And the hits just keep coming for Reese Witherspoon. The actress, who was America's one-time sweetheart (and still is to many outside of the Hollywood.com offices), has been in a cinematic slump as of late. Before the massive failure of her most recent film, James L. Brooks' How Do You Know, she hadn't appeared on screen since 2008's commercial-hit-but-critical-bomb Four Christmases; before that was the incomprehensible Rendition. Though her upcoming drama Water For Elephants could be a modest success (that's a big could, unfortunately), she's just been dropped from a sure-bet gem: Pixar's 2012 release Brave.
Entertainment Weekly reports that Kelly MacDonald, she of Trainspotting and Boardwalk Empire fame, will now voice the protagonist Princess Merida in the company's first fairy tale motion picture, stepping in for the Oscar-winning Witherspoon. She joins a great roster that includes Billy Connolly, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Emma Thompson and Julie Walters to tell the story of "the daughter of the rulers of a Scottish kingdom, who one day 'defies a sacred custom of the land, and inadvertantly brings turmoil to the kingdom.' In order to fix things, she goes to a Wise Woman, and is granted a wish; one that is described as ‘ill-fated.’"
Based on that great vocal cast, and these early concept drawings that have just hit the web (see below), I think that Brave (which was once titled The Bear and The Bow) is going to be a typically stupendous movie from the Pixar hit-factory that will enthrall audiences young and old. There have been numerous shake-ups related to Brave's production, from directors dropping out and getting replaced to today's development, but as the source notes this is all hardly unprecedented. Director Jan Pinkava was replaced by Brad Bird on 2007's Oscar winning Ratatouille far closer to the film's release date than the move that put Mark Andrews in charge of Pixar's latest original product (originally to be helmed by Brenda Chapman), so I'm not worried that the creative regime change will have any devastating effects on the film. Ms. Witherspoon's career, however, will take a bigger hit than Brave as her upcoming slate includes little more than a risky period drama and an bloated action comedy that may prove to be a mistake.
Then again Ratatouille does come from Brad Bird the creator of The Incredibles so you know you are in for something good. Meet Remy (Patton Oswalt) a rat who dares to dream the impossible dream of becoming a gourmet chef. All his life Remy has had a gifted sense of smell. While his family rummages through the garbage for scraps Remy only goes for the good stuff stealing directly from the kitchen. For instance a piece of brie combined with a fresh berry is just heaven for Remy. Then circumstances literally drop Remy into the Parisian restaurant of his dreams Gusteau’s where he soon discovers having whiskers and a tail is detrimental to cooking five-star meals. So close and yet so far away. But as luck would have it the petite rodent befriends the restaurant’s shy outcast garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano) and together they form a most improbable partnership. With Linguini’s clumsy body channeling Remy’s creative brains they turn Paris upside down. Vive Remy! Ratatouille doesn’t have any showboating animated characters in need of A-list voices to bring them to life. Instead the vocal talent all take a backseat to the story and it works out perfectly. Stand-up comedian Oswalt (TV’s The King of Queens) taps into a rodent frame of mind and gives Remy a nice mix of intelligence spunk and food savvy while voiceover veteran Romanoo is effectively goofy and sweet as Linguini. There’s a slew of other more well-known voices as well including: Ian Holm as the domineering slightly sadistic short-in-stature chef Skinner at Gusteau’s; Janeane Garofalo as Collette the only female in the kitchen who at first resents Linguini but then grows to love him (mais oui!); Brad Garrett as the late great chef Auguste Gusteau Remy’s mentor whose spirit resurfaces in Remy’s imagination; and finally Peter O'Toole—yes THE Peter O'Toole—as the pompous food critic Ego who hates everything he eats. Well that is until he samples Remy’s cuisine. What can I say? Helmed by the ultra-talented Brad Bird Ratatouille is simply a masterpiece in animation which is quite a compliment in this day and age of the CGI glut. Reaching the standard they set with Toy Story Pixar has never stopped churning out the highest quality CGI you’ll ever see onscreen unsurpassed by any of their competition. Ratatouille’s attention to detail is nothing less than amazing down to Remy’s rapid breathing when he’s frightened just as if we are watching a real rat to the way Bird and his crew turn the City of Lights into a truly mesmerizing sight. And for those who love to cook—or eat good food for that matter—forget about it! Ratatouille is the delicacy you’ve been waiting for on par with expert cooking movies such as Like Water for Chocolate or Babette's Feast. Pixar clearly has defined the way we watch animation creating films that are not only entertaining for the children but just as hilarious compelling and heartfelt as any live action film. Now if only the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can just get off their high horse and consider an animated film worthy of a Best Picture Oscar. Ratatouille might just have a chance.