After fidgeting through "family films" that rely heavily on poop jokes and pop-culture references but not at all on character development or clever dialogue, Ratatouille proved to be a delight, an oasis in the middle of summer-movie mediocrity. It's not a sequel or a remake, it's got a polysyllabic title ... and it's a Pixar film written and directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles). The only real drawback to Ratatouille as family fare is that it might actually entertain adults better than children, although the kids at the screening I attended generally seemed quiet and interested.

The plot itself offers few twists, other than the surprise of containing a number of irresistible characters. Remy (Patton Oswalt) the rat -- yeah, I thought the main character's name would be the title, too -- doesn't want to live the life his family advocates, stealing garbage and stuffing themselves with anything remotely resembling nourishment. He wants to be a creator rather than a thief, and cook delicious meals to share. He's inspired by Chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett), whose book Anyone Can Cook encourages everyone to learn to create and try new things. Remy ends up separated from the rat pack and lost in the sewers of Paris, where he discovers Gusteau's old restaurant, now under the management of the nasty Chef Skinner (Ian Holm), and becomes entangled with the ambitious but clumsy new kitchen boy Linguini (Lou Romano). Remy and Linguini's friendship is the real heart of the movie, although Linguini's attempts at romance with hard-boiled cook Colette (Janeane Garofalo) also keep us interested.