Welcome back, once again, to your one place for finding my thoughts on the weekly crop of DVD releases. I pour over the new-release list hunting for the select titles worthy of being mentioned in my weekly column. Carefully perusing the weekly offerings so you don't have to. Plus, in addition to the list you will get personal thoughts from yours truly on what may or may not be worth adding to your collection. Well, okay, this isn't the only place you can turn, and I don't search as carefully as I should. Still, you will get a column of honest and truthful opinion to assist in your DVD selection, beginning with the absolute, undisputable top pick of the week. Yes, last week's pick was not a popular choice, but the film does have a narrow audience of which I happen to be a member of (if you don't remember, the pick was Captivity). This week's pick should prove to be a bit more popular. Rightly it should, as it is one of the best films of the year.
This week's pick is none other than Pixar's latest slice of excellence, Ratatouille. Of course, it is not coming out in a super-duper two-disk deluxe edition. Those have been scrapped by Disney because their "exhaustive" research has indicated that the majority of consumers are parents buying for their kids and have no interest in extra features. I argue that there is a large, and in this case ignored, segment of the DVD purchasing public that love these high-profile films and are interested in all the behind-the-scenes footage that can be had on the making of said film. I also believe that the Pixar films would rank at the top of the list of Disney films that deserve the red carpet treatment. Still, I will not let that dissuade me from adding this beautiful film to my collection.
Let me begin by telling you that Ratatouille is an absolute joy, another triumph for Pixar, and another feather in the cap for writer/director Brad Bird. Simply put, Ratatouille is a must-see film for people of all ages.
The story seems like a simple one. A rat named Remy (Patton Oswalt) living in the country outside of Paris has discovered that he wants something more than a life of stealing and eating garbage, and his highly developed sense of smell could prove to be his way out of his current lifestyle. Following an incident that chases Remy and the rest of the clan out of their country abode, Remy finds himself separated from his friends and family. At first, he is scared and unsure of what to do, but his love of food, cooking, and Chef Gusteau gives him hope, particularly when the lonely rat visualizes Gusteau as someone to talk to and get inspiration from. This leads to his meeting with Linguini, a nervous garbage boy with cooking aspirations.
Together, Remy and Linguini navigate a relationship that, if exposed, would prove to be rather detrimental to both of their livelihoods. So, with Remy's gourmet cooking skills, and Linguini's human appearance, they form a cooking powerhouse that takes the cooking world by storm while they break down the barriers that exist between their two species.
The movie is so much more than a "rat that can cook" story. There is a moment early on when Remy's brother, Emile (Peter Sohn) asks him about why he goes into the house, and the dangers of humans. Remy responds with something along the lines of "Look at what they can do, what they can create." I do not remember the exact words, but it had an effect on throughout. The scene gives this wonderfully optimistic outlook that pervades the rest of the film. It is only strengthened later on with a scene between Remy and his father where Remy says that it only takes one person to begin change. Combine that with Chef Gusteau's quote, "Anyone can cook," and you have the core of this movie. You can do what you put your mind to. It is a great story of friendship that has gravity and a sense of the real world it. Sure, Remy can move Linguini around like a marionette, but I am allowed to give up that conceit as it works quite well.
What works very well for this movie is the writing; it follows a natural progression, has nicely developed characters and is just a delight to listen to. The approach is not to create a talking-animal comedy, rather to create a film where the characters come alive. Compare this to Shrek the Third. In the ogre movie the characters are there to set up the gags, whereas in in Ratatouille the gags are created organically out of the characters. It is very good writing.
The film as a whole is reminiscent of the old screwball comedies, with well-written characters placed in zany situations leading to physical comedy. The jokes throughout this movie are very good, plenty of jokes in the dialogue, lots of physical gags. All of this is told with some of the most gorgeous animation to grace the big screen yet, right there with Cars as the best seen yet.
Brad Bird just keeps turning out great films. From his debut with The Iron Giant to the Pixar masterpiece The Incredibles to this, he can do no wrong. He has a wonderful grasp on how to create these vivid characters and create the situations around them out of them, rather than letting the outside desire to reveal plot or tell gags be the driving factor or the stories. Plus, he has some great talent providing voices, particularly Patton Oswalt as Remy and Janeane Garafolo, with a great French accent, as Colette. There is also nice work from Peter O'Toole as Anton Ego, a food critic who serves as the villain of the piece, and is one of the finest representations of a critic that has ever been made.
Tech details: 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX sound.
Extras: Animated Short Lifted, Your Friend the Rat Featurette, Fine Food & Film Featurette, Deleted Scenes.
Also out this week:
- Seinfeld: Season 9. And the series is complete, the final season of show about nothing, and one of the best sitcoms ever produced is now available in its entirety on DVD.
- Seinfeld: The Complete Series. For those who want it, but never bought any, now you can get it all in one place with exclusive features that include a coffee table book.
- Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season. This series from New Zealand was a hit on HBO. I hope to get a chance to check it out.
- Doctor Who: The Complete Third Series. I love the show, but these prices are outrageous for a 13-episode season!
- SiCKO. An interesting watch the first time, but I doubt I will have a desire to revisit it. Recommend renting only.
- Help! Never saw this one, but so long as it is better than that Yellow Submarine film.
- Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 1. This is a must-have, their shorts are nearly as a good as their features!
- The Best of the Colbert Report. For those looking for a DVD with a little more Truthiness.
- I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Rental only, if that much. This was not a good film.
- Sesame Street: Vol. 2 Old School – 1974-1979. I grew up with Sesame Street. I didn't even know there was a first volume.
- Deck the Halls. Avoid at all costs. This was an awful Christmas film.
- The X-Files Ultimate Collection. For those looking to have it all in one place, plus the case looks like a batch of files!
- Chinatown: Special Collector's Edition. Classic Jack Nicholson neo-noir in a newly remastered edition.
- Opus n' Bill: A Wish for Wings that Work. I have faint memories of this years ago, surprised it was not released before now.
- Magnificient Desolation: Walking on the Moon. Saw this in IMAX 3D, and it was magnificent, though better for the visuals than in depth content.
- Casino Royale: 40th Anniversary Edition. The original Bond spoof featuring David Niven and Woody Allen.
- Election. No, not the Matthew Broderick/Reese Witherspoon film, this is an action film from 2005 directed by Johnnie To and starring Simon Yam and Toney Leung.
Anything headed for your Netflix queue?