Preview: 'Ratatouille'

Animation historian Charles Solomon previews Ratatouille, the Disney Pixar film that opens this Friday. He talks with the star rat of the movie, voiced by Patton Oswalt, and director, Brad Bird.

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And of course the French love their ratatouille. Rats, on the other hand - well, there's a reason Mickey Mouse is a mouse. People don't really like rats. The people at Pixar hope their new character in the movie "Ratatouille," set in France, will convince viewers otherwise.

Animation critic Charles Solomon has the story has the story about how this rat as hero came about.

(Soundbite of movie, "Ratatouille")

Mr. PATTON OSWALT (Actor): (As Remy the Rat) Ah, Paris, France, home of the finest restaurants and the greatest chefs in the world. All my life I've wanted to be one of them. You may think that's a strange dream for a rat. But I always believed that was hard work and a little luck, it's only a matter of time before I'm discovered.

Mr. CHARLES SOLOMON (Animation Historian): Remy is a rat with a dream - to become a great French chef. Making this improbable character believable was a challenge for writer-director Brad Bird, the creator of "The Incredibles." One of his first problems was finding the right voice for his rat, until he heard Patton Oswalt.

Mr. BRAD BIRD (Writer-Director): It's not like I had a clear voice in my mind, because I wasn't as familiar with Patton. But when I heard it, I went, that's Remy. We've got to get that guy to be Remy. And everything that I wrote after that, I was imagining Patton doing it.

(Soundbite of movie, "Ratatouille")

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy) I can't believe it. A real gourmet kitchen and I get to watch.

Mr. SOLOMON: An actor and a stand-up comic, Oswalt is best known as the co-star of "The King of Queens." Although he's done voices for a number of animated TV series, he never played a rat before.

Mr. OSWALT: When I came to the project I was thinking, what voice do I - do I got to create a voice or character, and they really stressed to me we just want your voice. We want you to talk the way you talk. That's who he is. And it's more about this guy being enthusiastic about what he's into rather than in any like quality of ratness, I guess - is ratness a word?

(Soundbite of movie, "Ratatouille")

Mr. BRAD GARRETT (Actor): (As Auguste Gusteau) What do I always say? Anyone can cook.

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy) Well, yeah. Anyone can. That doesn't mean that anyone should.

Mr. Garrett: (As Auguste Gusteau) Well, that is not stopping him. See?

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy) What is he doing? No, no. No, this is terrible. He's ruining the soup.

Mr. SOLOMON: Oswalt's greatest challenge was the scene where Remy is swept down a storm drain.

Mr. BIRD: There is no way to nicely do a convincing water drowning thing. I challenge any actor to do it without getting a little wet. So Patton, you know, was very patient while we were constantly dumping things on him and having him gargle and almost drown in the Pixar studio.

(Soundbite of movie, "Ratatouille")

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy) Dad?

Mr. OSWALT: They built this new program for the water so that the water pretty much acted like water. In other words, they kind of had a hard time choreographing it because they said water is going to do what it's going to do. We've literally programmed this thing to replicate water, which means it's going to be completely random and we're going to have to try to capture it as best we can, which is very exciting. And so I think they wanted that same out-of-control feeling.

(Soundbite of movie, "Ratatouille")

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy) Ahh...

Mr. OSWALT: So they kind of wrapped towels around me in this huge mixing bowl of water that they kind of - I opened my mouth and dump and tried to speak and breathe and was choking and gagging. So that - yeah, you really hear me struggling for breath there.

(Soundbite of movie, "Ratatouille")

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy) Ahh...

Mr. OSWALT: I was really being drowned. I left soaked.

For NPR News, I'm Charles Solomon.

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