The Uncanny Valley, when applied to computer animation, describes a unique sense of eeriness when the viewer experiences animation that is so lifelike, it causes disgust. Ratatoing is the exact opposite of that.
This 2007 animated mockbuster follows the exploits of a rat, Marcel (Wayne Grayson), gifted in the culinary arts and his two loyal friends/employees, Carol (Lisa Ortiz) and Greg (Mike Pollock). Although a shameless ripoff of Ratatouille, also released in 2007, it still finds a way to exude personality. The film’s trio must steal fresh ingredients from a human kitchen to feed their rat patrons at their rat restaurant, while a rodent conspiracy–ratspiracy?–try to sabotage the protagonists’ efforts.
To put it lightly, Ratatoing is kind of a shitshow, but in the best way possible. The Nintendo 64-esque visuals are surprisingly charming, but significantly less fun than Star Fox 64. Low-count polygonal figures and drab backgrounds fill the space and, weirdly, it works. Characters move in a lifeless and puppet-like manner with oddly loud footsteps. The animators, presumably on a time and money crunch, purposefully disregarded all of the advancements in CGI technology to give us the B move to end all B movies.
And then there’s this abomination.
The runtime, a crisp 44 minutes, is padded with looping montages, awkward silence, and unreasonably long scenes of exposition. The opening scene alone eats up 10% of the runtime and spends the entire time raving about Marcel’s cooking. Brevity is a high-minded quality, so the movie never overstays its welcome. The writers were ahead of their time by letting the most overstimulated generation in history enjoy this picture without getting bored.
Easily, Ratatoing’s greatest feature is the dialogue. I endured the English dub, but true rat purists prefer its native Brazilian Portuguese with English subs.The characters’ mouths weren’t altered to match the dub, creating mismatched lip action. Surprisingly, the Portuguese version is well-synchronized. The English dub’s main cast is voiced by anime voice actors, yes, anime voice actors. Marcel’s voice, provided by Grayson, gave us the uncharacteristically Brooklyn accent to Yu-Gu-Oh!’s Joey Wheeler. Ortiz, the voice of Carol, was featured in the ill-fated Sonic ‘06 video game. An S-tier cast couldn’t make up for the poor audio editing, so the characters occasionally speak without a natural cadence. And Greg, Halftone’s favorite character, repeats “Precisely!” so often, I’m convinced it’s the same audio file being reused.
The existence of such a picture is hardly charming, however. Vídeo Brinquedo, Ratatoing’s creators, is a Brazilian animation production company with a storied history of pumping out mockbusters the same year as their Pixar or Dreamworks counterparts. Vídeo Brinquedo’s scheme is hilariously simple: create a movie with a similar premise, copy the advertising material, and don’t get sued. Look through their filmography; it’s wild. Little Bee is especially terrifying with its anthropomorphized bees and complete lack of Jerry Seinfeld. What’s Up: Balloon to the Rescue, an Up ripoff, features the studio’s seemingly lowest budget animation alongside bizarre anti-French stereotypes.
Despite the movie’s problematic exigence, it’s a chaotically fun time. The overall lack of redeeming qualities is itself a redeeming quality. “So is Ratatoing good or bad?” you’re probably asking, and the only logical way to respond is with a booming “Precisely!”
You can watch Ratatoing for free on YouTube.