The story begins with Remy, a rat living in France who has a hypersensitive nose and a well developed palate. Because of his sense of smell, enhanced taste buds, and occasional viewing of cooking shows of the late television chef Gusteau, Remy won't eat garbage but endeavors to cook food. Through a series of misfortunes, Remy finds himself in Paris. Not only in Paris, but in the kitchen of Gusteau's world famous restaurant, Gusteau's, which recently lost two out of five stars due to scathing reviews from the creepiest of all villains, a food critic (named Anton Ego). Remy, who can cook but is just a rat, teams up with a hapless garbage boy, Linguini Alfredo (who cannot cook), to return Gusteau's to it's previous splendor. Since Remy is a rat and Linguini is a garbage boy, this does not come easy.
Pixar's animation team attended a bootcamp of sorts at Thomas Keller's The French Laundry to familiarize themselves with the world of haute cuisine and how a fine dining kitchen runs. (Thomas Keller even has a cameo and developed the signature dish served near the end of the movie.) The attention to physical details, kitchen hierarchy, and eccentric attitudes and relationships really shows as Remy and Linguini navigate Gusteau's kitchen.
Animation-wise, everything is modeled impeccably. Water splashes are better than ever (but still need some improvements), copper pots are scratched and burnished, the grain of wood on mirror frames, spoons, and knife handles are natural and lovely to look at. Pixar's always been good at leading the industry in clothing and hair/fur animation, but Ratatouille brings that capability to a new level. Remy's fur clumps, singes, melts together at the tips (after a particularly sudden electrical storm), flattens, and drips when wet. In short, Remy's fur makes Sully's (from Monsters, Inc.) look like that of a stuffed animal. Special care was also taken by the animators to present clothing in a realistic fashion. The chef's outfits look good (especially one scene where Linguini is soaked and parts of his outfit cling to him and are a little transparent) but sometimes I felt like they were a bit stiff (perhaps this was intentional - the characters over starched their uniforms).
Even with these technical achievements, the real power of Ratatouille comes from the storyline. In a new twist on the typical "root for the underdogs" plot, Remy and Linguini truly capture your hearts as they struggle to prepare new flavor combinations while other plot against them and try to keep them from succeeding. In one exceedingly touching scene, I felt my eyes watering and could help thinking, "That's it. This is what food is all about and what it means to people. They got it."
The only problem with Ratatouille is that it may not be as accessible to as wide of a population as Pixar's previous movies. The world of Parisian haute cuisine is familiar to a much smaller percentage of the world than, say, toys, tropical fish, or superheroes. Since most of the story revolves around food and food references and several characters have thick accents, the younger audience may get a little lost with this movie. Even so, the comedy and storyline of the movie is universal and the loss of the more esoteric of food references shouldn't detract from the enjoyment this movie provides.
If you live to eat or have fond memories of good food, then Ratatouille is a must see movie.