“Done properly, parenting is a heroic act… done properly.”
In general, Pixar’s return to previous properties with increasing frequency has indicated a level of creative stagnation. Incredibles 2 marks a rare departure, a sequel that seamlessly continues from its predecessor with the same imagination, warmth and wit. This is no doubt due in large part to Brad Bird’s return for writing and directorial duties after a brief foray into live action (the excellent Ghost Protocol and the less successful Tomorrowland). It provides an experience like spending time with familiar friends, and ensures that the film’s heart remains its family-centric story — Elastigirl balances working motherhood with an inability to let go of home life, Mr Incredible struggles with a sense of emasculation in his new childcare role, the children feel restricted by the needs of their demanding younger sibling — rather than mutating into an overblown action film at the expense of character moments.
“The President has invoked Ghost Protocol. We’re shut down. No satellite, safe house, support, or extraction.”
Although I was always aware of them, the Mission: Impossible films largely passed me by. Ghost Protocol marked a shift towards the globe-trotting Bond model, although even when wearing black tie Tom Cruise steers Hunt away from slickly suave. Helming the production, Brad Bird brings breathtakingly audacious action sequences that feel at times like a live-action take on his work in The Incredibles, further enhanced by Cruise’s commitment to performing his own stunts (despite approaching 50), allowing for astonishing close-up action that few big budget films can rival. It seems petty to fault the serviceable but straightforward plot when really it exists only to justify those big set pieces. The film’s chief flaw is its front-loaded structure: after blowing up the Kremlin and scaling the Burj Khalifa, there is no room for escalation, leaving the final act in Mumbai underwhelming. Nevertheless, by that point there is enough residual energy to carry the audience comfortably through to the credits.
director: Brad Bird writer: Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco starring: Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Peter Sohn, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, Ian Holm, Peter O’Toole running time: 111 mins rating: U
Anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great.
Over the past decade Pixar has been growing steadily and is now churning out a film every year, yet somehow always of impeccable quality in visuals and heart. Ratatouille is a perfect example of both these qualities but, like many of Pixar’s recent releases, seems to lack the originality of their earlier work.
Food-loving Remy [Patton Oswalt] is an unusual chef. Primarily because he’s a rat. When he finds himself alone in Paris, separated from his family, he teams up with hapless human chef. Languine [Lou Romano] is a new employee at the restaurant created by the renowned Gusteau [Brad Garrett], who inspired Remy with his motto, “anyone can cook”. With Remy’s help, Languini soon becomes the talk of Paris. Meanwhile Remy must deal with conflicting loyalties to his new life and his uncouth family.
Visually Ratatouille delivers a treat, as one always expects from Pixar. Unusually there is a large cast of human characters, not as overtly stylised as The Incredibles but still retaining a cartoonish appearance. Fur has long been one of Pixar’s strengths and cute rats look wonderful, showing off their coats under a variety of conditions, often drenched and even electrified! Most of the film occurs in enclosed spaces but the outside shots of Paris are breathtakingly recreated with incredible detail. The outdoor highlight is a chase through Paris which is simply one of the best action sequences I’ve seen recently in any medium.
The voice acting is capable but unremarkable, though this elevates Pixar above most of its mainstream competition where celebrity voice talent overpowers the characters themselves. The exception is Peter O’Toole’s ominous food critic Anton Ego. Of note is that there is much successful visual, physical comedy here, unusual in a film that is clearly designed for both children and adults. Usually the physical side is reserved for weaker gags to appeal to the younger audience. Unlike other family films that resort exclusively to middle-of-the-road material to appease everyone, here plenty of elements are geared at different sections of the audience so that everyone is kept entertained. There are humorous digs at the French and the inherent snobbery of haute cuisine, but it is always playful rather than mean spirited.
The chief criticism is that beyond the initial creative conceit of a gourmet rat in a kitchen, the story unfolds in a charming but utterly predictable manner. Indeed this feels like a culmination of an alarming trend with Pixar as their unique storytelling spirit of the Toy Story to Monsters, Inc heyday gradually slips away. It is telling that Pixar releases now mark the central focus of the Disney calendar, because it seems the studio is becoming subsumed into its publisher: this tale is exactly what one would expect of a Disney cartoon a few decades ago. Although little is known about the plot for the forthcoming robotic Wall-E, one is hopeful that it may buck the trend.
So Ratatouille remains at the peak of animated fare with a providing much for both children and adults to enjoy. Yet while its polish is undeniable, one cannot help feel that, like Cars, it fails to live up to the legacy that precedes it. Nevertheless it remains one of the top family films of the year, further cementing Pixar’s dominant position.