Having lived most of my life in New York, I’m pretty well aquainted with the long toothed denizens who occasionaly make appearances in my kitchen or the subway. But putting rats and restaurants together as the subject matter of “Ratatouille,” Pixar’s latest film to come to Blu-ray, takes a bit of getting used to.
Having seen the film in the theater and now on Blu-ray, I can say for certain watching at home on a good system beats going to the movies because “Ratatouille” looks amazing in HD. It’s a clever and compelling story with sympathetic characters (both human and not) that gets people to accept a creature most abhor. It also features little touches that gently ease the viewer into accepting Remy the rat. For example, he doesn’t begin the film walking like Mickey would - instead he’s on all fours until he makes the conscious effort to walk erect.
As to the story: Rat loves food, Rat wants to cook food, Rat helps inept human to look like he can cook food. Not being into spoilers we’ll just add that there’s a happy ending where boy gets girl and Rat gets respect. And because this is set in Paris, the pace of the animation isn’t quite as frantic as it would be if it was taking place in the States, and the food itself looks as fabulous as it must taste. Of course physical effects are handled with aplomb, and creative camerawork aids in keeping the sense of fun and excitement flowing.
The sheer amount of detail that is put into this film astounds, mostly because you can now see it, thanks to high-def. Remy and his brethren have a texture to their bodies and a sheen to their coats that plays across the screen with solidity, while the overall sense of reality is insured through backgrounds that possess so much depth and contrast that they’re almost characters in their own right. Colors rarely are garish but instead are subtle, with shading that gives them a density that makes them appear deeper and more lifelike. All of which comes through on this disc, be that minute twinkling highlights or shadowy areas that on low-resolution would turn into ink spots. And the attention that is given to the food is mouthwatering to the eye (and fortunately low-cal since we can’t actually taste it).
Sound of course plays into all of this and the PCM (or even Dolby Digital) audio provides a soundfield that hits the points as the filmmaker intends (Director Brad Bird has noted that usually all that is done here is to make sure it doesn’t sound too “big” since it is for use in the home, but he tweaks it to provide for a better experience). Dialogue is crisp and the surround ambiance successful in its execution.
There’s also a few extras to whet the appetite and in high-def too: a discussion between Bird and famed chef Thomas Keller, deleted scenes, a theatrical animated short called Lifted and a special short designed to explain just how under-appreciated rats really are (using old style animation as part of the mix). There’s also a Gourmet game that features colorful animated screens and icons to aid you in dishing up the food for the restaurant’s patrons. Add to that the Cine-Explore feature, which seamlessly branches out to other content during the course of the movie, and you have a fair amount of additional content to bring you back to the disc once you’ve viewed the film a gadzillion times.
Director Brad Bird
Bird is a perfectionist, something he reveals to myself and dozens of other journalists during a press conference. Even something tiny, like a misplaced hair on a character’s head which can’t be fixed for the film because of deadlines, is corrected for the home viewer.
We also learn from Bird how the animators studied chefs to discover that tiny cuts on hands are part of the rite of passage (and so to be duplicated in the film), to the time spent creating a working kitchen and adding dinks and dents to pots and pans so they appear more real. But it’s when we get to high-definition that Bird’s eyes seem to light up, as he expounds on how the filmed experience can now be more accurately brought to the home without losing any of the visual quality.
When asked what he likes about Blu-ray, his response is simply, “I’d love to say that it’s all the incredible complex features that are now possible on a disc, but actually it’s just plain old seeing things in incredibly quality.” He goes on to note that in this age of smaller movie screens and less quality control of the projected film, “one very simple and very basic thing is that if you shut out the lights, and if you have a decent system, you will see the movie we made. You’re seeing it pristine and perfect and it’s not going to fade. You play it a hundred times and it’s still going to look great the hundredth time.”
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