Are there real and compelling characters in a compelling world doing
things that you want to sit and watch? The execution of [an animated
movie] - how it comes across on screen in sound and light - is a way
of telling a story. Without that story, it's just fireworks.
Co-director (credited in small type after the cast list)
and originator of Ratatouille, Jan Pinkava.
why has this sumptuous feast of a film taken so long to
land on these shores? Mainland Europe had it three months
ago. Could it have anything to do with Pixar's management
being singularly unimpressed with Disney's US based marketing
decisions? "It was a fiercely competitive summer!"
The movie must have seemed like a tough sell to even neophytes
at Marketing 101. The title is unpronounceable (unless you
have some food, Fawlty Towers - "He
put basil in the ratatouille?" - or French-related
education) and it's about a rat in a kitchen (a no-no).
Rats are not cuddly. But for heaven's sake, it's Pixar.
It's not as if their track record cannot be exploited. John
Lassiter's company, now residing at Disney, needed an adrenaline
shot after the tiniest whiff of critical disappointment
that greeted Cars.
to date, sweet Remy the ratatouille rat has pulled in $476
million worldwide (just what is classed as a success these
days?) The P&A budget is almost never included in budgetary
analysis (P&A – prints and advertising, sometimes
their costs can exceed the actual film's). But then a Pixar
disappointment is $461 million box office (sheesh). Cars,
whatever anyone says, was a huge hit. And on the subject
of what people say, the corrosive catch-all excuse - "creative
differences" - has, Bisto-like, curled lazily into
the nostrils of industry pundits. It's Pixar's first internal
creative squabble – gosh! Stop the presses!
co-director Jan Pinkava, (credited ominously after the cast
list in smaller letters) says in an interview with Computer
Arts magazine that he'd always wanted to say the following:
"No comment." His remark comes at a time when
nosy industry hacks are clamouring for blood – especially
as this is Pixar, cinema's golden company producing hit
after hit after hit and now melded with Disney in the way
that a frothy Guinness head is melded to its dark underbelly.
With the exception of distribution muscle and some (questionable)
marketing savvy, I didn't think Pixar would sit well at
the mouse house. But perhaps Lassiter and co. can 'pixarise'
Disney and not fall foul to the reverse. Pinkava (Oscar
winning director of the glorious Pixar short Geri's
Game) was removed as director of his very own Ratatouille and replaced by Brad Bird, writer/director of The
Incredibles. I admit it. I am very curious. Computer
animation is planned to the n'th degree (by definition,
it has to be) and I wonder mightily what direction Pinkava
was taking the rats to have been so sweepingly ousted in
what would have to have been a very public disagreement.
But regardless of the effect of the behind the scenes "Oh
shit, Pixar is just like any other company!" blues,
what comes out of a warring (OK, at the least arguing) kitchen
still needed tasting.
And Ratatouille is... is... a grown up Pixar.
It's difficult for me to qualify that because it's more
of a feeling. This loving homage to Paris and its culinary
majesty is a triumph of artistic hubris. You do not have
to be a man made of rubber tyres to know – almost
instinctively – that Paris prides itself as the world's
number one focal point for gourmet cuisine. As clichéd
as 'each Frenchman has a lover, married or not', and that
the entire country's citizens could be summed up by a tartan
wearing groundskeeper in The Simpsons as
"cheese eating surrender monkeys", so Ratatouille nudges the pendulum a little further in the other direction.
France (pardonnez-moi, La France) quite likes Ratatouille and there are many reasons for this.
Ratatouille respects France, understands its national mores and idiosyncrasies.
It's no surprise that Pixar's film-makers researched the
shitake mushrooms out of their subjects. What the film may
have been aiming at under Pinkava's direction is now moot
– perhaps sadly, perhaps not. Brad Bird is not exactly
a pop culture virgin. The man has made a few affecting and
stirring movies (The Iron Giant, The
Incredibles) and had a long stint on The
Simpsons to give him some even more deeply rooted
pop-culture street cred. But these are Parisian streets
and these are French characters. It's a testament to either
Pinkava's or Bird's sensitivities or downright worship of
all things Gallic, that their version of Paris comes across
as highly romanticized but simultaneously and oddly credible.
(played likeably by stand up comedian, Patton Oswalt) is
a rat born with Jean Baptiste Grenouille's sense of smell.
Who the hell is Jean Baptiste Grenouille? Spray on some Perfume.
Remy's father (voiced by Brian Dennehy) suddenly realises
his son is an asset – a poison detector. But Remy
has ambitions beyond playing the safety inspector of his
clan. Routed by an old lady whose shotgun assault of her
own home becomes somewhat self defeating, Remy is cast into
the drains of France, bereft of family and friends, and
ends up in Paris conversing with the spirit of a dead master
Chef – the once owner of one of the most respected
restaurants of Paris.
on a lowly worker employed to take out the rubbish, Remy
witnesses his inept efforts at cookery and needing some
rodent refinement. Cue Remy's soup rescue and the lowly
worker, Linguini's, utter disbelief at a rat adding ingredients
to a soup that would have taken the varnish off Vivien Westwood's
nails. Charged to dispose of Remy, Linguini realises that
this rodent not only can understand his plaintive grudges
but promises to be the Yoda to his Luke. The only "Uh,
hang on!" is the script's assumption that a human being
can be physically puppeteered and intricately controlled
by the tugging of hair. It's a beautiful but wanting conceit
but it takes a large slice of fantasy swallowing to be comfortable
with this idea. I said to myself "Get over it!"
But it took a while. Bird sold the idea well enough by spending
some time on the 'training montage'. Peter O'Toole is brilliant
as Anton Ego, the food critic whose honey voiced barbs drip
with malicious relish and whose selfless decision making
and critical integrity serve as the film's climax –
and it is remarkably affecting bringing a lump to the throat
that no foodie movie I know has ever done before.
course, there's romance, action, humour (both sly, literary
and slapstick) but above all, there is a tremendous amount
of warmth and much more of an adult sensibility –
like a film for children (duh) but made with dark chocolate,
not milk. If I cannot articulate what I mean I shouldn't
be writing reviews (shut up, at the back there) so let's
have another crack at it. Ratatouille moved
a 46 year old man as much as it touched his 11 year old
son. Now that has Pixar written all over it... Bravo.