Disney’s Pixar (or should that be Pixar’s Disney now…?) has the reputation of producing top quality family films practically like clockwork every summer. Let’s just name a few of the best:

Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc.

Even some of their not-as-good films are far better than the dreck we’re given in the animated realm. Those honorable mentions include A Bug’s Life and Cars. It isn’t that they aren’t good, but they just don’t quite compare to the top shelf.

Now along comes Ratatouille. And it goes into a class by itself. I’m not saying it’s the best Pixar or my favorite, not at all. But this film is something a bit different.

Ratatouille is the story of, you guessed it, a rat named Remy. A country rat, Remy lives with the rest of his family, or “clan”, including his brother and father. The life of a rat is as you would expect. You steal food, no matter what the quality, you survive. As a tradeoff, humans hate you and find you disgusting. That’s just the way things are. Along comes Remy.

Remy has a discriminating palate, the first of his kind. He knows what he likes, and it isn’t the garbage the rest of his family scavenges. He likes gourmet food. So much so that he sneaks into houses at night not so much to steal food, but to watch famed French chef Gusteau’s cable cooking show.

I won’t go too much into the plot of the story. Most Pixar films have an underlying moral, such as:

Finding Nemo: Loving someone means sometimes letting them go and experience life.
Incredibles: Praising mediocrity can sometimes cause us to devalue true talent in all of us. While we are equal, it doesn’t mean we’re the same.

Ratatouille also makes use of moral lessons. At its heart, Remy wants to be a chef. A rat chef in a world that thinks of rats with utter disgust. Being true to yourself and flouting conventional wisdom.

However, Ratatouille would be the first Pixar movie that goes about its morality with a more mature tone. This isn’t to say that it’s an adult film. But those going to this movie expecting to see slapstick comedy and humorous modern references will be disappointed. Remy’s doesn’t crack a joke every 10-12 seconds. And while there are funny characters, they aren’t in your face, over the top.

Ratatouille is a meal on subtleties. It’s apparent that the creators wanted to go this route. And it works. First off, it’s a visually stunning film. With every new Pixar I find myself thinking that they’ve really mastered the CG animation process with this one. But somehow “Rat” shows so much more than its predecessors. It’s capturing of Paris is unbelievably gorgeous, the characters never more fleshed out in terms of emotional expression. The message of “Rat” is simple, but with many nuances. Remy’s struggle to be who he was born to be. Linguini’s (the human main character) struggle to figure out who he is. Even the snotty restaurant critic is used to perfection here, and while you hate him for most of the film, he serves up the most poignant summary and commentary on the film at the end.

The voicework is believable and sublime. The music is appropriate and well done.

I think kids will like this for the most part. The parts with Remy interacting with his fellow rats, and some “action” scenes in the restaurant will keep their attention, but at nearly 2 hours, it might be a bit long for them. But then again, kids nowadays are used to marathon films (Harry Potter’s films being the perfect example).

Ratatouille may just be the best film from a visual standpoint that they’ve ever done. I’d still go with “The Incredibles” as my absolute favorite, but I have to admit a sweet tooth for the rat chef.