Brad Bird may be the natural heir to the Warner Brothers group. His "Family Dog" segment was one of the few good projects created from Spielberg's "Amazing Stories," (and one of the few that broke the mold of the rather atrophied premise, as well). His "The Iron Giant" is one of the few cell-animation projects of the last twenty years that can genuinely be called a classic despite not having any songs, or being Disney.
When he signed on with Pixar, one worried that his odd sensibility, but impeccable story sense would fit in or get homogenized. Thankfully, his "The Incredibles" proved to be a winner, and completely went against the S.O.P. of the studio, creating photo-realistic backgrounds for characters who are clearly designed to be cartoon characters. Some folks quibbled that Bird might be saying something about the privileged when his superheroes were forced to suppress their powers, but that's from the crowd that hasn't read a comic in the last thirty years (or an "X-men" comic in the last forty).
Now, along comes "Ratatouille," and it benefits from the advancements in digital production and rendering since "The Incredibles," for if anything the backgrounds are even more sophisticated and have the feel of being filmed, while the characters are complete flights of Bird's fancy and design sense. Plus, the movements are far more complicated and fluid, the expressions more minute, and the comic timing (a lot of which is owed to Jerry Lewis) is crack. If you want to see the future of animation and how it can be driven to its full application and imagination, "Ratatouille" is the place to look. And one can only hope that Pixar continues in its tradition of bringing in new story-tellers in animation to stretch their capabilities for years to come (and the short that comes with it, "Lifted" written and directed by former sound designer Gary Rydstrom, is a perfect example of the possibilities**). If everything is run through the John Lasseter filter, the company could lose its potential and grow stale, but films like "Ratatouille" will keep it at the top of its game and the advancement of the medium for years top come.
"Ratatouille" is nearly perfect. "It has rocked me to the core." Go see it...tomorrow.* When K. was in Paris, she once asked a friend what they thought of Euro-Disneyland, and got that reply. We use it a lot in our house.
** The really nifty thing about "Lifted" is that it very obviously comes from a Sound-Mixer's personality. I could relate.