With the rich, generous Ratatouille, writer-director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Iron Giant) establishes himself as the first CGI auteur. His subject is talent — both how it is expressed and how it often sets individuals at odds with the rest of society. Bird's new film explores these tensions through Remy (Patton Oswalt), a French rat with a hypersensitive nose and a gourmet's soul. Remy is forever searching for the perfect mealtime morsel, and he's constantly slapping rotten bits of trash out of his fellow rats' jaws. Consequently, his fellow rats think he's a pretentious fool. After Remy is separated from his colony, he finds his way into a Parisian restaurant kitchen, where he ascends the culinary heights by literally manipulating the body of a gangly, talentless garbage boy (Lou Romano).

For adults, Ratatouille's snazzy slapstick set-pieces may be less striking than the film's meticulously layered deep-focus backgrounds. During the occasional respites from the action, adults may find themselves not looking at the screen as much as looking into it, marveling at the hyper-real wood, paper, water, and cobblestone.

Along with Oswalt, two actors stand out from the rest of the strong and committed cast (a consistent Pixar virtue). As a no-nonsense female cook in an all-male kitchen, Janeane Garofalo tempers her usual comic abrasiveness with sweetness and creates her most appealing performance. And Peter O'Toole is storybook wicked as a gaunt, continental ghoul who resides in a coffin-shaped chamber. Naturally, he's a food critic. Not so naturally, he's also the star of a funny, blade-like flashback that pares away his pretensions and restores his humanity.

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