Back to the kitchen for 'Ratatoille'

Pixar's latest looks good but it's undercooked.

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

"Ratatouille," the eighth feature from Disney-owned Pixar, has an icky premise. It's about a rat named Remy who lives with his rodent brood in the French countryside and fulfills his dream of becoming a great chef in a legendary Parisian restaurant.

Let's just say that you'd be better off eating dinner before you see this film. I suppose it's a tribute to writer-director Brad Bird, who also made Pixar's "The Incredibles," that the queasiness he induces is so real (at least for me). As usual with Pixar movies, the animation is absolutely first rate. In sequence after sequence, we are presented with visual set pieces that far exceed the imaginativeness of most live-action dramatic fare. The gleaming phantasmagoria of the kitchen where Remy works his wonders is offset by the tranquil glow of the Paris streets.

But, as was also true of Pixar's last movie, "Cars," "Ratatouille" is better at pleasing the eye than the other senses.

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The story line is somewhat haphazard and repetitive and the protagonists don't have the roundedness and full-scale oddity that great animated movies generally require.

Remy, for example, is quick-witted and industrious but also a little boring. His adoration of the late, great chef Auguste Gusteau, whose motto is "Anyone can cook," wears thin. It is to Gusteau's restaurant that Remy repairs when he is separated from his family, and it is there that he colludes with Linguini, the scullery boy, to whip up culinary masterpieces that rescue the eatery's reputation.

Linguini has no talent for cooking and is acting as a front for Remy – who hides under the boy's toque and pulls his hair to direct him to the right ingredients. The rubbery Linguini never quite catches fire either. His doofusness is generic.

Maybe it's just because I can relate to him, but the best character for me was Anton Ego, the sclerotic, wire-thin restaurant critic who terrorizes all of Paris with his scathing reviews. As voiced by Peter O'Toole, Ego is a splendid caricature whose motto is, "If I don't love it, I don't swallow." (That explains his thinness.)

Given the fact that a mouse – Mickey Mouse to be exact – is perhaps the most recognizable commercial logo on the planet, my squeamishness about cartoon rats may seem a bit churlish. But when it comes to rats in the movies, I much prefer the human variety. At least in the kitchen. Grade: B+

• "Ratatouille" is rated G.

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