Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava
Starring: Patton,Oswalt, Lou Romano, Brad Garret, Janeane Garofalo, Peter O’Toole
(G, 111 min.)
"Woe to the cook whose sauce has no sting." Chaucer
It’s your worst nightmare! The pricey, posh Paris restaurant not only has a rat in its kitchen; he’s in charge of the cuisine. Oh, the wonders of anthropomorphism and Pixar animation, that we abandon (almost) our centuries’ old revulsion for this loathsome creature and actually rally behind the loveably ambitious rat Remy.
That is, except for a few scenes where the old prejudices elicit a reflexive gag, such as when the horde of Remy’s fellow creatures pour though the ceiling that has collapsed under their own weight and the smattering of shotgun holes the feisty old lady of the house has provided. The ensuing deluge of fat hairy bodies and serpentine tails puts us right back in some medieval walled city shivering against the plague.
But Remy is so burdened with his talent and ambition, so spurred on by his powerful nose and persnickety palate, that he wins us over to the rodent brigade. When he heroically saves his father from ingesting a poisoned apple, Remy becomes the clan’s permanent food sniffer, a post that precludes any adventures in haute cuisine, although Remy does sneak in at least one thrilled packed feat.
Coming upon a lovely mushroom, he decides to roast it with some fresh herbs, and since rats don’t ordinarily have little ovens in their rat holes, he is obliged to cook where he can; that is, on the roof top next to a smoking chimney. For most, the ensuing lightning bolt that blows him and the mushroom to a hard landing would unnerve even the most dedicated of cooks, but Remy tastes the seared creation and insists that the lightning is indeed a new and glorious flavor.
Reminding us of drama’s earliest mission – to teach and delight, Ratatouille introduces to an array of splendid creatures who teach and test our rodent protégée. First there is the ghost vision of Gusteau (Brad Garrett), the porcine chef who has had the audacity to pen a screed entitled Anyone Can Cook. Admitting that he is merely a figment of Remy’s imagination, Gusteau nevertheless, cajoles our little rat into following his bliss, right there in Gusteau’s own restaurant, now reduced by two stars due to a bad review and the chef’s unfortunate death of a broken heart.
Eminently suited to dole out this scathing condemnation is Peter O”Toole’s aptly named food critic Anton Ego, also known as the Grim Eater, as attested to by his permanent scowl and skinny body. Of course, none of Remy’s ambitions can be realized without Linguini (Lou Romano), the kitchen’s garbage boy who also has the impulse to create in the kitchen. Except that Linguini is completely devoid of gastronomical talent, and his impromptu additions to the bubbling soup impose such a distinct culinary threat that Remy must intercede. The “corrected” soup thus earns Linguini a chef’s toque and an order to replicate his spectacular creation.
Thus Remey and the hapless Linguini enter upon a deal, with the little rat hidden in the chef’s hat, using Linguini’s red locks as a sort of joy stick to guide his hands to the perfect ingredients. Under Remy’s direction, Linguini potters about the kitchen creating one dish after another to capture Paris’ heart, but he has a more difficult time with Colette’s (Janeane Garofalo), she being the hard fought sole feminine fixture in the kitchen, wary and suspicious of this young upstart.
While slicing and dicing itself through the joint misadventures of the man and beast cooking team, Ratatouille manages to touch upon some life lessons without missing a beat. Remy must contend with the tug of family loyalty and the longing for his own destiny, while Linguini shows us the dangers of glory going to one’s head. The old voice of France’s revolutionary cry for equality goes even beyond Gusteau’s “Anyone can cook’ philosophy when it reaches into the world of creatures long reviled. And yes, the demands of honesty must often be their own reward, as not all are ready to accept the secrets of Gusteau’s kitchen.
In the long run, Ratatouille is not about food so much as friendship, not so much concerned with haute cuisine than the simple pleasures of cooking. It is a perfect make believe world where love, warmth and passion beat out culinary one-upmanship every time.
Toddler Talk: Both grandsons loved the "robot" Linguini, guided along by Remy pulling his hair under the chef cap. Almost, but not quite as cool as Buzz Lightyear.
Finally the night arrives for Anton Ego to pay Gusteau’s restaurant another visit -- so see if he had been wrong and all of Paris right. Such odds do not discourage the supercilious food critic, but merely spur him on to even higher standards of taste.
Why then, does Remy opt for such a simple entrée; in fact, a peasant dish? Perhaps because the joy of cooking, the true passion knows no societal bounds, and does not glory in cuisine for snobbery’s sake.
So the little chef settles for ratatouille, that simple ragout of summer vegetables – ripe red tomatoes, piquant onions and garlic, fresh zucchini, eggplant, and peppers. Of course, he puts his special spin on the old recipe, but it still tastes of summer sunshine, warm earth, and afternoon rain.
1 pound eggplant
1 pound zucchini
1 teaspoon salt, plus extra for seasoning
6 to 7 tablespoons olive oil, divided (more may be needed)
1/2 pound yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 green bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, mashed
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound firm, ripe tomatoes
3 tablespoons minced parsley
Peel the eggplant, cut off the stem and cut lengthwise into slices 3/8-inch thick, about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide.
Trim off zucchini ends. Cut into slices about the same size as the eggplant. Place vegetable slices in a large non-aluminum bowl. Toss with 1 teaspoon salt; let stand 30 minutes. Drain and pat slices dry on paper towels.
Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook eggplant and zucchini slices in single-layer batches until lightly browned, about 1 minute per side, adding more olive oil as needed. Set vegetables aside.
Cook onions and bell peppers in the same skillet in 2 to 3 tablespoons oil until tender but not browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Peel tomatoes while the onions and peppers cook by dipping in boiling water, then in ice water to loosen the skins (or use a serrated-edge peeler). Cut out tomato stems, cut tomatoes in half along their equators and squeeze out the seeds and excess juice. Slice remaining tomato pulp into 3/8-inch strips. Lay tomato strips over the onions and peppers in the skillet. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover skillet; cook over low heat until tomatoes begin to render juice, about 5 minutes. Uncover and baste tomatoes with cooking juices. Increase heat; boil for several minutes until juice has almost evaporated.
Place 1/3 of the tomato-onion mixture in a heavy Dutch oven or heavy casserole. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top. Top with half of the remaining tomato-onion mixture and 1 tablespoon parsley. Top with the remaining eggplant and zucchini slices. Finish with remaining tomato-onion mixture and remaining parsley.
Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover, tip casserole and baste with rendered juices. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Raise heat slightly. Cook, uncovered, basting several times until juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes. Be careful of the heat; do not let the vegetables scorch on the bottom.
Serve hot, at room temperature or cold.
Serves six to eight.
Recipe Source: Asbury Park Press Online