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Saturday, June 30, 2007

The best food and wine movie ever...

...or at least the best food and wine movie since Big Night. Yes, it's the G-rated Disney kids flick Ratatouille, and it's smart, funny, clever, passionate and gorgeously animated. If, after watching this film, you don't want to rush home, pour a glass of last night's leftover red wine, prop open the Joy of French Cooking, throw a stock pot on the stove and start working on that difficult recipe you've never quite been able to master, then you don't have the soul of a true gourmand.

This is the story of a lowly country rat named Remy who has culinary aspirations. Stay with me here. After a series of misadventures he finds himself the head chef of the most renowned bistro in Paris. Of course, the health department reacts strongly, as do a rival chef and a ruthless restaurant critic with the power to literally kill a chef with a single vicious review.

This is a children's movie, but I took much more away from this film than my three-year-old daughter, who grew a bit squirmy during the love scenes. As an admitted foodie and wine aficionado, I drank in scenes of furry little Remy passionately seasoning a pot of boiling soup, delivering fresh rosemary, garlic and onions with his little pink rat paws, smiling in the dreamlike trance known only to the hubristic gourmand in the midst of a cooking fugue. Another scene finds little Remy doused with a full glass of deep ruby Cabernet, his gray hairs slicked with French wine, we oenophiles in the audience smacking our lips in jealously. Yes, this is a kids' film in which we can watch the villain get the hero drunk on a bottle of Chateau La Tour.

There's more to the picture than great animation, clever storytelling and an orgy of French cookery. Reviewers aren't raving about this film simply because it's the latest edition of Toy Story. There is something in the heart of this story that touches on our culture at this particular time. This is a film about cooking, food, and it's connection to the pleasures of living. It is something that we are just beginning to grasp as Americans, as evidenced by the explosion of Mediterranean cuisine and the foodie and wine boom. The film shows us that even a creature as low in station as a rat can live a rich life if he only pays attention to the essential things, like eating. French chef Joel Rubicon, and I'm paraphrasing here, once said, "There is no more direct, intimate and loving form of communication than cooking for someone." This is the lesson that Remy the rat teaches us in Ratatouille.

Ratatouille makes a further point in a speech at the end delivered by the crusty restaurant critic (Peter O'Toole) on the nature of elitism and snobbery. It is as profound a monologue as I've heard in any film recently...G-rated or otherwise...and it is one we should keep in mind when we engage in the pursuit of making, evaluating and buying wine.

The animation, especially scenes of the City of Lights, is stunning. The film is perfect for all ages, though my three-year-old wasn't completely engaged the whole time. I did only have to leave the theatre twice, a record for her, though I still did it grumpily as I was so engaged in the story. The film is perfect for kids from five to ninety. Head to the theatre and see this film on the big screen, especially if you love food, wine or Paris. Then go home and cook for someone.

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