Friday, November 9, 2007

From the Archive: "Ratatouille" DVD Review

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “Ratatouille” on DVD.

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
DVD Review originally published November 9th, 2007

I think I might be one of the few people in the world who wasn’t head over heels in love with the 2004 film “The Incredibles.”  In fact, I think it’s easily Pixar’s weakest effort to date (NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: I love “The Incredibles.”  Great movie.  Don’t know why I wrote this back in 2007, so take it with a grain of salt…).  I didn’t care for it, and so my expectations for Ratatouille, also a Brad Bird film, were reasonably low.  So how on earth is it that Ratatouille is my personal favorite Pixar film to date, and one of the best films of 2007? 

I don’t even know where to begin.  This is a hard film to review.  The simplest way to describe it is that it has lots and lots of heart, and in an animated film, that’s the most important thing.  Most animated movies today are produced for a quick buck and the fact that little effort went into them is apparent (such as films like Shrek the Third).  But everything about Ratatouille, from the writing, to the acting, to the incredible animation, to the rousing musical score gives you the feeling that tons of effort went into every bit of the film, and that shows on screen.

First off, you’ve got a plot with lots of heart that is simple, opening itself up to be fresh and original without becoming convoluted.  Remy is a rat, constantly risking life in an expensive French restaurant because of his love of good food, as well as a desire to become a chef. Yet, obviously, this is a rather tough dream for a rat. But opportunity knocks when a young boy, who desperately needs to keep his job at the restaurant, despite his lack of cooking abilities, discovers and partners the young Remy. It’s up to the two of them to avoid the insane head chef, bring the rest of Remy's family up to his standards, win his partner a girl, and, of course, produce the finest Ratatouille in all of France.

A seemingly ridiculous plot, yes.  But the creative minds at Pixar have taken this premise and made something completely extraordinary out of it, much like Remy does at the end of the film when he makes a simple vegetable stew one of the finest dishes in Paris. 

The animation is brilliant, some of the best I’ve ever seen.  Granted, I’ve seen more realistic animation in CGI films, but Ratatouille is my favorite art style I’ve ever seen in a CGI film.  Heavily stylized on the humans, quasi-realistic on the rats, and simply mind-numbingly beautiful on the lush landscapes and fantastic food, this is simply the best looking Pixar film yet.  If the movie had nothing else going for it, it would be fantastic just for the art.

But Ratatouille has plenty else going for it.  The sheer realism of everything doesn’t come from the art; the movie makes you buy that a rat could cook from a combination of good writing, great animation, and heartfelt acting.  It pulls it all off without becoming cheesy or strange, and it’s quite a trick.

There’s not much more to say; if you haven’t seen the movie yet, see it as soon as possible.  It is, in my opinion, the best animated film of the decade, and is a testament to the art of true animated storytelling, an art that gets more and more commercialized and less and less creative with each new animated movie.  Film Rating: A


Technical Ratings:

Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: C+

As stated, the animation of Ratatouille is simply phenomenal, and as such, it needs a fantastic DVD image to complement it.  Colors are as vibrant as could be, and detail is sharp as a knife.  Being a directly digital transfer (no film was involved at any time in the production of the movie or the DVD) there is no grain or other film-like defects to be found.  Other types of effects that often plague Digital Transfers, such as digital artifacts and the like, are nowhere to be found.  Short of high-definition (and the film is on Blu-Ray for the lucky few that have it) this is as good as DVD can possibly get, and one of the best DVD images I’ve ever seen.

The audio matches it blow for blow.  Music scampers its way along like it was written, dialogue takes front and center when needed, and all the little sound effects you don’t think about do their job efficiently and quietly, enhancing the experience even more.  Combined with the absolutely jaw-dropping image, this is a film experience that even the pickiest of home-theater enthusiasts would be hard-pressed to nit-pick about. 

With the release of Cars on DVD last year, Pixar stopped doing its amazing two-disc sets, loaded with extras that took days to sift through, but were all worth your while.  Cars was, sadly, a one-disc set, with few extras.  Sadly, Ratatouille follows this tradition.  With only a handful of extras, the DVD is a bit disappointing, seeing as there are so many marvels to behold in the film that I’d love to learn about.  Luckily, everything on the disc is of superb quality, and all of it is well-crafted.  There’s just not enough of it.

From the main menu, you can view two Pixar short films.  The first, “Lifted,” appeared alongside Ratatouille in theaters, and is a hilarious short about an alien trying to successfully abduct a snoozy man.  The video quality here is unbelievable as well.  The second short, “Your Friend the Rat,” is practically worth the price of the disc alone.  There’s only a small amount of CGI in it; instead, it uses hand-drawn animation akin to the visual style found in the film’s end credits to teach the viewer about rats.  Kids will learn a lot and have fun doing so, and teens and adults will find high levels of amusement as well.  It runs about 12 minutes, and is great fun from start to finish.

From the extras menu, you can access a 14 minute Featurette entitled “Fine Food and Film,” which is a conversation with director Brad Bird and Advisor/Chef Thomas Keller.  They talk about their everyday jobs; Bird’s is making films, and Thomas’ is making food.  As you come to learn, they’re not very different at all.  The Featurette strengthens the theme of the movie; with creativity and willpower, anything can be achieved.  The Featurette also gives great insight into the filmmaking process, and when it’s over, you wish there was another, hour-long documentary on the creation of the film to view.  But on its own, this is a fantastic Featurette well worth your time.

Finally, there are three deleted scenes, presented in storyboard form, with introductions and conclusions by the filmmakers.  They run about 16 minutes, and don’t serve to show deleted scenes as much as they serve to show the viewer the types of changes Ratatouille went through to make the finished film.  I urge you to click “Play All” and view it as the 16 minute Featurette.  It gives the best insight of anything on the disc of how the film progressed from start to finish.  It’s great stuff, and makes you long for at least an audio commentary with Brad Bird, if not a few more featurettes.  In conclusion, all the features on this disc are fantastic and well worth a watch, but there’s not nearly enough of it.  Enough to warrant a purchase, definitely, but hardcore fans of the film will be left wanting.  Still, this disc gets my high recommendation. 

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