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Rats in the kitchen! Mon dieu! A rodent with five star culinary aspirations is the main ingredient in Brad Birds latest animated concoction,

Ratatouille (opening June 29 throughout San Diego).

All little Remy wants to do is cook in Ratatouille (Disney)


Brad Bird came to animation as something of an outsider and a rebel. He was an animator on the decidedly dark and R-rated Plague Dogs (about abused lab animals) and his first feature, The Iron Giant , was not for Americas animation king Disney but rather for the upstart Warner Animation. But since then, Bird has been moving into the mainstream and into the Disney family with The Incredibles and now Ratatouille . Bird's films remain fun but there's not much left of that rebel, upstart attitude.

Ratatouille is a co-production of Disney and Pixar, the team that brought audiences last years Cars . Preceding their latest feature Pixar serves up a hilarious animated short call Lifted . In it a novice alien pilot tries to abduct a sleeping human with disastrously funny results. The short does what a good appetizer should do, it whets the audiences appetite nicely in preparation for what's to come.

The main course of Ratatouille involves a French country rat named Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) who dreams of being a chef at an elegant five star restaurant. Remy is blessedor cursed some might saywith an exquisite sense of smell and taste. But the rat pack he hangs with has no interest in haute cuisine. The other rats are only concerned about whether or not something is laced with rat poison.

Remy and Liguini form a cuilinary partnership in Ratatouille (Disney)

Fate lands Remy in Paris where the spirit of the late great French chef Gusteau (voiced by TVs Brad Garrett of Til Death and Everyone Loves Raymond ) guides him to Gusteaus former five-star restaurant. But the restaurant, under the lack luster management of Skinner (Ian Holm), has lost a couple of its stars. Arriving at the restaurant at the same time as Remy is Linguini (Lou Romano) whos desperate for any kind of work. A kitchen accident prompts Remy to save Linguinis butt by fixing a soup the silly human had ruined. This leads to Linguini being hired at the restaurant and forced to prove himself. Of course he has no clue what to do in the kitchen but Remy does so the two form an odd partnership that brings Gusteaus restaurant renewed fame. But are patrons ready for a rat in the kitchen?


Ratatouille is yet another dazzling display of Hollywood animation technology. The ground level shots of Remy scurrying through the kitchen are a delight and breathtakingly fast. The animators even take care to give Remy rapid rodent breathing that makes his little chest rise and fall with nervous rapidity. Its a nice detail, as is the high angle shot of a food critic's office that's shaped like a coffin. The cooking sequences are also quite fun. The film seems to borrow from the BBC kitchen comedy Chef! in terms of the character types that populate the kitchen. Some of the characters even look physically modeled after the actors in that show.

Peter O'Toole provides the perfect vocal intonations for Anton Ego (Disney)

But for all the hijinks in the kitchen, Ratatouille has one major flawnot a single real or convincing French accent anywhere to be found. Plus for reasons unknown, Linguini speaks like an American (even though everything from his name to his parentage points to him being European). Adding insult to injury is having the very American Brad Garrett voice Gusteau who is supposed to be the epitome of French chef-dom. Couldnt they get Gerard Depardieu or someone with a true sounding French accent? I mean the role is just crying out for a real Frenchman. I think Ill check out the DVD when it comes out and see if theres a French dub track. The only voice that does work perfectly is Peter OToole as the snobbish critic Anton Ego who gets more than he bargained for from little Remys cooking. In fact the scene in which Ego samples Remys ratatouille is the single best moment in the film and it rivals the moment when the Grinch's heart grows three sizes too big in the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Ratatouille (rated G) is enjoyable family fare. Its delivers exactly what youd expect and is aimed more squarely at kids that any of Birds previous work. It never pushes the bounds of animated storytelling in the way that Japanese anime does but it serves up simple fun. Its a lightweight confection rather than gourmet meal.

Companion viewing: BBC TV series Chef! ; The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover ; Babettes Feast; Mostly Martha; Fawlty Towers (the Basil the Rat episode)