Ratatouille (2007) — A rather weak Pixar entrée

“If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow!”

Lissa’s rating: I recommend a nice Clos Pegas cabernet. So what if it’s not French or vintage? It’s a nice cab. Seriously. Check it out.

Lissa’s review: So, I was standing in line at the concession stand, intent on getting a bottle of water. Suddenly, my eyes landed on the nachos with fake cheese sauce, and I absolutely had to have some. Ah, the joys of pregnancy. I think we can all agree that theater nachos aren’t so much food as abominations on the face of humanity that might taste good in a guilty sort of way, but cause heartburn before the end credits roll. And I also think we can agree that it’s just inherently wrong to eat them when watching a movie about a rat who lives for gourmet cooking. Seriously — I nearly hurled a couple of times. But baby #2 insisted that he wanted more.

Anyway. Ratatouille is Pixar’s newest effort, about a rat named Remy who does not wish to subsist on garbage, but rather desires to be a gourmet cook. His ambition springs from two fundamental thoughts: 1.) he does not wish to steal food, but rather to create and to essentially earn his way through the world, and 2.) garbage tastes really gross. But obviously, rising from the rat kingdom is not all that easy. This becomes even more obvious when it becomes apparent that although we can understand Remy’s dialogue with rats perfectly well, the human characters in the movie can’t speak Rat, and Remy can’t really speak Human. (What a concept, huh?) But Remy, who is bright enough to know the difference between parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, is also bright enough to work out some communication with Alberto Linguini, the new garbage boy at Gusteau’s. Between Remy’s skills and Linguini’s humanity, they become the hottest new chef in Paris.

Add in the loving rat clan (including Remy’s father and brother), the hottie feminist chef Colette (Linguini’s love interest and voiced by Janeane Garofalo), sell-out head chef Skinner, and aptly named food critic Anton Ego, and you have all the ingredients for an interesting cast. And it is an interesting cast, as far as this sort of flick goes. It’s just….

Okay, I have to be honest. I really liked this movie, but there were some things that made it stand out to me that weren’t necessarily acting or plot or characters or creativity. Or funny. For the record, Ratatouille was not all that funny. (Very hard to have lots of good quotes when the lead squeaks for half the movie. However, I will say it has one of the funniest kisses I’ve ever seen.) But I will come out and say that I think this is the weakest movie Pixar has put out. Now, granted, “the weakest movie Pixar has put out” still means it’s better than 90% of the garbage out there, but it’s not up there with Toy Story or Monsters, Inc. or even Cars, which I’ve been watching an average of once a week. (Seriously, how can you not love the tractor tipping in Cars?) But it’s a bit flat and a bit uninspired, and the ending is rather rushed.

I think what made Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Cars, and especially Monsters, Inc. so much stronger was the creation of a world within (or without) a world. Those stories really created an alternate reality that might intersect a bit with ours, but for the most part, left the world we know out of the picture. Ratatouille (and The Incredibles, which I thought was on a similar level) incorporated their main characters into our world. But the joy of the other movies was seeing the creativity that the moviemakers used to create this whole other world. When Pixar attempts to take our world into its hands, it just doesn’t work as well. But it still works well enough to bear the Pixar label, so please don’t take this as me saying the movie is terrible. It’s not.

So let me quickly insert the bare bones right here: Ratatouille IS a Pixar movie, and it lives up to all that implies. Interesting characters, good story, and excellent animation. It’s a good movie. Now. Continuing on with my ruminations.

There’s another difference, too, between Ratatouille and the previous Pixar movies, although this difference I really liked. Previous Pixar movies, like all well-behaved Disney movies, essentially promote love and cooperation. In so many of them, the independent little hero is his own villain. Yes, there’s usually some other villain out there, but the emphasis is on cooperation and family and believing in others and how the hero needs to get their head out of their butt and appreciate what’s around them. Woody has to learn to share the spotlight with Buzz, and deal with aging gracefully. Flik has to find his place in the colony. Lightning McQueen learns the value of real friendship. The monsters learn that humans are sentient beings with feelings as well. However, Remy actually follows his dream. Instead of sacrificing any part of his goal to support the people he loves, Remy actually goes towards his dream, and that’s applauded by the moviemakers. It’s a show of individualism rather than emphasis on community, and for once, Remy has a community that comes around to supporting him, instead of him coming around to support the community.

The other thing I really enjoyed about Ratatouille was the fact that this movie was all about food and cooking. Not just food, but why I love food and why I love to cook. Some of the stuff doesn’t totally resonate with me, but one scene (when Ego takes his first bite of the titular dish) made me tear up because it was such a poignant expression of what food can mean and the effect it can have. Of course, I rarely get that nostalgic about my own mother’s cooking, but the point was still just perfectly made. I saw one critic compare that moment to the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes that day, and yeah. It’s the same feeling, the same sort of pointed, happy-but-heart-wrenching moment. It’s pure loveliness and genius of creative communication.

I would be curious to know how the kids liked it. There were some kids at the showing I went to, and they were quite talkative through the previews but shut up as soon as the movie started. Like I said earlier, I felt that this one was the weakest of Pixar’s movies, but I’m coming at it from a totally different perspective. I meant to stick around and hear what the kids have to say, but those theater nachos also came with a bucket of soda, and between drinking that and being pregnant I hadn’t a hope in the world of not bee-lining to the bathroom the second the credits began to roll. But, as I said before, weak Pixar still equals good movie, so this one’s worth seeing or renting when it comes out.

Bon appetit!

Didja notice?

  • The Bon Appetit poster on Gusteau’s office wall? Bon Appetit magazine actually ran a short article on the movie.
  • Despite the fact there’s no need to read the cookbook and the movie is set in France, Gusteau’s cookbook is written entirely in English? They might have gotten the units right, though.
  • Linguini wears Incredibles underwear!
  • Bomb Voyage doing streetwork.
  • Skinner the head cook vs. Remy the rat, the Skinner Box… connection or coincidence?
  • The infamous Pixar A-113 reference is on Git’s “earring.”
  • The Planet Express Pizza truck (which also appears in all Pixar movies) shows up on a bridge over the Seine.
  • When he arrives for his review at the reborn Gusteau’s, Anton Ego asks for a bottle of ’47 Château Cheval Blanc. Later in a close-up of his table, the label on the wine bottle (still later there are two bottles) clearly shows he was served Château Lafite-Rothschild of undeterminable vintage. The morons. (I didn’t remotely spot this, but I think it’s funny.)

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