You have to hand it to Pixar and Brad Bird, they are good at what they do. They have brought us so many instantly appealing CG cartoon movies (beginning with Toy Story) that they sometimes appear to have invented the genre. And in a summer of mediocre sequels its nice to finally have something new and fresh. Of course on the face of it the premise is ridiculous-- a French rat named Remy who longs to be a gourmet chef, having been inspired by the famous Mssr. Gusteau (no not Jacques). So we are asked from the outset to completely suspend our disbelief. But this movie sure makes it easy.
First of all, the movie is visually beautiful. The re-creation of Paris is both stunningly realistic and recognizable for those who have spent time there, and at the same time gives the feel for life along the Seine river. What is even more stunning is that it does so from a rat's eye view-- you are seeing everything from near ground level most of the time. You begin to empathize with the rats what with all the obstacles in their path to survive (I never thought I'd say that). And indeed Remy is the most charming of all the many rats in the film, precisely because he is the most like a human being (he even regularly walks on two legs and can read and loves the French cooking channel).
Second there is the primary scene-- the restaurant of Gusteau, who is now deceased and his restaurant in decline, but still full of good cooks, indeed so many that one wonders how the broth isn't consistently spoiled. You get a behind the scenes feel for a major restaurant's various speciality chefs (patisserie chef, sous chef etc.) The head chef however is a real villian, even less likeable than the great food critic aptly named Anton Ego who reminds one of that arch-villaness Cruella Deville of Disney days gone by. The head chef is on the make, seeking to take over the restaurant and working on various franchising fast food deals (while Gusteau is rolling over in his grave).
The plot doesn't just stick to the story line of 'my life as a rat', but rather deals with the interesting interplay between Remy and a young man who wants to be a chef but can't cook a lick. This problem is solved when Remy is allowed to pull the young man's strings, or at least his hair (you have to see it to believe it). The surprise is whose son this young man turns out to be. Along the way you have loss, redemption, love, love lost and re-found, humorous sketches of rats searching for and feasting on all sorts of garbage and real food as well. The humor is good, the story does not have any real lulls or complete downers, but there is plenty of action and suspense as well. One of the things that does seem surprisingly missing is music, specifically the typical accordion music of Paris, but then you can't have everything.
This movie is probably an instant classic, not least because of its cinematography and creative story line (what will we have next -- hyenas as stand up comics???), and will probably get various Oscar nods, but what should not be missed is that the story has a serious message, which is not the apparent theme of the movie ('anyone can cook'-- well, not really just anyone), but rather the message that one must not give up on one's dreams and must strive to be one's best self through life's ups and downs. Even a rat can over achieve given a chance.
This is the perfect July Fourth movie to take your children to. Especially the young ones will fall in love with Remy-- he's pretty likeable. The movie is not too long ( one hour 51 minutes and has a 95% approval rating by critics-- a rarity), nor too slow paced, and there is humor along the way for the adults as well. It comes packaged with a short subject called "Lifted" about a space cadet, who just can't get the tractor beam on the space ship to work quite right. It proves to be a palatable short subject that is a very mild appetizer before the main course shows up. Go and enjoy this film--- Bon appetit.