This is hardly the first time an American animated feature has used Paris as a backdrop for the adventures of four-legged creatures -- think "Gay Purr-ee" and Disney's "The Aristocats" -- but the City of Light has never been so dazzlingly etched.
And rather than feline characters, the delectable "Ratatouille" (Disney/Pixar) has as its hero Remy, a cute and skinny rat (voiced by Patton Oswalt) with a penchant for cooking.
Inspired by late TV chef (in cartoonland, anyway) Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett), whose oft-stated mantra was "anyone can cook," Remy attempts to steal some ingredients from the kitchen of a gun-toting granny. Remy and all the other rats must flee down a storm drain where, in the churning rapids, he's separated from the others, and emerges solo to view the wondrous city below him (a particularly breathtaking moment).
Guided by the spirit of Gusteau (Remy's imagination, not an actual ghost), he soon spies the late chef's former five-star eatery and makes his way into the kitchen, where he can't resist doctoring the soup, which of course, becomes a big hit with the customers.
The restaurant's hapless garbage boy, Linguini (Lou Romano), gets the credit, and after some initial hesitation the pair decide to work together, with Remy perching under Linguini's chef's hat, and directing him to use the proper ingredients. The kitchen's lone female chef, Colette (Janeane Garofalo), softens her harsh manner as she finds herself falling for the budding chef, and becomes another ally.
Linguini's concoctions continue to win wide approval, much to the envy of the eatery's diminutive head chef, Skinner (Ian Holm), who contrives to discover the secret behind Linguini's unlikely culinary prowess.
When Remy's family finally catches up with him -- including his no-nonsense father, Django (Brian Dennehy), and slovenly brother, Emile (Peter Sohn) -- they try to persuade him that he cannot live with humans, and should return to them instead.
Linguini's success has so gone to his head that Remy thinks his father's advice may be correct after all. But suffice it to say, everything is sorted out by the end, with much comedy and touching sentiment along the way.
Writer-director Brad Bird's gorgeously animated production has a rare sophistication that should entertain adults as much as their children. The Pixar wizardry is quite wondrous, with outstandingly choreographed detail, from Remy's fast-moving antics to the intricate food preparation. Voicewise, Peter O'Toole is particularly amusing as a dour food critic, Anton Ego.
Despite recent attempts from some quarters to discredit France, it's nice to see -- one gratuitous crack notwithstanding -- the French presented without derision.
The film's messages of teamwork (even in a world foreign to one's own), honesty (the rats learn it's wrong to steal), and following one's dreams however unlikely (a rodent can indeed succeed in the kitchen) are marvelously conveyed.
"Ratatouille" is delicious from first scene to last.
Apart from the subtle implication of a character born out of wedlock, which should go over most youngsters' heads, and some cartoon peril, the film makes fine family viewing. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G -- general audiences. All ages admitted.
These movies have been evaluated for artistic merit and moral suitability by the media reviewing division of Catholic News Service. The reviews include the CNS rating, the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and a brief synopsis of the movie.
The classifications are as follows:
A-I -- general patronage;
A-II -- adults and adolescents;
A-III -- adults;
L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. L replaces the previous classification, A-IV.
O -- morally offensive.
Note: Some movies previously were designated A-IV. Older films with this classification should be regarded as classified L.