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Heroes of the Zeroes: Ratatouille

by on September 3, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

Rated G

At first blush, a film about a rat with culinary dreams sounds as heartwarming as one about lice yearning to open a salon. But, to paraphrase one lesson of 2007’s “Ratatouille,” great art comes from anywhere.

“Ratatouille” kicked off a three-year renaissance of atypically avant-garde animation for Pixar. Its gourmand rodent certainly was a hard-sell follow-up to 2006’s “Cars” — a pedestrian film with tie-ins forever mummified on clearance-rack shelves.

“Ratatouille’s” frothy, family-friendly farce boasts dazzling detail from rat-fur tufts to tile-grout crumbs, a snappy Michael Giacchino score and an intoxicating dusky visual aesthetic. But realistic rats scurrying through a kitchen was only the stuff of appealing artistry, not appetizing ancillaries. As is co-writer/director Brad Bird’s way, though, “Ratatouille” improvises a delectable dish from odd ingredients.

Yearning for cuisine beyond trash, Remy wants to cook a la his late idol Chef Gusteau. Accidentally separated from his family, Remy turns up in the kitchen of Gusteau’s downtrodden Paris restaurant — rebuffed by critic Anton Ego and reduced in stature by Gusteau’s sous chef, Skinner. Teaming with gangly new hire Linguini, Remy recaptures Gusteau’s gustatory gusto.

In a G-rated spin on his foulmouthed foodie stand-up bits, Patton Oswalt delights as Remy, and a humbled climactic soliloquy of Peter O’Toole’s Ego remains the greatest passage scripted for any Pixar film yet.

As classically as “Babe,” “Ratatouille” turns animal-kingdom expectations on their ear for a unique, generous and gleeful gastronomic masterpiece that knows it’s not much fun to look out, or cook, only for yourself.