PictureBy now you will possibly have read elsewhere just how good this 2.39:1 image is. But, let me just re-iterate - Ratatouille has, undoubtedly, been lavished with a 1080p transfer (encoded with MPEG-4) that is flawless. Viewed upon a 52 inch Sharp, the film looked absolutely amazing and betrayed nothing in the way of any compression defects. Colours are beautifully hued and locked in without a hint of smearing, overstepping their boundaries or ill-saturation of any sort. Even within the thickest swathes of colour liberally coating the picture, there is no element of banding. The palette is not as wildly vibrant or cartoonish as the Toy Stories of The Incredibles of the world, but this is only because of the extensive night-time and interior settings that suffuse the image with oodles more shadow and a slightly more subdued aesthetic. The thing that really boosts this spectrum is the warmth with which it is delivered. Tones are resplendent and surely designed with some sort of viewer-hypnotherapy in mind - I can't quite recall an image having a more lulling quality to it than here with Ratatouille.
Detail is scintillating, folks. With a huge kitchen and all its paraphernalia to play with and exploit the disc has its work cut out to maintain integrity and sharpness - and it succeeds admirably. Everything is rendered with crystal clarity where required - the reflections on the knives or the pots and pans, the little jets of gas igniting, the ingredients chopped, sliced or sprinkled, the bubbles in the sink etc. Of course, that landmark made in The Incredibles with the animating of human hair is once again fully presented in all its glory, only here we also have the little tiny furry bodies of Remy and his chums, too. In particular, it is the long nose-whiskers that stand out with ultra-finite distinction. But check out the cobblestones, the foliage beside the river and the little bridge outside the country house; and then the streets, boats and restaurant patrons of the big city, too. Everything is painstakingly etched and you can almost feel the time it took to engineer such precise detail.
The image boasts a wonderfully clear and clean look but that does not mean that Bird and his team have made concessions to the new trend for making films look, well, filmic. Whereas he hasn't gone the 300 route and stippled his frame with fake grain, he has softened backgrounds to aid with the sense of depth from time to time, heightening the subjects in the foreground in the process. So, occasionally, rear objects may seem slightly hazier, but this is purely intentional.
Contrast is excellent throughout and black levels are superlative. Shadow-play is exquisite, aiding the interiors, the banks of Seine and the sewers and gutters where Remy encounters his old buddies once again and helping to keep the film grounded with a solid foundation that does not, in any way, crush any other detail beneath it. Three-dimensionality is present right from the start. In fact, there is a temptation to get up and peer round the backs of the characters at times when Remy is twirling about in the kitchen, adding flavours and running for his little life at the same time, and the camera seems to whistle through the artificial set with dizzying speed and vigour yet still capturing every surface, every texture, every little object with an absolutely impeccable eye.
Adding more to the quality of this straight digital-to-digital transfer is the complete absence of edge enhancement and the blissful lack of noise in the image. All in all, this is a reference disc in terms of nigh-on perfect video. Go on, lose yourself in it.
SoundI've often found that animated features tend to be very family-friendly affairs when it comes to their soundmixes. They may feature the best of the audio tracks on offer but despite lots of attention to detail they still seem to keep a neighbour-pleasing lid on things. Well, that can't be said about Ratatouille, folks. No sir. The PCM Uncompressed 5.1 track, (at 48kHz/24-Bit/6.9mpbs) on offer is a balls-out, bass-heavy sonic assault that just never lets up. Awesome. Just awesome. Also offered is a DD 5.1 track that, whilst still very good, loses out with regards to volume, clarity, directionality and overall integrity to the PCM.
Ratatouille features a complex and highly detailed soundscape that has been intrinsically designed to fully utilise all 5.1 channels - and utilise them well, Pixar's engineers keenly in-tune with nuance, every little furry footfall and utensil clattering bout of mayhem. Listening to the showboating effects and comprehensive texture on offer with this track was an absolute and undiluted pleasure. The bass is surprisingly deep and booming and is in use virtually all the way through. Even for a film that spends a lot of its time in the kitchen, there are ample opportunities to blast the sofa from under you, what with the sweet old Granny's shotgun-blasting T2-style frenzy, a rip-roaring lightning and thunderbolt that made me leap far more than it did at the flicks and numerous impacts and weighty movement throughout. The sub is excellently brought into play with true force and vigour but, and let me stress this, never to the detriment of the other effects and score composing the design. So, sub-lovers, it seems you can have your cake and eat it, too!
Dimensionality around the set-up is simply glorious. Panning around the speakers is seamless and smooth. Effects are always scintillating, their placement and steerage impeccable. Water is effortlessly showcased - whether it is the river-escape early on, which features a terrific and emphatic rush for the tumultuous sewer deluge, the precisely placed dripping and splashing of tiny paws or the widely spatialised rainfall later on or even Remy's little plunge into the washing-up water. The clattering of pots and pans is exemplary too, whilst frenetic scenes of crowded kitchens, streets or service to diners have enough individual detail to continually fascinate. Dialogue is always perfectly clear and distinct, no matter what the environment and the varied timbres of the different vocal performers, especially Sir Ian Holm's Skinner and Peter O'Toole's Anton Ego, come across with wonderful depth and full-throated clarity.
I felt viewer immersion in Ratatouille to be completely convincing and of the highest consistency throughout. The room is brought to life with intricate effects, ambience and subtlety and the bombast, when called for, is quite breathtaking. Dynamic, engrossing, exciting, warm and delightful. What more could you possibly ask for. Another reference point for near-perfection for Ratatouille, folks. Just wish we could award half, or three-quarter marks. The score may 9 out of 10, but take it from me - this gets a 9 ¾!
ExtrasThis BD-50 is Java-enhanced and combines all the extra material found on the regular SD version as well as adding in lots more hi-def-only ingredients. But, as is usual with such a family-orientated affair, there is certainly fine stuff sprinkled with some irrelevance and a side order of cheese ... though not literally.
Fine Food and Film is a fourteen-minute chat given to us by Brad Bird and restaurateur Thomas Keller which puts the pair into the mood by having them discus their respective passions - to wit, films and food - in talking head format. Keller is in his element - the kitchen of his noted eatery, The French Laundry - and is seen preparing food. To be fair, this is an engaging little aside that does no harm and, perhaps, even fits in well with the ethics of the movie it accompanies - fast, easygoing and relaxing.
Three Deleted Scenes, presented here in rough animation, run for about fifteen minutes and, although nice to see, really only add a little bit more characterisation. Entitled Che Gusteau, Meet Gusteau and First Day, the titles pretty much speak for themselves. A further batch of omissions can be found under the heading Deleted Scenes: RIP. Lasting over three minutes, this is a great little piece of fun that introduces us to several animators who had to suffer the pain and indignity of work they had spent days and days perfecting, only to see it end up on the cutting room floor. Filmed in moody black-and-white, these unfortunates are accompanied by a mournful violin, tears and even, in one great moment, a ferocious PC-wrecking tantrum. The actual scenes, themselves, are merely brief shots that last only a couple of seconds each - but we feel their pain!
Sadly, I was unable to sample the BD-Java Gusteau's Gourmet Game. Even with the disclaimer stating that load-up times for this would take a while - 2-3 mins - I found that my Samsung was still sitting there mulling things over a good ten minutes later. So, I, ahem, gave up. Not to worry though, there is much more to discover.
The first of two Pixar shorts, “Lifted” (5.02 mins), featuring a marvellous Close Encounters-style spoof, looks absolutely amazing in 1080p. The second, “Your Friend The Rat”, which has Remy and his brother Emile (voiced by Peter Sohn) giving us a lecture on Man' history and his feelings towards his ratty cousins. Full of 50's and 60's style animation, this is sadly a little boring and cold, and I didn't last the 11-mins duration.
Then, employing Pixar's Cine-Explore mode of interactive menus is an audio commentary with Brad Bird and producer Brad Lewis. This is a fine and very breezily detailed track, with the pair touching base on virtually every aspect of the film's production, from the concept and the screenplay to the characters, the animation techniques and ideas, the vocal performers and the film's enduring themes. Very enjoyable, folks.
Then we have two large and very comprehensive Cine-Explore fields that can be accessed individually or as a Play All. In Animation Briefings we can find thirteen small parts that deliver lots of background information, analysis and observations about the visual look of the film as it is progressing through production. Initially, this seemed quite light-hearted and entertainingly “fly-on-the-wall” but it ended up being quite boring and a tad yawn-inducing despite Bird's brevity.
The second collection of featurettes is much, much better. In Documentary Shorts, which has ten parts, we get to meet all the main players, including Bird, his producers, his animators and artists and a bunch of real rats who were drafted in for studying and “consultative” duties. With each segment lasting around three to five minutes, this makes for a fairly comprehensive look at the movie, its visuals, its cast and characters and ends up being a pretty thorough making of in its entirety. There's also a great little section on Giacchino's music, too.
An Easter Egg which unlocks a hidden menu leading to some cool little extras - including some rigged-up outtakes, another animated short and even a bogus commercial for rat poison - can be found when you spot the little rat peeping out of the main menu.
Rounding things off, we get a selection of trailers for forthcoming and already released BD titles from Disney and Pixar, and then there are two nice little featurettes that detail, respectively, an alternate musical cue for the big chase sequence between Remy and Skinner (you can flick between this and the cue from the finished film) in The Will, and a little tribute to one of Pixar's beloved animators, Dan Lee, who sadly passed away from cancer.
Overall, this is a fine selection of bonuses. The shorts may not be up to much - I still love the spooky Mater And The Ghostlight from Cars, which is far better than anything new on show here - but the assorted behind the scenes glimpses are fairly diverse and interesting and, taken as a whole, pretty comprehensive.
VerdictRatatouille represents an intelligent new sweep of animated drama, even if, ultimately, the same old values are hammered home. It is Brad Bird's unique and individual vision that makes him the most consistently exciting manufacturer of CG dreamery around at the moment. Even if Ratatouille might not be quite as brilliant as The Incredibles, it is not far behind it and plaudits should be heaped at Remy's little paws for tackling such an avant-garde concept with mesmerising wit, intelligence and sheer, unadulterated joy-de-vivre. Ratatouille is the type of film you could just watch over and over again, revelling in the simple visual texture of it all and the slight, yet canny story that propels it.
And that repeated viewing is made all the more appealing with AV quality on the disc that is to die for. The image is nothing short of spectacular and the PCM audio is, by turns, a monster, immersive and fantastically intricate, featuring some of the best bombast in an animated feature since Monster House. The extras are pretty cool, too, though I doubt you would return to them all that often, and as for that BD-J game ... someone please let me know if it's any good, eh?
So, to sum up then, if you want a reference quality title to show off with, then look no further than Pixar's exemplary Ratatouille. All those cooks in Brad Bird's animation kitchen sure didn't spoil this broth! A second helping, please!
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