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Remember when Pixar was so insecure about the way their newfangled technology represented humans that they only sporadically showed them - always in a rush and always only bit by bit? Now, as my moviegoing friend reminded me, they are able to digitally portray humans so realistically that they have to purposefully make the characters cartoonish so that the viewer still gets the animation experience.
This makes me feel kind of weird. Pixar is TOO ADVANCED that it has to dumb itself down for us? Come on. I mean, the cars of Cars only exist in my memory as animated figures, not amazing works of art. Stop dilly-dallying around with genius technology and get back to your formerly incredible scripts. It's quality we want from Pixar - a feel-good movie that delivers some seriously good jokes. Am I right??
Well, I'm almost right. Ratatouille, Pixar's latest feature about a rat that wants to be a chef, is the first Pixar film whose animation struck me straight off. They may be caricaturing up the humans in the film, and as expected, the portrayal of rats is a little skewed so that they become adorable cuddlers instead of what we all know is their natural state.* The other stuff though - the Paris streets, the professional yet warm kitchen, and even the sewers - is so visually appealing that you find yourself wondering how they got a computer to make an image look so softly lit and appetizing. A sunset over a French farmhouse and the afternoon light slanting into the shot makes you wonder why people bother to make live action movies at all.
In fact, the obvious and complicated care gone into making this film look both worn around the edges and on the cutting edge of taste (like Remy the Rat's signature dish, Ratatouille.**) is clearly the theme behind the entire film. Remy's culinary adventures are abbreviated by the fact that his very presence can cause a restaurant to be shut down, even when the crustiest food critic (played by Peter O'Toole - who really rules, what is going on with that guy? I hope he lives to be 200!) will deign to admit that a lowly rat can bring some much needed humility to the world of food - and, it was enjoyable to see, the world of criticism.*** But the pervading message of the film, "you can do whatever you want as long as you set your mind to it, et cetera," is delivered with more sincerity than any children's movie I've seen in a long time.
The humor in Ratatouille isn't quite as memorable as in former Pixar greats, at least, I don't remember more than a couple incredibly side-splitting moments. But you know what? Was Finding Nemo all that funny? It was more of an entire package, not just some cheap laughs like Cars, and it's the "entire package" film that wins hearts (and Oscars).
** Which, in America, is pronounced (as the film keeps telling you) 'Rat-a-TOO-ee' and if you try to say it like you are French, I will come after you with a giant, stale baguette and a host of angry escargot.
*** A movie about food AND a movie about criticism? Replace the colony of rats with a colony of Johnny Depps and I would swear never to watch another movie ever again.
- Susan Howson
When Remy, a curiously epicurean rat, is separated from his family in the sewers of Paris, he decides to explore the world on his own rather than wait to be rescued by his father's clan. He ignores warnings about the dangers of humanity, and scurries up the drainpipes in search of adventure - and good food - amongst the strange creatures that dwell above. As he makes his way through his first Parisian apartments, he sniffs gourmet bread, watches a passionately quarrelling couple and smiles at an artist lost in his painting. Finally on the roof he reaches a dynamic view of the city itself - the city of lights, the city of lovers.
Brad Bird's Ratatouille is an ebullient celebration of what it means to be alive, to be human - to create. It argues for cross-cultural, generational and class unity, while passionately averring the power of self-expression. And while it shuns the cheapening and commercialization of art, it believes "anyone can cook." Filled with delightful wit, elegant animation and a keen sense of film history, it's a breathtaking piece of cinema - as thought provoking as it is visually arresting.
Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) is an artist, a culinary wizard, but his only limitation is where he comes from. Society doesn't like his kind; they are the most reviled of city creatures - eliciting shrieks of disgust and disdain wherever they go. And though he paints them as sympathetic figures, Bird doesn't glamorize the life of a rat. These are animals that steal garbage for a living.
Yet they still deserve a shot at greatness. Because regardless of the societal and economical hand he's been dealt, Remy knows he has the talent to stir the masses through his cooking. Inspired by the legendary and now deceased Chef Gusteau (who occasionally pops up as the voice of his conscience), he is irrepressibly drawn to the world of fine cuisine - despite his physical appearance.
Even as we admire our hero from the opening frame, Bird uses his appearance to persistently remind us of how deep our own prejudices run. We squirm as thousands of Remy's friends invade a kitchen, or look away in shame as dead rats are displayed in the window of an exterminator. Yet the tiny chef is not deterred by the tragedies of the past, or even the inequities of the present, he has faith in the potential of the future because he will have a hand in creating it. His confidence challenges his father's (and the audience's) ideas about race, culture and family.
At one point Remy tells his dad cooking and family are both indelibly part of him, so he can't simply suppress one in favor of the other. His human counterpart, Linguini (Lou Romano), is similarly struggling with understanding who he is in relation to his roots. And just like his little friend, turns out Linguini will not grow up to be his parents. Orphaned and without the advantages of having the talent of Remy, Linguini is the real everyman of the story. Though anyone can indeed learn to cook, the film makes it clear we can't all be great cooks. Yet Linguini does find love, and perhaps - by the end of the film - his own unique path to greatness.
The relationship between the bumbling chef and his secret assistant births the funniest and most heart-warming scenes of the film. Since Remy can't speak Linguini's language (though he can understand him) the two develop a friendship that is built on actions rather than conversation. There's a moment when Linguini and Colette, the female chef who steals his heart (voiced wonderfully by Janeane Garofalo), walk by a street mime performing tricks for some kids. The mime recalls the great silent actors of the golden years of cinema, and when Remy turns Linguini into a human puppet, one can't help but think Charlie Chaplin and the dancing potatoes.
Despite this clearly being Remy and Linguini's story, the most moving moment belongs solely to the food critic Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole). Ego (ahem) is a self-absorbed man whose only pleasure seems to come from sitting in his coffin-like room writing scathing restaurant reviews on an archaic typewriter. Yet when he has his "rosebud" moment - emotionally transported to his childhood after one taste of Remy's Ratatouille (a common French stew) - it is surprisingly powerful. In his final soliloquy Ego describes the sensation of tasting something so good, and having such a strong desire to share it with the world, that it reminded him of why he became a critic in the first place. The film Ratatouille, with its symphony of cinematic pleasures, has much the same effect.
- Imran Siddiquee SEE ALSO: disney.go.com/disneypictures/ratatouille
SEE ALSO: www.pixar.com/theater/trailers/rat/
Susan Howson and Imran Siddiquee
Two writers who cover films for LAS. You can view the staff profiles of and see other articles by Susan Howson and Imran Siddiquee individually, or you can...
See other articles by Susan Howson and Imran Siddiquee.
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