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Ratatouille (2007)

Disney DVD
DVD Released: 11/6/2007

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/04/2007

Few would disagree that Pixar changed the way that we look at animated feature films. Much in the same way that Walt Disney pioneered the medium in the 1930s, John Lasseter and his team brought cartoons into the modern era. Those first revolutionary entries like Toy Story and A Bug's Life were spell-binding. But, as Pixar released more and more movies, the consistency began to waiver. Their most recent entry, Ratatouille, is as technically impressive as anything that Pixar has done. However, a question must be raised? For whom was this film made?

Ratatouille tells the story of Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), a French rat who doesn't fit in with the rest of his family. While his brother, Emile (voiced by Peter Sohn) and the rest of his colony are content to eat garbage, Remy enjoys exploring kitchens and combining the foods that human's eat. When an attack by a human separates Remy from his family, he finds himself not only in Paris, but at the restaurant of Auguste Gusteau (voiced by Brad Garrett), a famous chef and Remy's idol. Remy so idolizes Gusteau that he imagines that the deceased chef gives him advice (?!). As Remy arrives at Gusteau's, so does Linguini (voiced by Lou Romano), a sad-sack of a man-child who is seeking a job at the restaurant, as his mother had worked there years before. The short-tempered Chef Skinner (voiced by Ian Holm) makes Linguini the garbage boy. Linguini accidentally knocks over the soup and then tries to fix it. Remy sees this and sneaks in to correct the problem. When the soup becomes a hit, Skinner demands that Linguini replicate the recipe. The distraught Linguini captures Remy and quickly realizes that not only can the rodent understand him, but he can help him. Together, the two work out a system where Remy helps Linguini cook. But, how long can they keep their secret from Skinner? And what will Remy do when his family re-enters the picture?

Ratatouille marks the eighth feature film from Pixar and at this point, we expect no less then technical perfection from the company, and that's what we get here. The characters, both rat and human, have a slightly cartoonish look. The humans have somewhat exaggerated features, such as large eyes or noses, and Skinner, for example, is incredibly short, while food critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole) is quite gaunt. The rats has red, bulbous noses, and come in a variety of colors (Remy is a sort of blue-grey). Aside, from that, most of the backgrounds, interiors, and landscapes are nearly photorealistic. The images have a nice amount of depth and, aside from the odd looks of the characters, we feel as if we are really in Paris. As this is a real place, as opposed to a fantasy world such as in Monsters Inc., the art direction is fairly subtle, save for Ego's office, which contains many nice visual cues.

The story in Ratatouille is good as well, and comes across much better than Pixar's other recent films. I felt that The Incredibles was far too derivative, while Cars really dragged in the middle. I also feel that Pixar has been making their films much too long, especially for youngsters. At 110 minutes, Ratatouille certainly stretches itself thin, but it never gets boring. The story builds at a nice pace, as we meet the characters and Remy and Linguini learn to trust one another. Subplots are kept to a minimum and even seemingly innocuous things add to the film. Remy is a central figure, as he learns to follow his dream. The movie does suffer somewhat from the fact that there really isn't a villain. (There really are in Pixar films.) Skinner is greedy, but not necessarily evil and Ego is simply doing his job as a critic. The real antagonist is Remy's desire to be accepted as a rat who can cook.

So, Ratatouille is technically sound and the story is better than Pixar's other films of late, but will all audiences accept this movie? The Pixar folks have always understood that adults will be seeing these films and they've added elements that kids probably wouldn't get. But, the premise of Ratatouille may not grab the imagination of some children. A rat who likes gourmet cooking and can't get enough of spices and sauces? Oh, did I mention that the rat hallucinates? That doesn't sound like the typical kiddie fare to me? The movie is charming and clever enough to win over most audiences, but this may not be one that the kids want to watch over and over again like other Pixar films. Adults will appreciate the subtleties of the film, but they will have to explain to the kids that their pets won't be doing any cooking.

Ratatouille whets our appetite on DVD courtesy of Disney DVD. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. I'm assuming that the transfer was taken from a digital source, because the image looks fantastic. The picture is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The image is very well-balanced, as the picture is never too light or too dark. The colors look great, from the bright skyline to the more muted colors of the city. I detected no video noise or distortion on the image. Now, for the audio. You can probably tell from this website that I watch a lot of DVDs and I often wonder why the studios advertise their DVDs as being in surround sound, when the audio tracks barely meet this criteria. This is not the case with the Ratatouille DVD. This DVD has one of the best audio tracks that I've heard on a DVD in quite some time. The audio is a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX mix. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, and the in-film music sounds great. From the movie's earliest scenes (the battle with the old woman), we realize that the surround sound effects on the track are outstanding as a bold amount of audio comes from the rear. This is paired with the kind of thundering bass which one rarely finds on a family film DVD. The stereo effects in the kitchen scenes are notably good as well. Overall, the audio experience really heightens the effect of the film.

Despite the fact that the movie was a smash hit, the Ratatouille DVD contains only a few extras. "Your Friend the Rat" (11 minutes) is a short hosted by Remy and Emiel which gives a humorous history of the rat. The short is 16 x 9 and has some funny moments (like the video game parody), but it's a bit too long. We also get the short "Lifted" (5 minutes), which played in theaters with Ratatouille and is also featured on the Pixar Short Films Collection Vol. 1 DVD. "Fine Food and Flim: A Conversation with Brad Bird and Thomas Keller" (14 minutes), features comments from Ratatouille director Bird and Keller, who is a chef. The two discuss the parallels between cooking and filmmaking, as both involve inspiration, creative, and making a connection. The DVD contains 3 DELETED SCENES which run about 15 minutes and have introductions by Brad Bird. The first is black & white test animation, which is still very 3-D. The others are more like animated storyboards. These scenes show different perspective on the film from early in the writing process.

Disney has also brought Ratatouille to Blu-ray Disc. The movie has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 with a 1080p HD AVC transfer. The image here looks perfect. I can only assume that this transfer was taken directly from the digital source, as there is no grain or any defects on the image. The picture has an amazing clarity and it is very sharp. The picture is never blurred or soft, and the amount of detail is staggering. The colors look fantastic and the image has a very nice depth. The disc offers a Linear PCM uncompressed 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and 6.9 Mbps. Just as with the DVD, the audio here is outstanding. Someone put a lot of work into the sound design for Ratatouille and it shows through on this track. The dialogue and sound effects are always clear and there's no hint of hissing or distortion. There is an impressive amount of detail in the stereo effects and the sounds are nicely placed in the various channels. There is nearly constant surround sound action, as the audio here envelopes the viewer and pulls them into the movie. When we get subwoofer action, such as in the opening scene, it is well-placed. All-in-all, a nice demo disc.

The extras found on the Ratatouille DVD are found here. It should be noted that "Fine Food and Film", "Your Friend the Rat" and "Lifted" are all in HD, all 1.78:1, and all 3 look great.

There are also a selection of extras exclusive to the Blu-ray Disc. The film can be watched with the "Cine-Explore" feature, which allows the viewer to access deleted scenes and brief featurettes while watching the film, as well as an AUDIO COMMENTARY from writer/director Brad Bird and producer Brad Lewis. The commentary is punctuated by still photos and drawings which pop-up from time-to-time. This does not have a dashboard control as was found on the Cars Blu-ray. The extras found here can also be viewed outside of this feature. There are 13 "Animation Briefings" which run about 14 minutes, which are meetings with Brad Bird and the animators where they discuss certain characters and scenes. The 10 "Documentary Shorts", which run about 50 minutes, explore many facets of the film's production. "Deleted Shots R.I.P." (3 minutes), has animators lamenting over the shots which were cut from the film. (This is very tongue-in-cheek.)

In "The Will" (3 minutes), composer Michael Giacchino talks about creating the music for the scene in which Skinner chases Remy. "Remembering Dan Lee" (3 minutes) profiles a Pixar artist who died during the production of Ratatouille. Finally, we have "Gusteau's Gourmet Game", which gives the viewer a chance to play chef.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long