[The Commonplace Book entry will go up tomorrow. I wanted to put this out now, because something similar appeared on theonionavclub blog, and regretted not putting it up when I wrote it Sunday night.]
I can think of only a handful of children's entertainment on a level better than Ratatouille: Chicken Run, Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Nightmare before Christmas, The Emperor's New Groove, The Triplets of Bellville, Iron Giant (from Ratatouille director Brad Bird), Muppets. If we think it is fair to compare TV shows to film in this regard, I would add Charlie and Lola and Pocoyo (though Pocoyo is for little-littles). If we can expand to teen fare I will include Samurai Jack and Avatar, and a few episodes of Batman Animated and Teen Titans.
The film is simply beautiful -- literally every hair is perfectly rendered, as is Paris. Correspondence, rain, and building fronts are so fully created they look like live action. The action scenes are swift and exciting and the story is paced and structured excellently -- enough action to keep things exciting, but enough time spend on happy stuff as well. Brad Bird knows how to tell a story. It is engrossing, from beginning to end. The jokes are great but they tend to rely on a visual, or the delivery. Chicken Run really wins on verbal humor, which I do not think a perfect kids movie can be without. (I think I will post soon on why Chicken Run is one of my favorite films of all time).
Special mention should go to every scene starring Anton Ego, voiced perfectly by Peter O'Toole (even Ian McKellen could not have done a better job with the character). With a type-writer that looks like a skull, in a coffin shaped room, looking like the apotheosis of the Adams Family, he bring a very good movie a notch up every time he is on screen. When he tastes the food I laughed and cried at the same time, no exaggeration. If you do not you have no heart. Further special mention should go to the opening short, my favorite of the Pixar shorts.
But here a complaint (though not an aesthetic one): women have nothing to do in Pixar movies, as wonderful as they are, and Ratatouille is especially egregious in this regard. Jeanne Garafalo's Collette simply has nothing to do. As in the Incredibles, Bird sets forth his thesis, not entirely wrong and kind of daring in a kid's film, that some people are just born special. The rest of the population, in Bird's view, just needs to accept their low status, or risk turning into villains like the bad guy in the Incredibles (Batman has no place in Bird's superhero world; this half of Bird's thesis seems off). In the end it turns out our useless human "chef" Linguini has a talent, though a lesser one than our genius; Collette was never a good chef and will never be anything but the girlfriend. Besides the old woman in the opening sequence, she is the only female character in the movie, including EVERY rat. The next Pixar movie will be about a robot. Seriously guys -- get some female characters that are not hangers on. It will make your movies more interesting. They will not give your movie cooties.