Sunday, September 30, 2007

On Samuel Huntington and RATATOUILLE

A lot of modern CGI animated films are top heavy with post-modern self-referential jokes. They are too light on old-fashioned story-telling and winning characters. Against such a back-drop of depressingly formulaic and lazy movies, RATATOUILLE comes as a welcome relief. It's a movie that feels a little bit old-fashioned in its willingness to spend time with its characters and watch them develop. And while it does have some funny movie references and witty one-liners, it's more of a relationship drama than an all-out comedy.

The movie has three main themes. The first is a clash between our hero, a small rat called Remy (Patton Oswalt), and his dad. The dad is a Huntingtonian who believes that rats and humans can only live in a state of war. He thinks Remy should stop apeing human ways and being snobby about the food he eats, and stick to his roots. Remy, on the other hand, believes that there has to be an alternative to conflict. To that end, Remy takes a chance on a poor talentless kitchen-hand called Linguini (Lou Romano), helping him to become the most celebrated chef in Paris. Linguini by turns throws off his prejudice against rats and takes Remy into his home.

This brings up the second big theme of the film: "anyone can cook". In other words, who you are and where you come from don't matter. Talent can come from anywhere and should be acknowledged regardless. This theme is embodied in the character of the late Chef Gusteau - a wonderfully warm, comic creation, voiced by Brad Garrett. Gusteau is nicely contrasted with Chef Skinner (Ian Holm) - a mean little elitist who tries to foil Linguini and Remy's plans.

By far my favourite character was the scary food critic, Anton Ego, voiced by a brilliantly condescending Peter O'Toole. Ego allows the movie to nicely comment on the relationship between critic and artist and brings a strange maturity and intelligence to a children's film. I quote his final speech, with which I heartily agree: "In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new."

RATATOUILLE has heart and intelligence and patience. Rare qualities indeed. But it is not without its longeurs. I also question the necessity of featuring so much gun violence early on (you could have made similar visual jokes with the old women throwing things at the rats). I was also rather surprised to find a major plot point in a kids film revolving around DNA testing. Perhaps I am too naive about what kids can handle?

RATATOUILLE opened in the US, Chile, Russia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Belgiu,, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Israel, Mexico, Paraguay, France, Japan, Peru, Uruguay the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Hong Kong, Hungary, Spain, Taiwan, Venezuela, Estonia, Australia, Iceland, Indonesia, Kuwait, Portugal, Malaysia, Slovenia, Egypt, India, Turkey, Lithuania, Singapore and Slovakia in summer 2007. It is currently playing in Norway and opens in Germany and Denmark next week. It opens in the UK on October 12th and in Italy, Finland and Sweden the following week. RATATOUILLE will be released on Region 1 DVD on November 6th 2007.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, and think that Pixar movies generally have had an edge over the competition in terms of the quality of their animated feature films. I heard some people in the industry say, "they had this computer technology first, that's why they've been successful" - but IMO this misses the point entirely (and it becomes clear watching Pixar movies): Pixar focuses on telling a great story!

    Here's what Pixar's (now Disney's) John Lasseter and Steve Jobs had to say about it in 1996: