Blu-ray
Must Own
5 stars
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Overall Grade
5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
5 Stars
Supplements
1.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
3.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Must Own

Ratatouille

Street Date:
November 6th, 2007
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
November 9th, 2007
Movie Release Year:
2007
Studio:
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Length:
111 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated G
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

When Pixar first announced 'Ratatouille' as its next project, I was skeptical. An animated movie about rats cooking in a French restaurant? It sounded completely unappetizing and, to be blunt, like commercial suicide. How do you sell such a potentially sophisticated and just plain foreign concept to the American masses? As big a fan as I'd been of the company's stellar past work, I just couldn't see this one as being a hit.

But, o ye of little faith! 'Ratatouille' proved to be the little rodent that could, not only surmounting its marketing challenges with ease (it's grossed nearly $600 million at the worldwide box office, and still counting), but proving to be 2007's most delightful surprise. It's an absolutely enchanting concoction -- a movie so imaginative and delightful that yes, I would rank it right up there with the absolute best that Pixar has yet produced.

'Ratatouille' is deceptively sublime, a movie that appears as light as a souffle but is really quite the sophisticated dish. Although the concept of a talking critter movie is hardly anything new, Pixar has never been interested in churning out the kind of frantic, cluttered, pop-culture-referencing stew that usually passes for an animated movie these days (sorry, Shrek!). Instead, under the mindful direction of Brad Bird ('The Incredibles,' 'The Iron Giant'), we get a story that's downright literary, and a cinematic style that borrows from such a disparate bag of classical traditions that frankly it's unlike anything I've ever seen in a mainstream animated feature. Who else but Pixar could combine the slapstick farce of Charlie Chaplin, elegant visuals right out of a Seurat painting, and a Cyrano de Bergerac-inspired tale about a bunch of chefs and rats cooking together, and somehow make it universally resonant?

In 'Ratatouille,' Bird returns to two key themes he also explored in 'The Incredibles': the importance of pursuing excellence over mediocrity, and the always-unbreakable bonds of family. 'Ratatouille' frames its story in the most unlikely of places, however, and with the most unlikely of heroes. Remy (voiced astonishingly well by comedian Patton Oswalt) is a blue rat blessed with one very cultured palate. He's smart, fastidious, talented and filled with grand dreams of being the world's greatest chef -- much to the consternation of his slacker but still good-natured brother Emile (Peter Sohn) and his grizzled father Django (Brian Dennehy), who both find his determination to create culinary masterpieces a sure sign of madness.

Following an unexpected series of events that see Remy and his family evicted from their rural haven, the plot kicks into high gear, with Remy forced to escape through the sewers (in the first of one of many beautifully staged action sequences), and winding up in Paris. Following his nose as much as his ambition, he discovers a small restaurant once owned by the legendary chef Aususte Gusteau, whose famous motto ("Anyone can cook!") had an immediate influence on Remy. Sneaking in late one night to add a little spice to a soup, the next day the dish is suddenly a sensation.

This leads to the film's odd-couple pairing, as the restaurant's completely untalented garbage boy, Linguini (Lou Romano), is pegged as the chef of the soup. Desperate to keep his new star job, Linguini employs Remy's services as a "ghost chef," which leads to a classic series of complications. Can Remy and Linguini find a way to work together and avoid discovery? Things get even more complicated after Linguini falls for the kitchen's beautiful Colette (Janeane Garofalo), and a particularly nasty restaurant critic (a terrific Peter O'Toole) begins asking one too many questions about the nature of the dish.

'Ratatouille' works on every level. It's funny and intelligent, wonderfully written and performed, and has an incredible visual zest and buoyancy. An exceptional attention to detail has always been a hallmark of the best Pixar films, and 'Ratatouille' is superlative even by their high standards. Bird, and his team of writers, animators and actors have fully conceived and executed a unique universe that feels alive and real. It's also a structural feat of engineering, with Bird effortlessly alternating between rodent and human perspectives. This is masterful storytelling, not just great animation or cute characters, and by the time 'Ratatouille's 112-minutes have flown by, we feel like we've only scratched the surface of this magical, fantastic new world.

Ultimately, what impresses the most about 'Ratatouille' is that it dares to be original. Once again, Pixar has proven that it is not only by far the best producer of animated movies on the planet, but that it's a company that has no intention of resting on its creative laurels. Rather than xerox, they explore -- instead of 'Toy Story Part XVII,' we get 'Ratatouille.' I can only hope Pixar continues to nurture these instincts, because for me, they've never stepped wrong. 'Ratatouille' stands tall among a ever-growing canon of Pixar classics, and I can't wait to see what's next on their menu.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

In my recent Blu-ray review of 'Cars,' I raved about that disc's five-star video quality. It's a tough act to follow, but somehow 'Ratatouille' looks even better. Pixar and Disney present the film in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video at its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1, and every single pixel is, well, perfect. This is simply the best high-def presentation I've ever seen of an animated feature.

A direct digital-to-digital conversion, the transfer is as delicious as the greatest French feast you've ever had. The film's color palette is just gorgeous, with delicate shades of pinks, blues and greens contrasting wonderfully with deeper crimsons and purples. The finely-tuned shadings and gradients are so smoothly rendered that the image leaps off the screen. This is gloriously three-dimensional animation, and the sense of depth and texture to the image is exactly what high-def is all about. All other elements of the presentation are superb as well -- blacks, contrast and sharpness are spot-on. Likewise, the encode looks perfect, with no pixelization, macroblocking or banding/posteriztion.

Simply put, the picture quality of this Blu-ray edition of 'Ratatouille' absolutely flawless.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Like the video, the uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround audio track (48kHz/24-bit) on this Blu-ray disc is also terrific. Where 'Cars' is all dynamic and driving, 'Ratatouille' is more warm and subtle, but no less engrossing. This is a perfect example of how fantastic great sound design can be even when it's not ramming you over the head with bombast.

I hate to use silly cliches that sound like a TV commercial, but this soundtrack is not unlike a great fine wine. From every word of dialogue to the wonderful score by Michael Giacchino, it all just seems to slide out of the speakers. Completely constructed in the studio, it's just so clean and smooth. The use of surrounds is just as elegant. Atmosphere is king here, with transparent pans between channels and excellent spatiality, which delivers a constant sense of envelopment yet is never overpowering. And lest one think dynamics might be wimpy, low bass is certainly deep enough when needed (wait for the lightning bolt -- you'll feel it), and the robust highs are equally wonderful. And just as with 'Cars,' dialogue is perfectly rendered, and I never even thought of touching the volume button on my remote.

With such great video and audio, Pixar is now two for two with 'Ratatouille.' Splendid!

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

As was the case with 'Cars,' Pixar seems to have saved all the good stuff for the high-def version of 'Ratatouille,' with the exclusive Blu-ray content (outlined in the "HD Exclusives" section below) outshining the material carried over from the standard-def version. That's not to say that the material ported over from the DVD is bad in any way, but taken on its own, it's really quite slim for such a major new release.

Things kick off with "Fine Food and Film." I found this a bit of a 14-minute oddity. Brad Bird and Thomas Keller (owner of the famously swanky eatery The French Laundry) are interviewed, and each talk about their passion for their respective art forms. This is an interesting discussion, and is often charmingly cute (especially as we see Bird and Keller preparing some food together as if Martha Stewart might walk in at any moment), but it's largely an aside, and not an actual making-of featurette.

Next is a collection of three Deleted Scenes, running about 15 minutes in total. The trio of clips -- "Chez Gusteau," "Meet Gusteau" and "First Day" -- are nice little character bits, but not much more. As none of these scenes ever reached final rendering, they are presented here in rough animated form only.

Finally, we have two great Pixar shorts. "Lifted" (5 minutes) originally preceded 'Ratatouille' during its theatrical run, and it's a highly amusing fantasy about a driver's education test in a UFO. As good as that one is, I actually liked the second, never-before-seen "Your Friend the Rat" better. This 11-minute mock-educational film is told in '50s style, with Remy and Emile giving us a comic history of the rodent race. This is a wonderful little short, and is a must-watch for 'Ratatouille' fans.

As the standard-def DVD release of 'Ratatouille' does not include the film's theatrical trailer, I suppose it's no surprise that it isn't included here on the Blu-ray, but it's no less disappointing. There are, however, video previews for several other Disney titles including 'Cars,' 'The Pixar Short Film Collection: Volume One,' 'Meet the Robinsons,' 'Sleeping Beauty,' 'Tinkerbell,' and the upcoming Pixar theatrical release 'Wall•E.'

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

In my review of 'Cars,' I lamented that Pixar had created a menu navigation system for the disc that was quite ungainly and just plain frustrating. Well, the studio employs a somewhat similar interface with 'Ratatouille,' but the good news is that they got it right this time, providing all the same great enhanced functionality of the highly-touted "Cine-Explore' mode, only with menus that are much more clearly labeled and easy to navigate.

Pop the disc in, and after the obligatory previews, the main menu pops up, and it's nice and simple. There are straightforward options to play the movie, access the two Pixar shorts, or view a submenu with additional special features. There is also a individual button for "Gusteau's Gourmet Game," so I'll start with that first.

Nicely produced using BD-Java, this is actually quite a fun little challenge that's somwhat akin to being a contestant on "Top Chef," only 'Ratatouille'-style. The idea is that you're a chef-in-training who has to keep up with a series of orders. As they come in, you must grab from a list of ingredients and keep everything moving. While it's fairly easy to learn how to play, the game can get rather hard, and I found myself spending alot more time with this one than I normally do with these types of games. To be sure, there's nothing here that's any more sophisticated than you'd find on an old Nintendo 64 cartridge, but "Gusteau's Gourmet Game" remains a pleasant enough diversion.

Now, onto the real meat. Pixar provides two ways to access the exclusive content -- you can either select "The List," and simply scroll through a standard linear menu of all the material, or you can toggle on Cine-Explore mode and watch the same material as a picture-in-picture commentary. Just as with the 'Cars' Blu-ray, the Cine-Explore mode has two options -- "Auto" and "A La Carte." Select Auto if you just want to sit back and watch the fearures play out a preprogrammed fashion, or choose A La Carte if you want to sample various bits of content at your own whim.

The material here is very strong. First up (available in Cine-Explore mode only) is an audio commentary with Brad Bird and producer Brad Lewis. This is a fine track, with the pair touching on just about everything I wanted to know -- the concept, the story, the characters, the animation, the voice talent and the film's themes. It's quite comprehensive, and combined with the other Cine-Explore features, flows perfectly.

Next are a series of two different types of vignettes. "Animation Briefings" are just that -- 17 individual videotaped segments featuring Bird leading his story team through various meetings about a particular scene. Although I'm generally not a huge fan of these sorts of things, here they only average about a minute long per session, so they thankfully don't overstay their welcome. Even better are the "Documentary Shorts," a series of more traditional making-of featurettes that take us behind the scenes of a particular aspect of the production. There are 10 in all: "Care and Feeding of Your CG Rat," "Building Parts," "Tiny Rat Cameraman," "A Woman in a Man's World," "Behind the Swinging Doors," "Something New," "Where the Color Isn't," "My Dad the Composer," "Good Enough to Eat" and "2D Animation." Each runs between 3 and 5 minutes, and combine to make this is a very tight but comprehensive hour-long documentary.

Also exclusive to the Blu-ray is the "Deleted Scenes R.I.P." graveyard, with five additional sequences left on the cutting room floor. Actually, this extra is a bit of a trick 'n treat, but I won't spoil the surprise -- just watch it on your own and have a chuckle.

Finally, there are a couple of odds and ends in a section simply marked "Extras." "The Will" is short 3-minute vignette with composer Michael Giacchino, who offers the opportunity to see a scene with two different scores -- the one that appears in the final version, and an alternate that was shelved. The other vignette is "Remembering Dan Lee," a very sweet 3-minute tribute to a young Pixar animator who passed away during the making of 'Ratatouille.'

Last (and least) we have Disney's standard Movie Showcase, which highlights the disc's three best HD-ready scenes. Once again, I found every frame to be demo worthy, so I don't know why Disney bothered.

Note that Pixar presents all of the supplementary material on 'Ratatouille' in full 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video. (That includes even the shared extras with the standard-def DVD.) The quality is generally superb, with only the shot-on-crummy-4:3 video "Animation Briefings" looking poor.

Easter Eggs

Thanks to tips from our readers, we've discovered multiple a special "hidden menu" in 'Ratatouille' that contains five different easter eggs.

To unlock all these goodies, go to the main menu. Watch the stove in the upper left-hand corner of the screen... and wait. Soon, a rat will peek around the stove, and we he does, click the Left arrow on your remote. This will unlock a hidden menu with five different items.

Among the tasty treats is a mock "Ro-Dead" commercial for rat poison, a vignette with producer Brad Lewis playing the trombone for the orchestra, additional fake outtakes, and a special treat the film's CGI actors cooked up for the director, Brad Bird. Bon appetite!

(Special thanks to our readers George and Kevin for the tip!)

Final Thoughts

'Ratatouille' stands tall among the tallest of Pixar accomplishments -- it's adventurous, witty, visually captivating and utterly charming. This Blu-ray release is also fantastic, boasting absolutely perfect video and audio, plus a great package of extras. I've reviewed over 500 next-gen discs over the last year and a half, and not one has received a perfect five star rating overall, but there's a first time for everything and I'm happy to report that 'Ratatouille' is it. This is a must-own disc that no Blu-ray collection should be without.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
  • BD-Java Enhanced

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.40:1

Audio Formats

  • English PCM 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-Bit/6.9mpbs)
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • French Subtitles
  • Spanish Subtitles

Supplements

  • Documentary
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Short Film

Exclusive HD Content

  • Cine-Explore Mode
  • Interactive Game

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