Young Remy wants to cook. He’s enthralled, consumed, obsessed with the idea of someday becoming a great chef. Remy has a problem, though: He’s a rat. A Parisian rat with a heightened sense of smell, a discerning palate and a natural skill in the culinary arts … but, still a rat.
His family members are content to scavenge and steal any tidbit of garbage they can find, but when Remy is accidentally separated from them he realizes that he needs to seek a higher path. So he crawls out of the sewer and into the restaurant of the famous chef August Gusteau (the author of Remy’s favorite book, Anyone Can Cook).
In the restaurant, Remy narrowly avoids destruction and, by happenstance, ends up befriending Linguini, a clumsy kitchen boy. The young man desperately wants to keep his job. But, like Remy, Linguini also has a problem. He can’t cook. Together, the unlikely duo make a fine team. And the food world goes wild. Linguini even catches the eye of the kitchen’s only female chef, Colette.
But their splendid soufflé begins to fall when the restaurant’s head chef smells, well, a rat. And Remy’s multitudinous clan shows up wanting an all-you-can-eat buffet. And a famous food critic decides to separate the mice from the men.
Remy imagines a miniature chef Gusteau who pops up whenever the little rat needs a nudge from his conscience. Gusteau encourages the fricasseeing rodent to work for his dream: “Why not here? Why not now?” Gusteau admonishes Remy to do the right thing instead of stealing food like his rat brethren: “A cook makes. A thief takes. You are not a thief.” In fact, the message that stealing is wrong is repeated several times. And when Remy finds himself betrayed by a friend and decides to get even by allowing his rat friends to steal from the restaurant, his choice is met with harsh consequences.
Good also eventually comes of Remy’s father chiding his son for pursuing un-rat-like dreams. “You can’t change nature,” Dad argues. Remy retorts, “Nature is change, Dad. The part that we can influence. And it starts when we decide.” Indeed. The two go their separate ways with the issue unresolved, but later Remy’s father admits he was wrong when he sees his son’s achievements and watches him receive the respect he deserves. Dad then decides to call in all the rats to help his son, saying, “We are family.” By the end of the movie, all the central characters agree to make upright choices, even though they recognize that it will mean losing something they value greatly.
A man enjoying a good meal has a flashback to the days of his childhood; he recalls how his mother prepared a special dish for him that was simple but filled with love.
When asked, Linguini reports that his mother has died, but goes on to say, “It’s OK. She believed in heaven. So she’s covered.” Remy states that cleanliness is next to godliness. Remy’s father says, “Thank God.” One of the cooks, with a Haitian background, says (during a stressful moment), “This is bad juju.”
Linguini and Colette share a long kiss. In his travels through an air shaft, Remy passes a room in which a French couple is arguing. After she brandishes a gun and fires it into the ceiling, the two end up in a brief-but-passionate embrace. It’s also mentioned that Linguini may be Gusteau’s out-of-wedlock son (an important plot point that’s handled fairly discreetly and not overemphasized) and that a colleague was once fired from the circus for “messing around” with his boss’s daughters.
Remy and his brother are struck by lightning while standing on the roof of a house. An old woman finds Remy in her house and starts firing her shotgun at him (destroying her home in the process). Rats and kitchens don’t mix, so when Remy is spotted in the restaurant, everything from mops to pots and pans to knives get hurled in his direction. Remy is almost fried by a flame erupting from the bottom of an oven, and later he’s accidentally put in the oven with a roast. Colette pins Linguini’s sleeve to the table with large kitchen knives. And she slaps his face several times.
Remy is separated from his family and pulled down into a drainage ditch by fiercely rushing water. Linguini hits Remy as the rat runs around on the boy’s body underneath his shirt. With each blow, Remy nips at Linguini’s chest, and we see red bite marks. Dead rats are seen hanging from traps.
The English vulgarity “bloody” is used once. “Shut up” and a smattering of mild insults (“idiot,” “garbage boy”) are all that are left to report here.
As might be expected, wine is served with every meal in the restaurant. The head chef keeps pouring glasses of wine for Linguini (who says he’s not a drinker), getting him tipsy in order to find out about his rat friend. The kitchen crew drinks wine and champagne in celebration.
Colette teaches Linguini the ropes of running a kitchen and clearly states that bribing the grower is the best way to get the first pick of vegetables. Other chefs are said to have been gamblers, gun-runners and convicts. The head chef mockingly “welcomes” Linguini to “hell.”
Moviegoers feast each summer on a banquet of blockbusters. So far, the summer of 2007 has served up mostly second and third helpings of big-name franchise sequels (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End). Will a first-round animated flick about a French rat in Paris be worth anyone’s notice, then? Especially given the fact that it wasn’t long ago this particular Pixar picture was in such trouble that they had to bring in director Brad Bird to try to patch things up? Bird’s past creations have been both unique and popular (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant), but there was still some doubt in my mind walking into an early screening of Ratatouille whether he could bring that same, shall we say, savoir faire to a movie that wasn’t his own brainchild.
The answer, in a word, is oui.
Ratatouille probably won’t be placed atop the menu with some of Pixar’s other savory classics, such as Toy Story or Finding Nemo. It has one too many shotgun-wielding grannies and that distasteful bit concerning Linguini’s questionable parentage (a character who tended to grate on me like a lemon zester, anyway). But its animated presentation is appealing and its furry epicurean delightful. On top of that is the positive story garnish of giving respect (and credit) to others, working hard and not giving up on your dreams, sticking together as a family, admitting when you’re wrong and making right choices even in the face of possible negative ramifications.
Once the pot is fully stirred and seasoned, then, the end result is a simple dish, but one that may well deserve to be considered as a first course, leaving all the seconds and thirds for another day.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.