The title of Pixar’s fabulous latest animation gives you its three elegantly dovetailed elements: rodents, food and French. Co-director Jan Pinkava’s original idea was sweetly ridiculous – can a naive, ambitious rat (baby-eyed Remy, charmingly voiced by Patton Oswalt), long inspired by his reading of a famous French chef’s recipe book, realise his dream to become a chef? This has been turned by its final director, Brad ‘The Incredibles’ Bird, into one of the most witty, clever, gently moral, dramatically convincing and visually stimulating family entertainments of the year.
The animation is extraordinary too, and occasionally breathtaking. It’s so enticing, in fact, that card-carrying anti-anthropomorphists like this reviewer can readily accept its ‘big ask’: not only a talking rodent but one able to make a celebrity chef out of his hopeless human helpmeet (the docile, disaster-zone Linguini, voiced by Lou Romano) by jerking his hair from inside his hat, like a Pinocchio pulling his master’s strings.
It’s a tribute to the film’s tonal and directorial control, not to mention its sympathy, detail, intelligence and lack of pretension, that such subtextual sub-currents and metaphors – be they the immigrant experience à la ‘American Tail’, digs at McBurger food ethics or the assignation of artistic credit – never obscure its pleasures. Those pleasures are found in its vivid characters (such as its frightening Snow White-style villain, the power-crazed Anton Ego, a food critic with the features of a Gothic Will Self and the voice of Peter O’Toole), richness of ideas and daring sense of fun. A test for tiny tots, a mite nostalgic and as male-dominated as a modern kitchen it may be, but these are mere quibbles about this delightful addition to the Pixar pantheon.