As unlikely as it may seem, a lowly rodent kicked John McClane’s butt at the box office last weekend. Disney/Pixar’s latest animated adventure “Ratatouille,” about a French rat who dreams about being a gourmet chef, sets new standards for creativity and excellence in its animation, but it still didn’t rack up anywhere near the box office grosses that other Pixar hits like “Cars” have done in the past. Yet “Ratatouille” is smart, far more sophisticated than previous Pixar efforts, doesn’t have lots gross-out gags, and doesn’t have big name celebrities like Mike Meyers for its character voiceovers. So now you can understand exactly why I worry that this charming gem of a movie will quickly become lost in the cinematic shuffle.
Remy is an especially adorable rat (yes, those of you living in especially large urban areas like New York will find that hard to believe) who has the gift of an exceptionally keen sense of smell and a love for fine cuisine. He also thinks humans aren’t necessarily the enemy of all rats–despite what his family tells him–and finds himself helping an insecure but gentle young man, Linguini, at a once famous Parisian restaurant, Auguste Gusteau.
Soon Linguini and Remy become unlikely friends and an even more unlikely cooking duo. Remy helps Linguini create new recipes that gather critical review, which angers the evil head chef who wants to turn Gusteau’s into nothing more than a tacky commercial franchise. When the most famous critic of all comes to visit the restaurant, it becomes impossible to hide their secret partnership anymore.
While the surface of this story may seem nothing more than a typical Disney fairy tale, the underlying themes of feeding the soul, choosing quality over quantity, and appreciating art wherever you find it will likely go right over most children’s heads–but that’s exactly what makes the movie satisfying for adults. (In fact, one critic–who is much smarter than me–thinks the entire movie is an allegory for what has happened to the legacy of Walt Disney.)
Yes, this is the first animated movie in recent years geared more for teens and adults than little kids. Toddlers and younger children might have a little trouble sitting through some of the exposition scenes, which expound on the nature of culture in our society, when they would rather watch something being chased or making fun of bodily functions. But ‘Ratatouille’s” finer moments could be great opportunities for meaningful discussion with older children–or even your friends. In fact, think of “Ratatouille” as opportunity to enjoy some metaphorical shrimp and lobster in the midst of a movie menu full of the equivalent of chicken nuggets and French fries.
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