps up the kiddie comedy.

Bird's screenplay focuses on Remy (voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt), a scruffy-but-likeable rat who forages in garbage for gourmet tidbits. Although his blue-furred rodent family believes that food is fuel, Remy subscribes to the notion that you are what you eat. His pink nose quivers over the finest quality items. And he has a secret. Remy loves watching Auguste Gusteau's televised cooking show. The French top chef promotes an "anyone can cook" philosophy, and Remy dreams of doing so.

Accidentally flushed through the sewers of Paris and guided by the friendly ghost of Gusteau himself, Remy surfaces at the late chef's restaurant. Having lost two of its five stars, the once-legendary establishment has seen better days. Before long, Remy befriends a hapless newcomer, hiding beneath the tall toque of the redheaded, no-talent Linguini (Lou Romano). Like a puppet master, Remy pulls tufts of the young man's hair to guide his clumsy hands to the perfect ingredients. Soon Linguini becomes the rising star in this hell's kitchen ruled by a screaming schemer (voiced by Ian Holm). When powerful food critic Anton Ego (marvelously voiced by Peter O'Toole) announces his plans to grace the restaurant, the rat race begins. Can "Little Chef" Remy, Linguini and their female cohort Colette (voiced by Janeane Garofalo with a French accent that sometimes makes her dialogue unintelligible) save the day?

Many set pieces sparkle with energy and visual ingenuity. Caught up in culinary passion, Remy secretively seasons soup in a scene that truly captures the joy of cooking. As the plot thickens and the kitchen heats up to impress "Grim Eater" Ego, the comic bits increase with the growing rat infestation.

In the film, ratatouille-the-signature-dish is associated with strong feelings for home and family. Children may get this message but still long for an animated version of something more accessible and American - like macaroni and cheese.

--Susan Tavernetti

For more movie reviews or local show times, go to www.DanvilleWeekly.com

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