A Rat's Tale

1998, Movie, G, 89 mins


Rest easy, Muppets. This intermittently charming children's tale about an endangered pack of New York City sewer rats features marionettes so old-fashioned they make Elmo seem positively state of the art. It seems the wharf rats of Manhattan's West Side are in some serious trouble. Not only has a scientist (Jerry Stiller, in one of the film's few live-action cameos) just developed a new super rat poison -- "Rat-Away XGS" -- but ruthless land developer Lou Dollart (Josef Ostendorf) plans on tearing down the wharves in order to build a giant parking structure. After holding a public "rat chat" -- this is, after all, a "democ-rat-cy" -- President Noble-Rat decides the rats should collect as much cash as possible and buy the wharves themselves. Luckily, shy, artistically inclined Monty Mad-Rat's aunt has just returned from Mexico with three magic seashells that may be the answer to their prayers. In this glorious age of sophisticated computer-generated animation, there's something undeniably quaint about a return to the age-old art of puppetry: Germany's world-renowned Augsburger Puppenkiste theater -- which built and operate the 100 puppets featured in the film -- makes no effort to mask marionette strings or provide the rats with any facial movement whatsoever. Ironically, kids raised on the glossy perfection of TOY STORY may be delighted by the low-tech novelty of it all, but anyone who's had a close encounter with New York City's most intractable animal population may have trouble sympathizing with the plight of Monty and his vermin friends. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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