To call director Brad Bird's Ratatouille the best animated film of the year is accurate, but misleading. The story of a foodie rat's rise in Paris' culinary world is packed with more humor, better voice work and more brilliant animation than the flat Shrek the Third could ever hope to muster. It's not just the best animated film this year, it's the best animated film to come out of the U.S. since Bird's last effort, The Incredibles.

With vibrant colors and amazing attention to detail, Ratatouille takes Pixar's ever-improving brand of animation to soaring new heights. Jaw-dropping views of the Paris cityscape at night are a great main course, but tiny details—down to the dirt in the streets and the cuts and burns on chefs' arms—make Ratatouille pop off the screen. Same goes for the comedy, and the nutty setup. The story of a rat named Remy (Patton Oswalt) who finds himself secretly spicing up bland food in a Paris eatery is aimed at kids, but it's loaded with so much madcap humor that adults won't be able to resist. From Remy transforming hapless chef Linguini into his personal Cuisinart to the film's central villain, a gaunt and deathly food critic named the Grim Eater (voiced sinisterly by Peter O'Toole), the film's loaded with potshots at French cinema and tons of chuckles.

Sprinkled into all the humor and delightful characters is some truly unique action. Whereas The Incredibles and Bird's underrated The Iron Giant resided on a large scale, Ratatouille works with a much smaller world. Its main action sequences involve little more than watching Remy scurrying through a kitchen, dodging ingredients and footfalls. Yet through the rat's perspective, these everyday settings are transformed into a treacherous world all their own, making even a pantry look like something out of Indiana Jones.

That's Bird's gift. Whether his characters are saving the world from destruction or saving a pot of soup from bad aftertaste, there's a sense of urgency and awe in his films. Ratatouille's technical marvels and storytelling are trumped by this unique quality. Bird twists the ordinary in a way we've never seen, and accomplishes something no other movie this summer has—originality. G.

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