There once was a famous chef called Gusteau (voiced by Brad Garrett) who was one of the greatest around, and he was hero to an unlikely fan. That fan was Remy the rat (Patton Oswalt) who lived in rural France but was dissatisfied with his lot in life. Here was a rat with a terrific sense of smell, a sense of taste, who was reduced to eating garbage with his rodent friends and family. Fussy Remy wanted to cook great dishes like Gusteau, but when the others found out that he could detect poison, he was relegated to food tester. If only he could find a way of stretching his talents...
This farfetched animated comedy from Pixar proved that however unconvincing the story, the skill and talent of this production company applied to it was akin to casting a magic spell. Scripted by director (taking over from Jan Pinkava) Brad Bird, it told the tale of a character who refused to stick with the role society had landed him with and instead branched out into hitherto unexpected areas of culinary genius. In a fast moving first act, Remy is plunged - literally - into an escape from his old life and through the sewers until he is under the city of Paris.
Before he does that, he finds out that his idol, Gusteau, has died after his reputation suffered and he lost two of the five stars from his restuarant. And naturally, that restaurant is where Remy ends up, advised by the ghost of Gusteau who insists he is a figment of his imagination. Running around unseen in the kitchen, the rat spots the new member of staff, a dogsbody called Linguini (Lou Romano), secretly adding some ingredients to the soup and in the process ruining it. Leave it to Remy to heroically rescue the food and improve it too, yet Linguini is the one who gets the credit.
Suddenly Remy is caught in a bottle and Linguini is ordered by the head chef Skinner (our villain, voiced by Ian Holm) to dispose of him in the river, but when Remy reveals he can understand him Linguini saves his new friend and they team up, with Remy hidden under his hat and using him like a puppet to create marvellous dishes. Yes, it's hard to swallow (pardon the pun), but Bird and his cohorts have settled on making it all as cute as possible, so while their lead is unmistakably ratlike, his humble behaviour and gestures make for an endearing main character and his relationship with Linguini, which includes sparking a romance with fellow cook Colette (Janeane Garofalo), is one of the most charming aspects.
Usually with movies that children will enjoy there's a message that if you do your very best then good things will happen to you and all your dreams will come true, but scratch the glossy surface of Ratatouille and something more realistic is present in its themes. There's none of the "you have the potential to do anything your heart desires" lesson here, as it acknowledges that first you have to have talent for your chosen vocation, and second you have to be in the right place at the right time. Then you have to find people who can see your potential and capitalise on it, which introduces the food critic Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole) who in this world can doom a restaurant to mediocre reputation. Yet this is no bitter dig at those who would over-analyse and bring down creators with their opinions, for Bird is generous enough to humanise everyone in his film - including the rats - and if his premise is deeply improbable, at least it brings out integrity and decency. Music by Michael Giacchino.