Co-writer and director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) has created a film with a surprisingly subtle premise, which still satisfies everyone from children to seniors. Yes, the movie's about a rat who wants to cook, but it's also about declining aesthetic values versus mediocrity and commerce. The Parisian restaurant where Remy the rat (Patton Oswalt) meets a aspiring garbage-boy Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano) is a formerly five-star restaurant Gusteau's, which has slipped two stars since its eponymous chef (Brad Garrett) died. The new Chef Skinner (Ian Holm, channeling his Napoleon from Time Bandits) is happy to neglect the food quality, as long as the ignorant tourist trade keeps the receipts up, and he can continue to sell out the Gusteau name with frozen foods for Americans. The arrival of Linguini and Remy puts all this in jeopardy.
The movie makes a not-too subtle jab at American taste buds: all the French rats in the movie eat garbage indiscriminately, and love it, but they're all voiced by Americans. Only Remy tries to convince his brother and his father that there is merit in eating fresh food.
The animation looks effortless- the quality of light, water, bread and soup are all magnificent. The medium of CGI allows Bird to tell a story where most of the movie is shot from a rat's eye view: when Remy the rat is trapped under a colander, he peeks through a hole to see out, and we see his POV of the hole, the hand which is holding the colander down, we see up Linguini's sleeve, and we see the heated dialog between Linguini and Chef Skinner (Ian Holm). Obviously this "shot" could be accomplished with hand-drawn animation, but the CGI work puts you right in the action without the artifice of ink art.
One "if I didn't love the movie I wouldnt care this much" quibble: Janeane Garofalo voices Colette, the sole female chef in the kitchen. Her lengthy rant to Linguini on "the facts of kitchen life" was almost completely incomprehensible. In a movie full of French accents, hers was the only one I could not make out.
I try to save the highest grades for movies which make the Top Five, so here's me going out on a limb in June: I predict there won't be five better movies this year. My grade: A plus. (Entertainment Cinemas, Fresh Pond)