Today I needed something that wasn’t depressing to write about and since trying to make sense of Sucker Punch was something too depressing to even think about, I decided that I’m going to blog my way through the films of Pixar, starting with Ratatouille because it’s the one film made by Pixar I own. These will be a bit more sporadic than The Great 90’s Animated Film Project, but it will still provide me with a reason to update this blog.
So let’s begin.
If there is a recurring theme in the animated films of Brad Bird it would be that the protagonists have to struggle between who they are deep down and what society or their families want them to be. In The Iron Giant, there’s the struggle between the Giant being a killing machine—the thing he was designed to be and what the military perceves him as—and being Superman, a hero. In The Incredibles, which I will be writing more about later, a family of superheroes has to deal with having to keep their identities hidden. In Ratatouille, Remy (Patton Oswalt), a rat with a keen sense of smell and taste, has to deal with being a simple rat like his dad (Brian Dennehy) wants him to be and following his love and passion for food that leads him to being a chef.
After being forced from their home, Remy is split from his clan of rats and finds himself in a sewer, talking to deceased famed French chef Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett), before he wanders around and finds himself in Paris, leading himself to Gusteau’s eponymous restaurant. There, he finds garbage boy Linguine (Lou Romano) messing with the soup, although Remy knows that the soup is being ruined. Remy saves the soup and even a critic at the restaurant loves it, which means Linguine gets to be more than a simple garbage boy. However, since Linguine has no talent, Remy has to find a way to make wonderful food. Meanwhile, the chef of the restaurant, Skinner (Ian Holm), becomes suspicious of both Linguine and the presence of the rat. As word of the restaurant’s reinvention spreads Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole), a feared restaurant critic, decides to review the restaurant again.
The two main characters, Linguine and Remy, both want to do something that will bring themselves to better than their current positions. Remy is a rat and because of who he is, his gifts and love of food are left to only be used for checking for poison in his colony. It could be interpreted that he uses Linguine as a method of putting himself in a higher position. But Remy tries to save the food because he knows he can. He could have walked away from helping Linguine as evidenced in a scene in the film, but decides to help Linguine, mostly because the restaurant is counting on Linguine to be good again. As for Linguine, it seems as though he does try to be a chef, even though he knows he isn’t a very good one, by messing with the soup early in the film. Even though Remy has to control him while cooking, it always seems as though Linguine, as clumsy and shy as he is, tries to make himself better as a person and as someone connected to the restaurant industry.
It could also be argued that the antagonist in this film, Skinner, is also trying to raise himself from his position. He could simply be the head chef and owner of Gusteau’s, but instead he is overseeing mass-produced microwave dinners bearing the late chef’s name. Skinner is greedy, conniving and insecure. Allegedly, Linguine is Gusteau’s son, which would mean that if he is the son of the late chef, Skinner loses the restaurant and his line of microwave dinners. His drive to get what he wants—which is Remy for most of the film—is what ultimately leads to his downfall, similar to Kent Mansley in another Bird film, The Iron Giant. (Although Skinner is less cowardly than Mansley.)
While some might find talking rodents with big dreams to be a cliche in animated films, Ratatouille manages to find the humanity and heart in this idea—although the only characters Remy actually speaks to are other rodents and Gusteau as a figment of his imagination. The film has the voiceover artists playing the characters, not themselves, notably with the character of Colette, the only female cook, who is voiced by Janeane Garofolo. The character has a thick, authentic-sounding French accent and does not sound like how Garofolo sounds in real life. As with any Pixar film, the film is incredibly detailed, particularly with the look of rat hair that has been soaked in water and the wear of the pans in the kitchen. But the film also has incredibly expressive characters who say volumes through the slight movement of an eye, the raising of eyebrows, the shrugging of shoulders or the sneer of a critic.
And as for the critic, he is the character that seems to change the most. Up until the final three scenes of the film, Ego embodies the stereotypical critic, snide, condescending, dismissive and witty—Ego has some of the best lines such as suggesting a wine that would pair well with a fresh perspective and a beautiful review of the restaurant. But by the final scene, Ego has changed because of a dish prepared exquisitely. While some forms of storytelling have characters that don’t change at all or simply revert to their old ways, this is a film that has a character who changes drastically in one scene in a way that makes sense and seems logical to the viewer.
The beauty of Ratatouille is that as detailed as it is with vivid, realistic characters is that it seems simple. With many of Pixar’s films, all of the characters, regardless of if it’s a bug, a superhero, a toy, a robot, or a rat are relatable and feel like people you know. It draws you into the world, making you forget for you’re watching what is deemed to be a children’s movie.
(I’m sorry if this analysis seems scattered tonight. I started it on Wednesday and have been writing it over the past two days. It won’t happen with the other films.)