Sunday, June 17, 2007

Rataouille Review - or - Voiceovers Are The Last Refuge of the Damned

The best thing about Ratatouille is that it finishes strong. Sometimes a satisfying ending is all a movie needs to make the audience forget everything else and exit the theater with a great impression. But these impressions rarely last the walk home, which is when one remembers the hour-plus it took to reach that climax. Ratatouille isn't bad, but it's not all that good, and I feel like if we keep saying these B-grade Pixar movies are amazing, we're never going to get anything brilliant from the studio again.

A breakdown of the flick's goods and bads after the jump...

A Symphony of Flavor:

  • Good villains. Ian Holm and Peter O'Toole voice two very different antagonists, both of whom are wonderful to watch. These men are obviously great actors, and they rise to the challenges of voice acting perfectly - just the right amount of hyper-stylization needed to give the animators plenty to work with.
  • Rats. Rats are cool. I was concerned about the character design (because of their long snouts, you often can't see the rat's mouths when they talk), but giving them a semi-realistic feel pays off during "The Birds" type scenes when hoards of rats scare the hell out of people.
  • Physical comedy. This is a movie set in France, so of course there's going to be some serious clowning going on. One of director Brad Bird's trademarks is comedy revolving around people struggling against their bodies - remember our first glimpse of The Incredibles?

Another example of this type of gag is a memorable scene from The Iron Giant that involves a small rodent down a man's pants...Brad Bird liked this joke so much it's also in Ratatouille. Which is okay, because it's still funny.

Stale Crackers:
  • In the first half-hour, there's a lot of expositionary voice-over by the leading rat character, Remy. This setup info is put across with zero charm or enjoyability, and not even much character development! We understand that Remy has "good taste", and wants to be a chef, and yet he has no personality. Bland, bland, bland. We only begin to like Remy once we see him through the eyes of the human protagonist - a small, squeaking rat who communicates through hilariously expressive gestures. When Remy speaks, the magic is gone. Which brings me to an important tangent:
  • WHEN are animation producers/directors going to wise-up to the fact that grown men's voices do not work well for young, cute cartoon characters? Why does Remy, who's naivete and desire for independence from his father is central to the movie, have the voice of a 35 year old man!? This is a cute cartoon character we're talking about, have we grown so cynical in this culture that we can't bare to give a cute cartoon character a reasonably endearing voice?! Disclaimer: Patton Oswald is not a bad voice actor - he does fine work in Kim Possible. I wonder if he tried to develop a voice for Remy, and it was vetoed? Maybe Pixar didn't want to repeat Zack Braff's (sp? I can't be bothered) disastrous attempt at creating a "kid" voice for Chicken Little...people, some free advice, CAST A KID!
  • Janeane Garafalo does a very sexy French accent.
  • Some great "rats-eye-view" chase scenes.
  • The movie features a neat visual device where flavors are literally illustrated through lavish bursts of abstract animation - this is very cool, but only happens twice and never has anything to do with moving the story forward. This is one of several ideas that are introduced and then seem to be abandoned...was this radically re-edited at some point?
  • The "great ending" I mentioned is the sort of thing that will need to be watched several times on DVD...very excited for that.
OBLIGATORY STAR RATING: 3 stars, just like the restaurant in the movie.

Watching Ratatouille is like eating at a so-so restaurant that serves a great dessert. You leave feeling happy, but it's not an experience you'd highly recommend. Except for the dessert. My metaphor came apart.

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