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‘Ratatouille’ is an animated feast

Director Brad Bird proves he’s the king of kid’s film with this new adventure.

If you thought that Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles” was the unacknowledged “best” movie of its year, you just might feel the same way about Bird’s latest knockout, “Ratatouille.” Rarely does feature-length animation reach such heights.

The premise is delightfully outrageous, the execution consistently sharp, and the script never runs out of playable ideas. Instead of limping toward a foregone finale, as most summer movies do, it builds toward a satisfying conclusion that seems destined to create a whole new career for Peter O’Toole (or at least his instantly recognizable voice).

Although he doesn’t register strongly until late in the film, O’Toole’s snooty, Scrooge-like restaurant critic, Anton Ego, steals the movie, with the full cooperation of the Pixar animators. This seemingly monstrous columnist, who has the power to make or break reputations as he assigns star ratings to classy restaurants, eventually reveals a surprisingly philosophical and devoted side.

O’Toole’s character is human, but the hero of the movie is a rat. Remy (voice by Patton Oswalt) is a refined rodent, who prefers gourmet garbage to the stuff his father (Brian Dennehy) and brother devour indiscriminately. His fondness for good food is considered useful only when he prevents a family member from eating rat poison.

When Remy gets carried away with putting together a recipe one night, looking for the saffron that will go with a rare mushroom, he disturbs an elderly human who goes after him with a shotgun. He flees with his family and ends up in Paris, where he coaches a dishwasher (Lou Romano) to become a master chef at a once-elegant bistro that’s lost a couple of stars.

Nearly everything is seen from the perspective of the rats, who are almost as sympathetic as the deer in “Bambi.” They have distinct personalities, they even represent different political philosophies and they argue rather eloquently about their lot in life.

Dad is convinced that the world is cruel and unforgiving and that his son should just “shut up and eat your garbage.” Remy, who feels guilty about the family habit of surviving by thievery (“All we do is take, Dad”), is sometimes discouraged enough to agree with him.

He’s also easily distracted, and determined to do what he loves best. For him, temptation is “a real gourmet kitchen, and I get to watch.” Several scenes are craftily built around Remy’s love of food, spices and sauces, and his conversations with the ghost of a recently deceased food specialist whose motto was “anyone can cook.”

It’s not all talk, of course. The chase scenes, built around the flight to Paris and various kitchen catastrophes, are ingeniously set up and carried out. And when his moment comes, O’Toole is ready with a performance that seems to enter another realm entirely. It’s the perfect way to end a near-perfect film.

“Ratatouille” is being shown with a Pixar short, “Lifted,” that gently spoofs the alien kidnappings in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” It’s a delectable appetizer before the main course.