I never thought I’d be cheering on a rat. But when a rat is concocted by a Bird, all the rules change. Ratatouille (now available on DVD), the new film from the on-again marriage of Pixar and Disney, has proven once again that an original story can be delicious.

After his astonishing success with The Iron Giant and the smash hit of The Incredibles, Brad Bird clearly had a tough act to follow. With Giant, he proved he could tell a story. With The Incredibles, he showed that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder. With Ratatouille, he’s firmly established himself as a master chef of animation brilliance.

All right, I’ll stop gushing for a minute. This new tale of a rat who just wants to cook begins humbly enough as Remy (voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt), the film’s blue-furred star, jumps out the window of a French country house. He’s not particularly cute, but his enhanced sense of taste and smell has given him a special place among his colony. To their delight, they discovered early on that he can smell rat poison.

It’s a demeaning and dreary beginning for Remy’s newfound skills. He wants something more, and we hope for the same. As a rat, he has to take every risk imaginable to get closer to the finer foods. These are the same risks that Bird takes since a story about a rat is about as appealing as a story about a talking spider and pig, at least when first pitched.

The brilliance of Ratatouille isn’t in the animation, the characters, or even the food. Its genius is in its mere concept. Truly, it’s a concept that we can all pursue our passion; a lesson I’ve taught on many occasions. Remy’s passion is to cook. And he’d find any way he can to do exactly that.

As he stumbles upon a particularly bad batch of soup, Remy did the unthinkable; he fixed it. In the process, he’s discovered by Linguini (Lou Romano), a lanky red-haired boy who’s just been begrudgingly hired by a popular restaurant as a garbage boy. The two unlikely heroes begin an even-more-unlikely friendship which elevates the story from a tasty hor’dourve into the stratosphere as the film version of a culinary masterpiece.

Bird clearly knows that any food can be made to look pretty, but it’s the taste and texture that really matters. With Ratatouille, he’s given us a dish that is as rich as it is gorgeous, as tasty as it is meaty. This isn’t a cream puff, it’s a film that’s worthy of repeat viewings by people of all walks of life, and of all ages.

What’s particularly interesting is that Disney chose to allow Bird to use a voice cast that’s heavy on talent, but light on blockbuster star value. The biggest names attached to Ratatouille are Lord of the Ring’s Ian Holm who voices the diminutive Skinner and Lawrence of Arabia’s Peter O’Toole who provides the dialogue for the ultra-picky food critic, Anton Ego.

By the end of the film, we’re not only rooting for a rat, but we’re actually celebrating being different. So many of us can relate to this silly rodent, and who could resist such a message of hope? Without being preachy, Bird delivers Ratatouille as a message of thinking outside the box, and even daring to live outside of any box, with the finesse and deliberate touch of a master chef.

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