Thursday, March 15, 2012

100 Movies - No. 76: Ratatouille

76. Ratatouille (2007)
Animation, Comedy, Family, 111 minutes
Directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava
Starring the voices of Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Janeane Garofalo and Ian Holm 

Remy (Oswalt) is a young rat with an enhanced sense of taste and smell. When he saves his dad from eating food laced with poison, he’s given a job as food tester for the whole colony. Remy quickly becomes bored with the job and dreams of better things. After seeing a TV cooking show, he decides that he would like to be a chef. Unfortunately, he’s almost killed by the TVs owner and the entire colony is discovered and forced to leave her house.

Remy is separated from his family and talks to an illustration of Gusteau, the TV chef, because he’s alone and there’s nobody else to talk to. When he discovers Gusteau’s restaurant, he finds that he knows the function of every member of the staff. Remy gets into trouble when entering the kitchen, but he adds ingredients to the soup and the customers love it. He’s discovered when trying to leave and Linguini (Romano), the kitchen boy, is told to kill him. But the worried look on Remy’s face stops Linguini in his tracks and he realizes that Remy fixed the soup. The two decide to work together.

Although Remy can be understood by other rats, that’s not the case with humans. Instead, he uses gestures to communicate and is very expressive. His tiny shrugs and nods are easy to understand. Quite by accident, Remy discovers that he can control Linguini by pulling at strands of his hair. The two practice at home and come up with a plan to do the same at the restaurant. He hides under Linguini’s hat and continues to prepare food by controlling him.

The story is well thought out and quite complex in places for an animated film. The 111-minute running time is necessary to show everything in detail. The streets of Paris look real and it’s clear that the Pixar team researched the setting thoroughly. 

Linguini is trained by Colette (Garofalo) and starts to develop feelings for her, but it’s Remy’s skill that wins the approval of the restaurant’s customers. Linguini is deeply resented by the head chef (Holm), who knows that Linguini is Gusteau’s son and the restaurant’s rightful owner. The problem is, Linguini doesn’t know that.

The film is full of peril, chase scenes and humor, and has a little action. The characters are well developed and Remy is easy to like. It’s challenging to make a rat appear friendly and lovable, but Pixar somehow pulls it off. Remy is always happy and smiling and chooses to walk upright on two feet. I think that was done to make him appear more like a human and less like a rat. He’s also very particular about cleanliness and washes his paws before preparing any food.

The restaurant eventually captures the attention of food critics and is visited by Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole), who is the most famous critic of them all. He’s hard to impress and had written off Gusteau’s as insignificant years ago, but decides to see why it’s become relevant again. One of my favorite scenes happens in the restaurant when Ego takes his first bite of food, but I’ll let you discover what happens for yourself.

The film has a lot of important messages. It shows us that it’s wrong to steal and that family is important. But most of all, it’s about following your dreams. Remy is a rat. How can he possibly become a chef? Even if he did, how could he succeed? I imagine that children watching the film could be inspired by Remy’s achievements. Maybe a few will grow up wanting to be chefs, and they are rarely out of work.

The level of detail in the animation is impressive. Look at the scratches on the cooking utensils and notice how the kitchen staff have tiny little scars from preparing food. The early scene where the horde is discovered has a cast of hundreds.

As well as visual detail, the story includes a lot of information about cooking. You will actually learn the role of each member of the kitchen staff. How many animated stories bother to go to such lengths? 

I can’t watch the film without thinking about Hans Landa’s speech in Inglourious Basterds where he asks Perrier LaPadite what his reaction would be if a rat entered his home. How would that differ if a squirrel were to enter? It’s true that humans often have a problem with rats, and many of us actually fear them. It’s quite an achievement to invent a rat that we like and root for as he attempts to live out his dream. Why is it so much easier for people to like Mickey Mouse?

All of Pixar’s movies are worth owning, but Ratatouille just edges out Up as my favorite. If they ever decide to do another sequel, I hope that we get another story about Remy. Watching his smiling face and happy demeanor is quite uplifting. He's easily my favorite Pixar character.
Ratatouille is aimed at older audiences more than the likes of Cars and A Bug’s Life, but children will still be able to enjoy it.

If you like Ratatouille:

Every Pixar movie is worth owning. One of the most common objections I hear when suggesting an animated movie to adults is that the story is too childish. That's often the case with some studios, but not Pixar. I almost chose Up over Ratatouille. The two are close to perfect in my mind. Up has a silent montage early in the film that could move many adults to tears. It also includes themes such as old age and absent parents. That said, there's plenty of content that appeals to children.

Monsters Inc. is also worth mentioning. It focuses on two monsters and a small girl, and the scenes involving the three can be extremely touching.

I have shown Ratatouille, Up and Monsters Inc. to people in their 50s and 60s, and every one of them found something to like. Pixar's films are not only suitable for the whole family, they have something that appeals to people of all ages.

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  1. I loved your list but now I love it even more. Ratatouille is not only my favorite animated picture, it's one of my favorite films, period. I freakin' love it.

  2. I love the way Remy is drawn. The smile and the little gestures. The only only animated films that I like more are some of the Hayao Miyazaki titles, but I would still give Ratatouille 5/5.

  3. Unlike so many people who seem to dismiss Ratatouille as one of Pixar's lesser films, it immediately became one of my favourites. I still love A Bug's Life and Finding Nemo but this one is right up there with them as Pixar's finest.

  4. Hi Dan,

    Yes, Ratatouille seems to have something for everyone. I rank it just ahead of Up. Monsters Inc. would be behind that. I own and like everything from Pixar though.

    If I could choose a Pixar sequel, it would definitely be Ratatouille.