Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Mini-Review: Ratatouille

Hey, here's something I haven't done in awhile...

No, not updating my site. Shut up.

I mean a review of a recently viewed, currently-in-the-theatre movie. In this case, the latest offering from our friends at Pixar, Ratatouille.

In my usual fashion, I'll start with the couple trailers that I can remember off the top of my head.

First up - Underdog, yet another in a long line of bad ideas from the bottom of the barrel. And I don't say that because of the subject material, but rather the ill-advised (& repeated) attempt by Hollywood to take 10 minute cartoons & make them into 90+ minute live-action features. *sigh* Did they learn nothing from the Garfield train wrecks? Anyway, the one thing this one's got going for it is that Underdog is voiced by Jason Lee, who could read the ingredients on a Twinkie wrapper & have me rolling all over the floor.

The only other trailer that I can remember (I lapsed into my happy place after this one...Wee!) is for a movie that looks so horrible, so awful, so incredibly stupid that words simply fail me in describing how truly terrible this movie will be (I've got to get a bigger thesaurus), except to say that this is the first time a movie preview has ever driven me to contemplate suicide - Ladies & Gentlemen, I present to you Bratz. Yes, a movie about spoiled, self-absorbed, empty-headed, hydrocephalic dolls.

Oh. My. Word. This movie alone makes me so glad that The Boy is both too old & the opposite gender than that of the target audience. In what I can only assume was an attempt to keep parents from throwing themselves over the railing of the front row of the upper level seats, plummeting to their deaths (or at least into blessed, semi-unconsciousness) 4 feet below in an effort to escape this cinematic crap pile, the makers of the trailer tried to pummel the audience into submission with a flurry of "OMG!" lefts, "BFF!" rights & a few "squealing girl" uppercuts before showing the title.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Satan.

Seriously, if I would've had a razor in my pocket, I wouldn't be here writing this. Are there really children in the world that are as vapid & braindead as the characters that assaulted my eyes & ears on that fateful evening? Please, for the love of all that's good & holy, sterilize them! Do not let them into the genepool!

Hey, reliving that little bit of trauma shook loose the memory of another trailer for a Pixar movie coming out next year that looks really good about a robot that gains sentiency that's called...URG!!! I can't remember it now!

Curse you, Bratz! CUUUURSE YOOOOOOOU!!!

Anyway, the memories of screaming 'tweens juming up & down to horrid faux-rock music were soon put to rest (until I started writing this - see what I do for you people?) when the short before our feature presentation began - a little gem called Lifted, about an alien abductor-trainee, his demanding instructor & a million buttons. I can't remember the last time that I laughed so hard in a theatre. I honestly thought I was having a heart attack as I started getting shooting pains in my left arm. I would've gone out on a high note if I'd keeled over right there. In fact, this may have backfired on Ratatouille, as the laugh bar was raised almost out of reach.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year, you all know the premise of the movie, so I think I'll skip going into great detail about it. Suffice it to say, this wasn't one of my favorite Pixar flicks, ranking above A Bug's Life, which is on the low end of the rating spectrum. That's not to say that it's an awful movie (neither was A Bug's Life,, really). A sub-par Pixar movie is far, far superior to crap like Hoodwinked or Happily n' Everafter or Shark Tale (man, I hate that one).

The animation, as usual, is incredible. I swear, every movie that Pixar puts out amazes me (visually) a hundred times more than the last. The fur on the rats (as well as the hair on the humans), both wet & dry, looks realistic. The cityscapes & backgrounds are breathtaking. Little details, like rusty old sewer pipes & the wood splinters in the joists of a house after they've been peppered by a shotgun & even the old, black & white television show clips seen in the early parts of the movie, flesh out the world into which we're peering into. Ratatouille is a visual feast. And any movie that can make a character voiced by Janene Garaffalo look good is working some serious CGI magic.

So, if it's such a visually stunning work, what's the problem then?

Well, as we all know, watching a movie is only half the experience. You've got to have an engrossing story & engaging characters that you actually care about. This is Ratatouille's shortcoming. Remy (Patton Oswalt), the long tailed star of the movie, is a little...well...boring. You get it that he's a rodent with a refined palette. You get it that he'd rather starve than eat another piece of rubbish. But, we have no background on him, really, other than that he's his nest's poison tester due to his sensitive sniffer. And he can read. And understand French & English. How did he get that way, though? Is he a mutant? Did he escape from NIMH? We don't know. It's never explained

The other problem is Remy's human puppet, Linguini, voiced by Lou Romano (the poor-man's Ray Romano); he's even more boring than Remy. Romano's voice is one of those that's okay in small doses, but in 110 minute batches, it gets a little grating. I just wanted him to shut up & do something - anything - other than talk & whine.

The primary antagonist, Skinner (Ian Holm), is hysterical to watch, as he's about 3 feet tall (& if you've read anything I've written, you know that midgets make me smile). Many a time, all that's seen of him is his toque cruising by people at bellybutton level. He's a little man with a major Napoleon complex & it's milked for all of its comedic worth.

The peripheral characters are all more interesting than the main players, though. (I'd love to see a back story on Skinner's second-in-command, a man with a shadowy past who apparently killed someone - using only his thumbs) The supporting cast (the rats, the rest of the kitchen staff, Antono Ego (Peter O'Toole), the sadistic restaurant reviewer), much like the little visual touches throughout the movie, add a lot of flavor*, picking up some of the slack left by Linguini & Remy.

(*I just noticed the abundance of food related words/phrases that I've used in this review. I promise, it wasn't intentional. Hey, at least I haven't resorted to using any 'salty' language!)

(Sorry. That was bad.)

So, what'd you really think?

As I said before, a so-so Pixar offering is better than most of the other CGI junk out there. Ratatouille isn't a bad movie by a longshot. In fact, just for the chance to laugh myself retarded watching Lifted over & over, it'll probably find its way into my video shelf. All in all, though, it's just kind of like watching a cooking show - you've just seen something incredible & that you know you'd never be able to make.

And you're still hungry.

3.5 out of 5