Ratatouille is probably the most atmospheric of Pixar’s films. I look back and think of the film’s style, its charm, and its ability to bring the experience of food and cooking to the screen more than I think about the plot or the characters. I felt immersed in a stylized Paris; I could swear I could taste, feel, smell the food and hear the sizzle. To me it’s the best Pixar film since Finding Nemo.

The plot, characters, and dialogue are no slouches, either. Remy is amusing and passionate, Skinner is hilarious with his Napoleon Complex and frozen ethnic food products, and Anton Ego casts a delightfully sinister specter over much of the film. Ego’s scenes at the end are great, from his flashback to childhood after tasting Remy’s dish to his impassioned speech on the nature of criticism (perhaps the monologue of the year). I also like that the film creates rules within its world and refuses to break them. Rats can speak and read human language but humans cannot understand rats? Fine. And so we never see a rat conversing with a human. Most films wouldn’t create those rules and few would steadfastly stick by them.

And how about those cooking scenes? I have little innate cooking talent, but Ratatouille made we want to go out and cook a gourmet meal. Actually, by the end I sort of felt like I had experienced the preparation of a meal, just without the payoff of getting to eat it. Has a film ever so expertly described the joy of food?

By now we expect such greatness from Pixar animation that it sort of becomes ho-hum, but let’s not forget to give credit where credit is due. Ratatouille looks outstanding, from the hairs bristling on a rat’s back to the post-rain glint of the Paris pavement.

So it’s not a perfect film. Luigi actually annoyed me, I didn’t care about his relationship with Colette, and the rift between Remy and Luigi seemed contrived. But it’s so charming to experience that its flaws are easy to gloss over. A film about rats that made me hungry? Scrumptious.

(As a side note, anyone who rents the DVD should check out the “Your Friend the Rat” special feature, a clever animated short detailing the long and illustrious history of rat-human relations as told by Remy and and Emile.)

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