Directed and Written by Brad Bird; Voice Actors: Patton Oswalt (Remy, the chef who is a rat); Brad Garrett (Gusteau, the master chef); Ian Holm (Skinner, the chef who leads the restaurant on his death); Lou Romano (Linguini, the chef wannabe); Janeane Garofalo (Collette, the femme-fatale chef in training); Brian Dennehy (Django, the veteran journeyman chef); Peter O'Toole (Anton Ego, food critic extraordinaire)
Despite the fact that this is widely thought to be a kid's animation picture by Pixar, Ratatouille works on many and multiple layers—like a torte.
I will not gush about the marvels of animation—perhaps the movieland technical equivalent of the fancy treatment planning and IMRT or IGRT that I deal with in my daily routine in delivering radiotherapy—but I will applaud the marvelous writing by Brad Bird and the wonderfully versatile voice cast that bring a preposterous idea (a rat as a chef) to life without effort at willful suspension of disbelief over the entire 110 minutes of the film. In other words, you don't need a kid or a grandchild to see, rent, or buy the movie or DVD.
Remy (the rat voiced by Patton Oswalt) has the gift of a gourmet and preternatural abilities to blend and create flavors, truffles, and saffron, into extraordinary cuisine. As with most talents, having a gift carries the obligation to bring the potential to fruition: Hard for a rat to achieve in a world expecting him to devour garbage regardless of texture or taste; not to blend fine herbs and spices.
His rat family feels the same trepidation of humans when their child announced that he or she wants to be an actor or a major league baseball player—we want them to be happy, to be brilliant, to be successful, but the chances of that are remote regardless of desire, and the likelihood of disappointment and failure loom large.
There are thrilling, slapstick comedic starts with wild shotgun rounds, collapsing ceilings, and a water-flume ride out of Disney, Six-Flags, or Cedar Pointe, but there is a serious and heart-warming story wrapped in the eye-candy of animation and bright colors.
Gusteau (voiced by Brad Garret) floats first as a storied owner of a Tour D'Argent three-star restaurant. Like an overstuffed, jowly, and corpulent French Julia Child, who believes that “anyone can cook” or be a great chef if they try, Gusteau's egalitarian approach harkens the French motto “Liberte, Equalite, Franternite.”
He falls from stature and grace after scathing reviews of his restaurant's “ordinary food” and dilatory service by the surgical steel dismembering review of the too powerful Anton Ego (voiced by the great Peter O'Toole). The reviews are so scathing and disheartening that they cause the obese Gusteau's demise.
The famed Gusteau's establishment falls to the untrustworthy hand of the short-in-stature, pencil-thin mustached Skinner (voiced by Ian Holm). No doubt responding to “investors,” he plans to make Gusteau's profitable not by gustatory delights, but by pedestrian take-out franchising—Colonel Gusteau's fried chicken or Senor Gusteau's Mexican version of French-style tacqueria. Skinner hopes to “own” the restaurant and reap a huge reward, turning it away from its missions and traditions.
Linguini (voiced by Lou Romano) arrives as a deck-swabbing kitchen boy, no apparent threat to the kitchen establishment, each staff member carefully guarding their tenuous place in the post-Gusteau era. Linguini is as hapless as a wet noodle until he forges an alliance with Remy—cute dumb kid makes good with ingenious rat to fill in all of his blanks.
Linguini it turns out is Gusteau's true heir, and with a few uncomfortable moments, plans to deliver the fine old establishment back to his father's traditions, and fulfill his dad's epigram that anyone, even a rat, can be an extraordinary chef given quality ingredients, good taste, and an opportunity. Linguini's claim to Gusteau's legacy and the heart of Collette (voice of Janeane Garofalo) hinge on Remy and his own realization of his strengths and weaknesses.
I could not help but see our plight of the “health industry” paralleled in this child's fable about good rats and evil humans, worthy of the finest traditions of Roald Dahl's children's books.
Even he could make a mouse into a hero in Witches, but we are used to cute little mice like Mickey and today's Stuart Little. But a rat? It takes a Shakespearean turn of the tables (King Lear's Fool speaking wisdom; and Gloucester fails to see clearly until after his eyes are plucked out by Goneril's husband, the villain Duke of Cornwall) and for the rat to become the noble one, and the human craving for money, position, and greed cornering the market, and at the same time forgetting the mission, and even what impelled us to become physicians.
Have we seen this in our colleagues? Our cancer centers? Ourselves? This is heady stuff cooked up as child's fare, but there are parables to learn in this many layered plot that we may even see in our own ivory towers.
Ratatouille, the dish, is ordinary fare fit for the common folk. But done properly, the common folk and even a common rat can make it delectable, served of course with the proper wine, and an appetite whetted to appreciate something more than you expected. It even convinced Anton Ego.
If you have missed this delight when it was playing in the movies, borrow the DVD from a kid, watch it on a long distance plane, and prepare yourself to be delighted by something that can be enjoyed at any age on many levels. Ask yourself if you are an epicure, or working at a franchise, and remember what you once dreamed about. Are we mice (rats)?; or men?