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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Pixar, the animation studio that created "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles" has had an unbroken string of hits since it released "Toy Story" in 1995. Pixar's pictures have almost always been as popular with critics as with audiences, though some felt last summer's "Cars" needed a tune up. This weekend brings "Ratatouille," a movie about a rat who wants to be a top chef.

Bob Mondello says the Pixar animators have gotten the recipe just right.

BOB MONDELLO: Remy is a country rat with city tastes. Where his rodent relatives happily eat garbage, Remy watches cooking shows and has learned to sniff out spices. So when fate takes him to Paris, he hangs out at a restaurant a cable-TV chef made famous before he died.

Alas, restaurants don't like having rats around, so Remy perches on a skylight, feeling sorry for himself and imagining what the chef would say to him if he were still around.

(Soundbite of movie, "Ratatouille")

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

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

Mr. GARRETT: Well, that is not stopping him. See?

MONDELLO: The cleanup boy has spilled some soup and is guiltily and a little arbitrarily filling the pot back up.

(Soundbite of movie, "Ratatouille")

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy's voice) He's ruining the soup. And nobody is noticing it. It's your restaurant, do something.

Mr. GARRETT: (As Gusteau's voice) What can I do? I am a pigment of your imagination.

Mr. OSWALT: But he's ruining the soup. You got to tell (unintelligible).

MONDELLO: Falling some skylight to sink, Remy leaps into a series of what you might call kitchen ballets, sometimes sprinkling ingredients into pots, other times, dodging knives thrown his way. What Remy needs is a front man for the kitchen, so he teams up with that clueless garbage boy by sitting under his chef's hat and telling him what to do.

Imagine a culinary Cyrano de Bergerac, in which the boy who's acceptable in the kitchen, keeps wanting to confess to a lady chef he has sweet on about the rodent who isn't acceptable.

(Soundbite of movie, "Ratatouille")

Mr. LOU ROMANO (Actor): (As Alfredo Linguini's voice) When I added that extra ingredient instead of following the recipe like you said, that wasn't me.

Ms. JANEANE GAROFALO (Actress): (As Collette's voice) What do you mean?

Mr. ROMANO: I mean, I wouldn't have done that. I would have followed the recipe. I would have followed your advice. I would have followed your advice to the ends of the earth because I love you - your advice.

Ms. GAROFALO: (As Collette's voice) But?

Mr. ROMANO: (As Alfredo Linguini's voice) But I...

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy's voice) Don't do it.

Mr. ROMANO: (As Alfredo Linguini's voice) I have assistant. It's sort of disturbing. I have a...

Ms. GAROFALO: (As Collette's voice) What? You...

Mr. ROMANO: (As Alfredo Linguini's voice) I have a ra -

Ms. GAROFALO: (As Collette's voice) You have a rush?

Mr. ROMANO: (As Alfredo Linguini's voice) No, no, no. I have this tiny - little - a tiny chef who tells me what to do.

MONDELLO: Director Brad Bird is the guy who made "The Incredibles," and like his super characters in that one, "Ratatouille's" food-obsessed folks inhabit a recognizably real world as they snipe about pre-packaged meals and inadequate cheeses. They even acquaint an audience that may not know chives from chervil with restaurant terminology: Don't be surprised if your kids come home knowing what a sous-chef does, or asking for rice with saffron.

With food so lovingly digitized that you can tell stale bread from fresh, "Ratatouille" isn't just amusing - it's downright mouth-watering. Also very pretty - Paris hasn't looked so gorgeous since Gene Kelly danced there - and engagingly down-to-earth, all the way from its faintly harrowing rat swarms -Remy's family drops by his workplace on occasion - to its hilariously demanding food critic, Anton Ego, voiced by Peter O'Toole.

The studio is reportedly nervous about whether "Ratatouille" is too sophisticated but it's silly to underestimate the public appetite when a picture is this much fun. Kids are going to gobble "Ratatouille" up, adults will relish its wit, and everyone will want to go out to eat afterwards.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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