IMDB #167 Ratatouille

Look, I'm as big of a Pixar fan as the next guy, but are you aware that there are 9 out of 11 Pixar releases in the top 250 right now (all of them except Cars and A Bug's Life, and rightly so), but just one single animated Disney film (The Lion King)? Whatup with that?

I know, the list skews more recent, that's part of the fun. But by and large, the classics are covered, and if the mid-20th-century hand-drawn Disney features aren't classic cinema I don't know what is. Get voting, people!

Anyway, back to the modern CGI renaissance with 2007's Ratatouille.

The Key Players:

Remeber Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles? It's him again! Composer Michael Giacchino also returns for duty. Jan Pinkava originated the concept, basic plot, and many elements of the art design before Bird was brought in to replace him.

Multiple celebrity voices abound, but our lead is that of perhaps Greatest Living Standup Comedian Patton Oswalt (R.I.P. Mitch Hedberg). How cool is that?

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The Story:

The premise is a simple one that takes longer than you'd expect to explain. There's just two things you're going to need to accept and move on:

1. Rats (or at least our furry little hero, Remy) can read and understand spoken English, though they cannot themselves speak.

2. A rat, sitting on your head (or at least that of our misfit human hero, Linguini) can control your arm movements by tugging patches of your hair.

Thus provide the mechanics for Remy, a gourment and natural chef, to team up with Linguini, a garbage boy in a gourmet kitchen- one can cook, the other can "appear human," and the rise to fame is inevitable.

Obstacles soon present themselves, however: a suspicious head chef, a feisty love interest, a toweringly intimidating food critic, and even the health inspector. Remy's family doesn't think much of his new, unratlike career, and Linguini doesn't know he's actually the son and heir of the deceased restaurant owner! Mystery, excitement!

Will Remy and Linguini be able to overcome our society's (or at least that of Paris, where this is all set) inherent prejucides against rats and misfits?

The Artistry:

Let's breeze past the obligatory remarks about how far CGI animation has come, shall we? Suffice it to say that Pixar still puts other studios to shame in this regard, and the little details like rat-hairs and water bubbles are nearly flawlessly rendered in Ratatouille.

The art design of the human characters I enjoyed more than any other CGI to date, nicely balancing the need for anatomical plausibility with expressive caricature (a line that Up would later fall just on the wrong side of- it seems like a movie about a talking box (Carl) and egg (Russell)).

The plot itself is a compelling double-underdog story, with the more complex themes of self-actualization that we're starting to take for granted with each Pixar realease. It might be a little overstuffed, at nearly two hours, but it has to make time for stories in both worlds, as well as multiple madcap action sequences.

You can tell the research and commitment to cooking that Bird and his team must've had- Ratatouille is a love letter to fine food as much as anything else. We get a lesson in the staff requirements and hierarchy of a gourmet kitchen, tips on efficiency as Collette teaches Linguini the ropes, a philosophical debate on the merits of improvisation, and most tellingly a subplot about how disdainful and crass microwavable, pre-cooked meals are.

That "foodie"-ness finds its way into another lesson, rife with Bird's seemingly trademark amiable elitism: that of Gusteau's proposition that "Anyone can cook." As the film clearly demonstrates, Linguini can't, while Remy can, and the lesson, as the critic Ego clarifies, is that a world-class chef can come from anywhere.

What does this mean? Much like The Incredibles, in the end we're taught to embrace those with special talents while admitting our own limitations. Misplaced pride (like Linguini's brief power tripping or Syndrome's fake robot attack) leads to disaster, sure, but what if you've got nothing to be proud of in the first place?

There's a joke in epsiode five of "Party Down"'s second season which I feel applies:

-"Who's Ayn Rand?"
-"She wrote about how awesome awesome people are."

Anyway, the voice cast is excellent as always, if a little more stuffed with superflous celebrities than you'd hope- Will Arnett? James Remar? Mostly they're well chosen, like Ian Holmes maniacal villain, Brad Garrett's jovial Gusteau, and especially Oswalt's expressive, energetic rat.


Linguini finds out the truth, and all goes well until Anton Ego arrives for his fateful review, just as Remy and Linguini fight about misplaced credit. When Linguini admits the bizarre truth to his staff, they leave in disgust (Collette returns after a bit), leaving no one to help Linguini prepare the meal that might save the restaurant.

Remy rides to the rescue with his entire clan of rats, lead by his apologetic father. They make, of course, ratatouille, wowing Anton Ego, who writes a stirring review even after they explain that a rat cooked it. A health inspector shuts down the restaurant, of course (there were rats in the kitchen), Linguini, Collette, and Remy start a new one with Ego as an investor.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Higher, by a rat nose. Way more fun than reading The Fountainhead, anyway.

The Legacy:

Winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar, and a nominee for score, screenlplay, and sound (as well as 9 Annie Awards).

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

A more interesting case is this super-early teaser trailer for the film, which sets up the whole "rat in a kitchen" conflict but doesn't mention that Remy wants to be a chef (just that he's tired of eating garbage). And it seems to have an overblown, more looney-tunes like sensibility than the end result (though the knives visual made the first posters, as well).

Leftover Thoughts:

-Not sure if the shorts paired with the Pixar features count, but "Lifted" is one of the least impressive ones I've seen.

-The food critic's final review at the film's end is a nearly completely shameless pat on the head for film critics as well: " But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."

-Did you know you can see the Eiffel Tower from every single window in Paris? This is a proven fact.

Coming Up...

166. Dog Day Afternoon

165. The Secret in Their Eyes

164. The Thing

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