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'Ratatouille' is a visual treat

Terry Lawson
Detroit Free Press (MCT)

"Just wait until you see it in BluRay," boasted director Brad Bird when he was in Detroit to cook up interest in "Ratatouille," Pixar's most ambitious animated film.

I'm still waiting, but for the time being, I'm more than content with the standard-issue DVD (4 stars, Disney, $29.99), which is way too gorgeous to be called standard.

With "Ratatouille," computer animation finally achieves the warmth, artistry and detail of Disney's early hand-drawn masterpieces. The storytelling is a departure and a risky one. The film makes the main character, Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), a provincial rat with no taste for the garbage on which his family feeds. Instead, he dreams of being a chef and achieves that dream at a legendary restaurant that has fallen on hard times. Remy revives it from inside the toup of hapless kitchen sweeper Linguini (Lou Romano).

The story was more farcical and complicated than previous Pixar pictures, and it kept us occupied (and amused) in the theater. But at home, we now have the chance to fully appreciate the impeccable design - including the gleam of the cooking pots and the worn wooden floor of the kitchen, where most of the film is set.

The film also captures the romantic glow of Paris in a way few live-action movies ever have.

Extras naturally abound and include "Lifted," the 5-minute short shown before "Ratatouille" in theaters. The clever 11-minute "Your Friend the Rat" takes the form of one of those old educational films shown on "Disneyland" and "Mickey Mouse Club," with Remy and his less-sophisticated brother Emile leading us through a few centuries of rat history.

Outtakes include scenes that were filmed before the decision was made to turn restaurant owner Gusteau into a ghost.

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Also new this week:

Robert Towne's script for 1974's "Chinatown" is on just about any list of the best screenplays ever written. Seeing it in the new "Special Collector's Edition" (4 stars, Paramount, $14.99) reminds us that the Roman Polanski-directed film noir is also a visual stunner, a gorgeously dark and moody evocation of 1930s Los Angeles. Jack Nicholson stars as private dick J.J. (Jake) Gittes, who gets in a lot deeper, personally and professionally, than he intends to while trailing a Los Angeles city official suspected of cheating on his socialite wife (Faye Dunaway).

It took 16 years for Towne and Nicholson to bring "Chinatown" follow-up "The Two Jakes" to the screen. Its prolonged and problematic gestation led to Nicholson taking the director's job that Towne envisioned for himself. "The Two Jakes" has been upgraded in a "Special Collector's Edition" (Paramount, $14.99) that invites reassessment. Although writer Towne was interviewed along with Polanski and Nicholson about the new "Chinatown " he sat this one out.

The second Beatles comedy, 1965's "Help" (3 stars, Capitol, $29.99), has finally been digitally restored and rereleased in 5.1 surround. That means seven more Beatles recordings have been subjected to a long-overdue remix. A bonus disc contains a new making-of documentary with surviving members of the supporting cast and director Richard Lester.

The Who, whose career was celebrated in the fine 1979 documentary "The Kids Are Alright," brings the band's story up to date in "Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who" (4 stars, Universal, $29.98). It takes us through the deaths of drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle and the ongoing reunion appearances and projects and includes presumably lost performance footage of the band from 1964. A "Special Edition" of Michael Moore's health care documentary "Sicko" (3 stars, Genius, $29.96) has some previously unseen footage.

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TV on DVD:

The bar is officially set for complete editions of TV series with the release of "Seinfeld: The Complete Series" (4 stars, Columbia-TriStar, $283.95; look for discounts in the $200 range). This box is a handsomely packaged collection of all nine seasons of the hit `90s comedy series on 33 discs. It comes with interviews, commentaries and a hardcover book for the coffee table. If you've purchased all the previous "Seinfeld" seasons, "Season Nine" ($49.95) will finish the job.

"Here's Johnny" (3 stars, R2, $99.95), previously available only to members of the mail-order Carson Club, is another elegantly packaged, clip-packed journey down memory lane. It adds the six-disc "Timeless Moments" set, never before available in stores, to the three-disc best-seller "The Ultimate Johnny Carson Collection" and three single-disc releases.

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Family pick of the week:

Not enough Pixar for you this week?

All 13 of the company's pre-"Ratatouille" shorts are available as part of the "Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 1" (3 stars, Disney, $29.99). It begins with the 2-minute computer-animation demonstration "The Adventures of Andre and Wally B " - made in 1984 when the crew was still billed as the LucasFilm Computer Graphics

Project - and adds the pioneering "Luxor Jr." from 1986, 1987 `s "Red's Dream" (an obvious inspiration for "Toy Story") and 1988's "Tin Toy."

"Red's Dream" is making its DVD debut here; "Luxor Jr." and "Tin Toy" have been out of circulation since the original "Toy Story" DVD was replaced by the "10th Anniversary Edition."

All the other shorts, including 1998's Oscar-winning classic "Geri's Game," are available as extras on Pixar's feature-film DVDs, but it's nice to have all these memories collected in one place.

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