"Ratatouille" Had Best Picture Pedigree

Among the tales of depravity and violence that dominate this year's Academy Awards race sits the bright and shining "Ratatouille." A rat never seemed so sanitized.

The Pixar film landed five Oscar nominations and was ranked by many critics as one of the year's best, yet was never a serious contender for best picture. Instead, it was relegated to the relatively new category of best animated feature, which the academy began dolling out in 2002.

Directed by Brad Bird, "Ratatouille" has garnered an aggregate score of 96 on Metacritic.com, ranking it above "Pulp Fiction," let alone this year's best picture candidates: "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood," "Juno," "Atonement" and "Michael Clayton."

And its other nominations across three different disciplines - best original screenplay, best score, best sound mixing and best sound editing - suggests the kind of broad consensus that often results in bigger awards like best director or best picture.

The film's five nominations rank as the most ever for a computer animated film, and rate second among all animated films, only surpassed by the six received by Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." That picture, done in the traditional Disney style in 1991, stands as the only animated film to ever be nominated for best picture.

If not for the best animated feature category, it's safe to say "Ratatouille" would have been strongly considered for best picture. Brad Lewis, the film's producer, is quick to point out that he has no sour grapes with the academy and that he's ecstatic about the five widespread nominations.

Still, he has to wonder.

"Ultimately, it makes it perhaps too convenient for people to look at an animated film from an isolated perspective," said Lewis. "Somebody can say, `You know what? We have a place for that, so we don't necessarily have to give it broader consideration.'"

Photos: Ratatouille Is Served
Tom O'Neil, a columnist specializing in awards coverage for the Los Angeles Times' "The Envelope" Web site, has pondered whether "Ratatouille" which he calls the best reviewed movie of the year is the equivalent of "Beauty and the Beast," only it had to deal with the specialized category.

"Is this a case where it's penalized and ghettoized because there's a separate category for animated fare?" O'Neill said. "It seems to have the same respect in the industry and among film critics as `Beauty and the Best."'

Photos: Ratatouille
"Ratatouille," made by Walt Disney Company and its Pixar Animations Studios, is also not a conventional animated movie. Its framing is largely based on the techniques of classic filmmaking, and the story of a rat who dreams to be a chef has been called a Joycean "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Rat."

By Jake Coyle