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Film review: Clever ‘Ratatouille’ offers visual feast

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RATATOUILLE — *** 1/2 — Animated feature starring the voices of Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garofalo, Peter O'Toole; rated G (violence, vulgarity, mild profanity)

"Ratatouille" is not your typical Disney animated movie with rodent characters. There are no anthropomorphic mice wearing clothes here. And though the rats may talk, they walk like rats and pretty much act like rats.

This is one of the riskier aspects of this clever digitally-animated comedy, which is the latest project from the folks at Pixar.

As with all of Pixar's films, this isn't the expected, joke- or gag-driven drivel that's often passed off as theatrical animation. Instead, it's a character-driven story that lets the humor flow naturally from the story's details. Also, the handsome, colorful backgrounds here have a mind-blowing, photorealistic quality.

The main character is Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt, from TV's "King of Queens"), a rat with a surprisingly selective palate. While his fellow rats are content to eat garbage, Remy prefers to savor gourmet foods and ingredients.

That makes him a bit of an outcast, so he winds up fleeing to Paris, where he comes to the aid of a would-be chef named Linguini (Lou Romano). As it turns out, Remy and Linguini are able to "collaborate" in the kitchen, with Remy providing impromptu recipes and his human pal taking care of the physical stuff (like chopping and stirring).

In fact, their unique concoctions become a sensation and temporarily revive business at the struggling restaurant where Linguini works. But his jealous boss (Ian Holm) wants to know where this sudden inspiration has come from.

Filmmaker Brad Bird — who also directed "The Iron Giant" (1999) and the Oscar-winning "The Incredibles" (2004) — and was brought aboard to save this initially stalled animation project, but it still feels very much like one of his own films. And that includes some exciting action sequences — particularly a street chase that may take your breath away.

Comic actors Oswalt and Janeane Garofalo, who plays one of Linguini's fellow chefs, give surprisingly muted, low-key voice performances. But co-star Peter O'Toole more than makes up for that as an amusing food critic character who could make or break Linguini's bistro.

As usual, the film is preceded by a delightful Pixar short. This time it's the Oscar-nominated, UFO-abduction yarn "Lifted."

"Ratatouille" is rated G for animated scenes of comic violence (slapstick, as well as some vehicular mayhem and menace), some mild flatulence humor and mild vulgarities, and some mild profanity (religiously based). Running time: 110 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com