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July 16, 2007 / Tony

Ratatouille review

Ratatouille is the latest movie in Pixar’s generally outstanding line of computer animated movies.  It tells the story of a rat named Remy whose sole love in life is food.  He starts out in an obscure farmhouse where he falls in love with the cooking of a deceased chef named Gusteau, who had been France’s most celebrated chef.  Eventually, his love of food creates a situation at the farmhouse where his family’s rat colony is discovered and he and his colony are forced to make a mad dash for survival.  (Quick kudos to Pixar for this scene.  They have an uncanny ability to create the wackiest characters.  In this case, a shotgun wielding grandmother who is very trigger happy.)  During the escape, he becomes separated from his colony and finds himself in Paris.  At this point in the movie, Remy is quite good friends with a ghostlike Gusteau who, like a guardian angel, comes in at opportune times to give advice. In Paris, Remy is led by Gusteau to, guess what, Gusteau’s restaurant.  The restaurant is now being run by Skinner, who is only there to cash in on Gusteau’s name.  The restaurant itself has lost two of its five stars and Skinner is more interested in mass-marketing things like Gusteau’s burritos or corn dogs.  Remy, of course, is awed anyway by the workings of a real French kitchen.  By fate, it seems, the very night Remy first visits Gusteau’s, a lanky boy named Linguini comes to ask for a job.  After being hired, he destroys a soup after spilling some of it on the floor.  Remy, being a fine cook, not only saves it but creates a sensation with the guests.  From there, Remy and Linguine form a relationship.  Linguine realizes he needs Remy’s cooking skills to maintain the illusion that he can cook and Remy needs Linguine to fulfill his dream of cooking.   

I’ll leave the rest of the plot a mystery for those of you who have not seen the movie. 

There are many really good things about this film.  It is gorgeously shot and animated-there are many scenes in which the colors and textures on the screen are simply astounding.  The farmhouse is so warm and inviting that one simply wants to spend a summer there.  Much of the food is so colorful and vibrant that I was a little hungry after the movie.  And the characters move with a grace that even eclipses the smoothness of animation in The Incredibles.  The movie also does a fabulous job of giving a fairly accurate satire of a kitchen.  You meet rough and tumble characters with questionable backgrounds.  The stress of a busy night is beautifully shown through the fight the cooks have with each other.  And, in my favorite line from the film, Colette (the only female character in the movie) yells at Remy that “he does not have a second to lose in the kitchen.”  That, by the way, is very true. 

But, as much as I enjoyed the film, I went away a trifle bit disappointed.  Perhaps I expected too much from this movie.  I was expecting to be astounded like I was after many of Pixar’s films (Toy Story 1 and 2, Monsters, Inc., and The Incredibles were all absolutely superb.  I thought less of A Bug’s Life, Cars, and Finding Nemo.)  My (small) gripe with the film is that I wanted it to touch my inner child more than my adult sensibilities.  What I thought my favorite Pixar movies did so well was tap into something elementally childish and turn it into something sublime.  For example, Monsters, Inc. turned every child’s fear of monsters into a story where the monsters are not only real but exhibit human qualities.  In the Toy Story movies, our beloved toys become exactly what we’ve always wanted our toys to be-companions with whom you have a relationship.  The magic of the films was the ability to take a subject that was immediately recognizable to a child and make it into a story that touched adults. 

Ratatouille just doesn’t seem to have that same kind of magic.  In fact, it seems that the formula of Toy Story was turned upside down.  In Ratatouille, it seems that Pixar is attempting to take something essentially adult and make into a story that touches kids.  Hence, this story is one that works better for adults.  It is really a story of pursuing a dream to the point of sacrificing what is important to you.  In this case, Remy gives up his former life as a rat and even much of his rat-like qualities (after learning to cook, he refuses to walk on four legs because that would make his hands dirty).  He, in effect, changes himself in order to achieve his dream.  And that, I think, is a very adult theme.  I wonder what kids do think of this movie.  (I’ll have to consult my nieces and nephews.) 

In the end, Ratatouille defies classification.  When writing this review, I couldn’t think of what genre best described what Pixar created.  I think that it is both its strength and weakness.  Undoubtedly, it has the power to entertain almost anyone (including myself, in case there was any doubt) but because it is an adult’s movie made for kids, it just can’t rise to the level of sublimity.  But, that’s no reason to avoid seeing the film. 

 [This review is a small milestone.  This is my 100th post.  Thanks to Katelyn for inspiring this post.]

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