Pixar-thon: Ratatouille

Remy is a rat living in the French countryside with an acute sense of smell and taste. With these gifts, he has pursued a passion for fine cooking, despite the skepticism of his family. After he’s chased out of his home, eventually finds his way to Paris and decides to stay and hone his skills under the tutelage of his idol, the famed Chef Gusteau, only to find out that he’s dead and that his restaurant is under new management. He starts working on a soup behind the chefs’ backs, but is quickly discovered by Linguini, a hapless garbage boy whose last hope lies in his job. Through a misunderstanding, everyone thinks that Remy’s creation was done by Linguini, who can’t cook to save his life, and is asked to make it again. They later find out that they both have something the other lacks, and form a secret alliance that brings Gusteau’s restaurant back to its former glory.

I will be honest here. When Ratatouille first came out, I had zero interest in it. This was around the time between me losing interest in animation and the rekindling of my passion for it. As a matter of fact, I did go see this with my family at a drive-in theater, but quickly ditched them when I discovered that Transformers was playing on the other side. (Yeah, yeah, save your rotten fruit for later. Trust me, you’ll need it.) So up until now Ratatouille was the only Pixar movie I had not seen all the way through, which meant I got to look at it with fresh eyes, something that I can’t say for my past reviews. Since this was the movie that began Pixar’s four year streak of taking home the Oscar for best animated feature, I was intrigued but at the same time a bit cautious. While I don’t agree it deserved the award that year (if you ask me, it should’ve gone to Persepolis), I still recognize its strengths.

First thing’s first, the animation here is very peculiar. The movie takes place in France, mostly in Paris, and while the movie also acts as the ultimate Parisian tour guide, but the animation itself has a very French feel. I’ve already raved on about French animation in my reviews of Persepolis and The Triplets of Belleville, and it seems I’m not the only one who adores their unique style. The designs of the characters themselves seem to resemble the style of French animated films of the past, but at the same time retain that distinct Pixar look to it. Having seen a few myself, I couldn’t help but notice the influence they’ve had on the designs of the short and stout Skinner, or the broad-shouldered, long-limbed Anton Ego, and the knowledge that they treated their work with this much admiration really put a smile on my face.

But above all else, I really love the dynamic that Remy and Linguini have as characters. Most of Pixar’s movies have had two great characters that compliment each other really well: Woody and Buzz, Mike and Sulley, Marlin and Dory, even Lightning and Mater had a bit of chemistry. But the team of Remy and Linguini in my opinion is a really strong one. Each offers something that the other lacks (Remy his cooking skills and Linguini a body to cook with and hide his identity), both share an isolation from their respective peer groups, and both have a strong sense of communication despite not being able to speak with each other directly. Sure, this is something that Pixar has done before and would completely master in their next venture, but Brad Bird’s subtle direction really brings a soul to the connection of these two characters, not unlike the main leads in his directorial debut, The Iron Giant. In fact, one could say that neither The Incredibles, nor Ratatouille without The Iron Giant coming first, but that’s another review for another day.

Contrary to Cars, I also really enjoyed some of the side characters in Ratatouille. Yes, I know I said before that I enjoy most of Pixar’s supporting characters, but the main difference here is that we don’t see them that much. Aside from Remy and Linguini, the only other characters that get much screen time are Collette, Linguini’s no-nonsense co-worker who shows him the ropes, Skinner, his scheming boss who means to capitalize off of Gusteau’s name, and Emile, Remy’s brother who will literally eat anything that’s in front of him. Other than that, no one else gets a lot of face time but they still had their moments.

In fact, two of my favorite scenes come from these characters. The first one was a particularly funny scene where Linguini is told one of the chefs was in prison, but no one knows what for because he keeps changing the story. (Depending on who you ask, he either robbed a major bank using a ball point pen, or killed a man with just his thumb.) The second scene featured Anton Ego, a notorious critic whose bad review led to Gusteau’s disgrace. He returns and gives another review which sort of doubles as the film’s moral statement. It was a very well written and delivered brilliantly through Peter O’Toole’s voice acting, but the message and the opening statement itself in particularly apply painstakingly to me as a critic. It’s probably one of the best movie speeches I’ve ever heard, and this is coming from a guy who has seen both Patton and The Great Dictator. In the end, it’s those little things that really make this movie.

So all in all, Ratatouille is far from my favorite dish, but it was nonetheless still enjoyable and rather flavorful. The premise was clever, the characters share a great chemistry. It’s sweet and savory, rich with texture, and brings an exquisite variety to your palette.

I give Ratatouille 7/10

Eight down, five to go.

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