"Change is nature, dad. The part that we can influence."
Pixar's winning streak has been well-documented before, even by me in some of my other reviews, so I will only bring it up as a point of illustration in regards to their 2007 film Ratatouille. Directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles), Ratatouille is one of the more overtly Disney-esque concepts for a Pixar film, yet it strangely works in ways it has no right to. Anthropomorphic animals, outcasts overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end, slapstick humor, it's got all the hallmarks, but it manages to transcend them brilliantly.
Opening in a French countryside farm house, we meet Remy (Patton Oswalt), a rat with an affinity for good food and combining food like his favorite human chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett). When his colony is discovered by the human of the house, they flee, and Remy is separated from his father (Brian Dennehy) and ends up at Gusteau's restaurant in Paris. He is discovered by a plongeur named Linguini (Lou Romano) fixing a pot of soup, and when the head chef Skinner (Ian Holm) thinks it was Linguini that made the soup, the two must team up to achieve their dreams.
It sounds ridiculous, but it works really well. There's no convention in which Remy can speak to Linguini, and apart from the disbelief suspension surrounding the way that Remy is able to "control" Linguini in the kitchen, everything is pretty well rooted in reality. There's also some intrigue involving Linguini being the long lost son of Gusteau and Skinner's attempt to hide that as Linguini's star is on the rise, and some push and pull with Remy's family rediscovering him and warning him against spending time with humans.
The plot really comes to a head, however, when the most famous food critic in Paris, Anton Ego (a brilliant Peter O'Toole) throws down the gauntlet to Linguini, challenging him to make him a meal that will convince him that he's as good a chef as everyone seems to think he is. The climactic meal preparation scene is a symphony of genius where all of the thematic elements that have been in play throughout the film come to a head. It's a masterful display of screenwriting prowess, bringing everything together in one centralized location and paying off on all the multitude of story lines and themes.
For me, however, the most resonant theme in this final scene is about the nature of criticism. Ego is forced to confront all of his long held beliefs about his line of work when he's presented not just with his meal, but with the real chef that prepared it, a rat. His review that runs after the meal is a remarkable piece of writing, with a fantastic delivery by O'Toole. It calls in to play the eternal struggle of artist versus critic in a way that's both even handed and eloquent. Other filmmakers have tried to articulate their issues with critics in the past and failed almost every time. One of the more egregious examples of this is Bob Balaban's character in Lady in the Water, a film that was asinine enough without it's ham-fisted moralizing over the "evil film critic."
The animation is gorgeous. This was one of the first films put on blu-ray, and the transfer remains one of the gold standards of the format. The attention to detail is unparalleled, but never garish and never calls attention to itself, it's all in service of the story. Brad Bird is a visual genius as well as a storytelling one, and he brings the best of both of those worlds together in this film.
If you've somehow managed to not see Ratatouille, I can't recommend it enough. It's one of the best animated films of the last decade, and does not disappoint on multiple viewings. It also plays like gangbusters to young children. It's been one of Clementine's favorite films since she was very young, and watching it again with her for the first time in over a year, she loves it just as much as I do. And isn't that what the best animated films are all about, providing a satisfying and complete viewing experience for every audience member imaginable? Ratatouille is a wonder.