This may be the first Pixar movie that is so advanced, so sophisticated, it doesn't feel like it was made for kids. On a fundamental level, sure, children will probably enjoy watching the adventures of a plucky Parisian rat as he leaves the colony to pursue his dream of becoming a gourmet chef. But there's nothing silly or childlike about it
Get movie listings, reviews, and more at lawrence.com
This may be the Chinese year of the pig, but in Hollywood it's the year of the rat.
The animated film "Ratatouille" - which details how a Parisian rat becomes a respected chef - is one of the summer's top blockbusters. Other movies such as the latest "Harry Potter" feature the rodents in prominent pet roles.
As a result, rats are enjoying new respectability among Lawrence pet owners.
"'Ratatouille' is one of the first movies that has shown rats in a positive light rather than showing them as dirty creatures with giant fangs who eat human flesh," says Jessi Levine.
A proud owner of six rats, Levine is an employee of Petco, 3115 Iowa, which also sells the animals. She eagerly went to the theater to see "Ratatouille" on opening day.
"I told everybody I talked to after I saw it that - because I'm around rats all the time - I was really freaking out whenever any of the rats were in trouble," she says. "It was like watching a real rat be in trouble. So I was interacting with the characters more than a lot of people probably would."
Whether hairless, tail-less or Dumbo variety (named for their larger ears), rats are considered to be clever and social creatures. As with keeping any pets, there are pros and cons that accompany them.
On the pro side, rats are easy to tame and less skittish than other rodents such as hamsters or guinea pigs. The nocturnal mammals bite far less than their reputation might suggest. They also are meticulously clean.
On the con side, they require a large cage and do better when kept in pairs. They also have a tendency to urine-mark when they roam, even when held by humans.
Levine says, "Each rat has a very unique personality. They know who you are. You're not just an owner to them, you're another rat. You're like a part of their family. They want to play with you and groom you and feed you. They're so incredibly smart. Mine all know tricks and know their own name. They'll do tricks for treats."
Ratty tat tat
"She's not cute," Cary Allen says of the rat that belongs to her 10-year-old daughter, Lily. "But she's made a great pet."
The Allens acquired the hairless rat 18 months ago, and it's become quite a conversation piece.
"The first reaction I get most from people is they'll ask, 'What's in there?,'" Cary says of the critter, which is kept on a shelf.
"She'll come out of this round basket she sleeps in, and when people see her they say, 'Why? Why would you have this thing?'"
"The thing" goes by different names, depending on whom you ask in the family.
Lily calls the rat Vanessa. Cary calls her Miss Ratty.
"I don't know if most of my friends have seen the movie," Lily says of "Ratatouille."
But the youngster saw it and mentions the lead rat, Remy, "reminded her of Vanessa."
As for the best part about her pet?
"I like having something to hold," Lily says.
Pets or feeders
Pet rats are sold in Lawrence for prices ranging from $14.99 to $19.99.
Pet World, 711 W. 23rd St., also carries rats based on availability from private breeders. Store manager Jacki Wigington says she hasn't noticed extra interest brought on by the movie. But she says the beasts typically make good pets.
"There's a difference between fancy pet rats and feeder rats. Fancy rats are bred for handling; feeders are for feeding reptiles and snakes," Wigington says.
Those potential rat owners who are mulling over the option might assume their new purchase could accidentally become a "feeder" if exposed to other household pets.
Before Levine started working at Petco, she actually came in to the store to pick up toys for her cats.
"I saw the rats playing together, and I fell in love," she says.
When mingling the two species, she was pleasantly surprised that the situation didn't develop into a Tom and Jerry or Itchy and Scratchy showdown.
"Now, my oldest cat couldn't care less about them. He doesn't even seem to realize they exist. My youngest cat will watch them, but she never tries to bother them," Levine says.
Ironically, the Allen family owns a rat terrier named Pup.
"We kind of tried to introduce Pup and (Miss Ratty/Vanessa)," Cary recalls. "My husband was holding her down for the dog to sniff. She just jumped out of his hands and ran across the floor and hid. We haven't tried to do that again."