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'Ratatouille:' Nervy, Funny and Thoroughly Tasty

Brad Bird, writer-director of Ratatouille, is one of the reasons we're living in a golden age of animation.

But what makes Bird special is that he doesn't think of himself as an animator at all. Refusing to be ghettoized, he aims for the emotional force of live-action fare.

Ratatouille is typically audacious. It's the story of another creature that refuses to be ghettoized. That would be a rat — yes, a rat — named Remy with the palate of an epicure and a passion to be the greatest chef in the world.

One of the joys of Ratatouille is watching the collaboration between a kitchen boy and Remy. Remy wouldn't be allowed to set foot in a kitchen without the boy as a front man, and the boy can't cook without Remy's guidance.

Ratatouille is smart and sophisticated, but it also takes full advantage of computer animation. Director Bird and his team love great chases, wild rides and wacky adventures. Setting them in a breathtakingly beautiful Paris — and the unnerving sewers beneath the city — can only help.

The idea of making a rat the hero of a major motion picture is a lot nervier than using penguins or other cuddly folk. And Ratatouille is surprisingly candid about letting rats be rats: These creatures swarm so realistically that asking audiences to accept them as heroes is the riskiest of gambits.

Yet this is exactly what Bird and his gang accomplish. They've made Ratatouille so imaginative, good-spirited and funny that it not only blurs the line between reality and fantasy, it manages to blur it between species as well. Getting a leopard to change its spots would be nothing compared to what these characters are asked to do, but Ratatouille makes it look like the most natural thing in the world.

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