What’s cooking at the movies.

Not for a very long time have I actually been excited about a movie.

(Okay, that’s sort of a lie. “Hot Fuzz” was worth getting all het up about. And Harry Potter comes out in less than 2 weeks…)

Not for a very long time have I actually been excited about a movie ostensibly centered around food.

That thing with Catherine Zeta-Jones in it? It’s looks like that Kate Hudson movie, but with a chef as the main character instead of a designer… or whatever Kate Hudson was supposed to be.

Ratatouille was on my list, not only because I’ve been wanting Pixar to succeed since “The Incredible”, but because from the clips I got this feeling of “ooh!” that I hadn’t gotten from a movie before. Probably because it’s the first movie I’ve seen in a long time that isn’t based on something else- it’s an original idea.

It’s also not entirely rooted in pop culture, which means it will continue to be fun long after Mario, Gordon, the Contessa, Nigella and their friends have cooked their last meal. In fact, the only chef referenced is not only dead but imaginary. And it’s not Julia. There’s even an evil food critic, but he’s not really based on anyone I can think of- then again, since I don’t actually know what Tom Sietsema or Jonathan Gold look like, I can’t be sure. I’m reasonably certain, though, that Phyllis Richman wasn’t used as a model for Anton Ego. At least I hope not.

A few things- first, this is an adult-friendly movie. Kids will enjoy it, but one particularly sweet munchkin seated next to me left about midway through and took her dad with her. She was asking very intelligent questions before she left, though, and I was sorry to see her go. The part that did her in, I think, was the bit where Remy the rat gets separated from his family. It’s shot like the crash scene in “Castaway” and is a bit traumatic.

Second, you might expect a few things to happen, but on the other hand you might be pleasantly surprised. There is a happy ending, for example, but the road to it is interesting and engrossing and not entirely easy. There are themes of prejudice, family, trust, friendship and (my favorite) the joy of food.

There is the recurring idea that food is not something to simply stuff in your mouth and derive nourishment from but to savor. Food, the movie says, unites us. It’s a necessity, but it’s also a pleasure. There is a fabulous, “Fantasia-esque” scene where Remy (Patton Oswalt) is trying to show his brother Emile (Peter Sohn) how to experience rather than just taste a morsel of cheese. The screen around the chubby Emile goes black and swirls of pastel color illuminate the background as Remy talks him through the flavors of the cheese he is sampling. I love that scene because hey, we’ve all been there. When we’ve reached the end of our culinary rope we find something that makes us close our eyes, tilt our heads back and say “yummmmmm…” We live for that. We do.

Another great scene has Remy fixing a soup. He climbs a ladle handle to drop in some salt and rubs rosemary between his paws to release the oil and scent, wafting the aroma of what he’s cooking into his face as a human would. It made me smile, which is something a movie has not made me do in awhile. (In “Hot Fuzz” I whooped, hollered and threw horns. Not the same.)

The movie doesn’t stoop completely to cliche. It bends towards it a little, but never prostrates itself complete. Remy never speaks- he gestures, nods, etc. At one point we hear him squeak from our point of view, but he never becomes a cartoon, which helps us focus on the real centerpiece of the movie- the story. Remy wants to be a chef. He gets the chance when he stumbles into a restaurant kitchen after being separated from his family, and is spotted by the garbage boy, Linguini. After the boy catches Remy fixing a soup that Linguini ruined, he is ordered to kill the rat. Linguini realizes that Remy can understand him and is loathe to follow through. When it is revealed that the soup that Remy doctored is a hit with patrons, Linguini keeps him around. Linguini’s star begins to rise as a result of Remy’s hard work at which point you start to wonder how will it all end?

Ratatouille is a popular dish at my house around this time of year. Unfortunately wild animals have managed to decimate my dad’s garden plot, so we are without the lovely zuchini, tomato and squash that we are usually innundated with. All the more distressing because the movie’s version of ratatouille looks so very odd that I wanted to go home and try it (I won’t spoil that for you- go see the movie).

After the visual feast, which I went to see at a theater showing it in DLP (some kind of digital format that means truer, smoother color), we went out for munchies. I had, easily, the best hot crab dip of my life served with buttery toasted loaves that reminded me of giant Pillsbury crescents. Griffin’s (soon to be the West Street Grill) serves the usual pub food (their jalapeno poppers are larger, though, and stuffed with chunks of chicken and melted cheese), but they also do seafood sandwiches and other nibbles that remind you why Marylanders love their crab- it’s delicious. Especially in season.

In other food news, Reuters reported today that just two weeks after Salman Rushdie was knighted, his wife Padma Lakshmi wants a divorce. They were so cute together in a recent issue of Food&Wine that I’m a little surprised. On the other hand that’s celebrity for you. Rats come in all shapes and sizes.

Take that as you will.

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