US, 2007, directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava
Perhaps because this time he's tweaking mythologies that are more profoundly anchored in another country rather than in his own, Ratatouille doesn't have quite the deeper resonance of Brad Bird's previous films, The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. Still, there's a level of visual invention at work here that's far beyond that of most mainstream animation these days, accompanying a quietly-delivered message about tolerance, and a paean to simple, uncommercialised food. The film's set pieces, in particular, are dazzlingly constructed and executed, far exceeding the imagination on display in most non-animated action films; sequences in the sewers and on the Seine are especially breathtaking. Given the hero's diminutive stature - he is on the smaller end of the rat spectrum - much more constricted spaces, such as a restaurant kitchen, also serve as a theatre for alarming encounters with humans, and the backdrops are quite beautifully rendered, giving the film a wonderful sense of depth. The copper pots gleam with almost photo-realism, while the shelves are stocked with lovingly-detailed animated versions of every gourmet ingredient the most demanding rat or restaurant patron could desire.
Rémy, the central character, is richly imagined, with a full arsenal of Gallic gestures and expressions, and an appreciation for the finer things in life that befits his national origin; his mid-American voice, provided by Patton Oswalt, is unfortunately much less resonant. The voice casting in general is a little eccentric: some performers, like Oswalt, speak in unaccented American voices, while others, like Janeane Garofalo as Colette, adopt over-the-top fake French accents (when they don't waver into entirely different nationalities). In such company, Peter O'Toole's voice comfortably steals the show: as the ghoulish Anton Ego, the film's much-feared restaurant critic, O'Toole positively salivates over every syllable. The remarkably clever, poignant moment when Ego first tastes the film's signature creation is something to particularly savour.