Ratatouille - Valentine's Day Review
It goes without saying that Pixar has become one of the most prestigious film studios that has ever been established. With its ingenuity in filmmaking, it delivered quality films that continually pushed the envelope in animation and reached out to many people, both children and adults alike.
In honor of both Valentine’s Day and, fittingly enough, the year of the rat, I’ll take this opportunity to talk about one of the best and most charming, sophisticated, and, to my surprise, underrated films ever made by Pixar: Ratatouille.
The story is about a rat named Remy, who was tired of stealing and eating garbage with his family and clan. This came about after he had a craving for cooking good food, much to the disdain of his father, Django, and his brother, Emile, who both knew that cooking and good food were human qualities, and that humans and rats normally never mixed.
After a tragic mishap split Remy from his family, he found himself in Paris and, coincidentally, in front of Gusteau’s, a top-ranking French restaurant formerly run by the late famed chef – and Remy's idol – Auguste Gusteau. After being spotted in the restaurant, Remy was caught by the clumsy garbage boy, Linguini, and once Linguini refused to kill him, a bond started to develop between them.
Because Remy was desperate to cook, and Linguini was desperate to hold onto his job at Gusteau’s, they devised a plan to keep up appearances with Linguini progressively demonstrating some cooking skills under Remy's guidance. In so doing, the foods they cooked together started to become successful, to the point where they caused the public attention on Gusteau’s restaurant to resurge. Meanwhile, the owner of the restaurant, a dwarfish man named Skinner, started to grow suspicious over Linguini’s newfound cooking talents, not helped by the fact that he accurately assumed that Linguini was in cahoots with the rat, which Skinner ordered him to kill earlier.
Now, the first thing I love about this movie that I’ll bring into discussion was its glorification of artistry in general. Yes, the movie was about the culinary arts – and the food being cooked in the movie did look absolutely delicious – but what I adore about its exploration is that if you take its themes of cooking and replace it with a different form of art, it would almost make no difference. Take, for example, one of Remy‘s arguments about cooking:
Rats! All we do is take, Dad. I’m tired of taking. I want to make things! I want to add something to this world!
Or how about Colette‘s argument?
So, you see, we are artists, pirates, more than cooks, are we?
Try to reflect on those quotations and tell me you don't see them striking a chord with anyone aspiring to make great art. Really, I dare you.
Second, the characters were all unique in personality and identifiable in their own way.
You have Remy, the hero. Being a rat, he came to acknowledge why his species was so generally reviled by humans. Nevertheless, that was what made him want to reject what rats do for a living and continue to pursue his dreams of being a chef, even if the world wouldn’t have been as kind to his aspirations.
Linguini, the garbage boy Remy met, was a total goofball who was trying to fit in and make a living for himself, especially after getting hired into Gusteau‘s kitchen. And once he started to cook with Remy‘s help, the movie continually asked us, does Linguini have what it takes to be a great cook, just like Remy does? This was constantly brought into question as both the movie and their friendship progressed.
Skinner, the owner of Gusteau’s and former sous chef of Auguste Gusteau himself, was selfish and weaselly, as demonstrated both by his envy of Linguini’s rise in culinary expertise and his plan to promote a frozen food product line under Gusteau’s name. His suspicion over the rat having a role in Linguini’s cooking did make him threatening, while his growing obsession and paranoia over it made him, in equal measure, a laugh riot.
Colette, the sole female chef in Gusteau’s, was pretty, skillful, resourceful, and especially feisty, making her a perfect foil for Linguini. She became even more interesting when you learned about how she came into Gusteau’s, and especially when she started expressing a multi-facetedness to her character. And the more she was with Linguini, the more I, the viewer, wanted to see them get together.
The kitchen staff? Man, if you thought the war comrades from Mulan were a colorful burst of energy, these guys were just genuine, diverse, and debonair. They may not have said or done much outside of operating in Gusteau's kitchen, but what they did say and do in the movie still made them leave an impression. It also helped that Colette gave Linguini a brief summary of the backgrounds of most of them. Lalo, the saucier, formally worked in the circus as an acrobat only to be laid off shortly afterwards. Pompidou, the chef de partie, was banned from Las Vegas and Monte Carlo, possibly from unhealthy gambling habits. LaRousse was a former participant of an allegedly unsuccessful resistance, giving him a rough demeanor. Mustafa, voiced by John Ratzenberger (I'll get to him soon), was the head waiter of the restaurant, and always left an impression with his charming personality. Horst was the current sous chef with a German accent, and out of all the chefs' backgrounds, he had possibly the most mysterious, and ironically, the funniest out of all of them. It was said that he served jail time, but whenever he was asked what for, he changed the story every single time. As in:
"I defrauded a major corporation."
"I robbed the second largest bank in France using only a ballpoint pen."
"I created a hole in the ozone over Avignon."
"I killed a man...with this thumb."
That is hilariously intimidating.
Even Remy’s family was unique individually. Django, Remy‘s father, constantly forbade Remy from venturing into cooking, leading to bickers brewing about between them. Now, it was because he had the mentality of “cooking is bad”, right? Nope. It was really out of fear of the humans, and he wanted to make sure that Remy wouldn’t have ventured into areas where he’d be seen as nothing more than a pest. Which begs the question: where is Remy's mother? Whatever happened to her, did she have something to do with Django’s view of the humans?
Next, you have Emile, Remy’s brother. He was a little clueless, but also very observant whenever Remy did something that seemed out of the ordinary to him. He was also charming whenever he ate anything he could get his hands on – even if it was garbage – resulting in him getting lectured by Remy on what to eat and what not to eat.
Finally, there’s Anton Ego, the #1 food critic of France.
An incredibly slim character, he was very mysterious, and also notorious for giving Gusteau’s restaurant, at the time a five-star restaurant, a condemning review that ended up taking away one of its stars. Gusteau, devastated by this critical attack, passed away shortly afterwards, resulting in one more star being taken away, and reducing Gusteau’s from a five-star restaurant into a three-star restaurant. This added another level of ominousness to Ego’s character while refraining from tinkering around with his character’s unpredictability.
Another aspect of the movie I love is its balance of moods. And when I say balance of moods, I don’t mean joyful and sad, I’m thinking more like childlike and adult. Remy‘s side of the story, with his dreams, his family, their views of their lives and those of the humans, could all easily be treated as elements to please the kids with. And Linguini’s side of the story, with his dilemmas, his coworkers, the restaurant, and all the circumstances surrounding them, gave off a surprisingly sophisticated tone that adults would really respect and admire.
What do I mean by sophisticated? Well...you know those movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and how they managed to pack so many layers into their stories and even through their characters? And all with little to no sex, language, or violence?
Well, I don't know if it was because of the atmosphere, the dialogue, the dialect, the circumstances, the characters, or whatever, but that's the general mood I felt as I watched these scenes, and also, as a result, as I watched the movie.
Another big plus about this balance is that when Remy started to establish his talent for cooking at Gusteau’s, this could be seen as another form of growing up and letting out the real you. This kind of transition was very subtle and very cleverly handled.
The voice acting? Once again, just like The Lion King, it is just a smorgasbord of home runs. What I’m about to mention here about them are just the standouts.
Patton Oswalt, the voice of Remy, gave his character his own sense of modesty and expertise, while his nasality, if that's what it was, added to his charm and likability.
Lou Romano really went all out there as Linguini. He allowed his character to grow with sensibility in some scenes, and in others, he allowed him to flourish at his goofiest. And, this type of comedic personality, when put alongside that of Remy, made them look like misfits and a perfect pair.
Ian Holm, from what I could tell, was just having a ball as Skinner. He managed to sink into his character's rascally nature perfectly, and his voice and outbursts expressed through his character's French accent continually made him hilarious.
But it’s another story with Janeane Garofolo as Collette. When she expressed her voice through Colette’s French accent, it made her character look and act rougher around the edges. At the same time, of course, whenever she spoke more mellowly, it allowed Colette to express a hidden sensibility that meshed well with that of Linguini, and thus add further cuteness to their budding romance.
John Ratzenberger, the Pixar voice veteran, actually outdid himself when emulating the French accent of the waiter, Mustafa. His voice was so distinguishable that I didn’t even know it was that actor until much later.
And who can forget the legendary Peter O’Toole as Anton Ego? His voice always came across as gravelly, not to mention aggressive whenever he was agitated. More impressively, he didn’t even mesh his voice to emulate a French accent; he just established his character with his natural British accent, adding further uniqueness to Anton Ego. Combine it all with his unnerving radiancy, and O’Toole made Ego establish himself with a presence every time he’s around or even mentioned.
The animation and backgrounds were beyond impressive. All the characters, rats and humans alike, moved with the utmost naturalness, and the details on the hair, the cloth, and even on the locations were perfect. And speaking of locations, they were not only culturally on point, but they were modeled, rendered, and presented with an overflowing sense of atmosphere, which I think was one of the greatest strengths of the movie. Whenever you watch it, whether the scene was set in the French countryside, or Paris, or Gusteau‘s, or even Gusteau’s kitchen, they made you feel like you were standing with the characters in these locations.
The music by Michael Giacchino was very soft, very mellow, aggressive in the dramatic moments without going over the top, and most importantly, it captured the French and Parisian eloquence and grace without missing a beat. It even got a nice helping of a French song that, when translated into English, tied nicely into the theme of the movie.
I especially want to congratulate Brad Bird on the story; I love how well mapped-out it was. Coming in, you would have had the right idea of this being an underdog story about a rat and an amateur garbage boy banding together and making a name for themselves in the culinary world. But here’s the big surprise: everything I told you so far about the movie's story was only the first third of the movie, and I fear that to elaborate further on the movie beyond that point would only give away some important plot points. You just have to see it for yourself. All I can say is that the rest of the movie from there was just one twist and turn after another, and they took the movie into more different directions than you’d expect it to go and made it feel far more refreshing.
My only nitpick about this movie – and it’s a really tiny one – is that the ending, while perfect, also felt a bit too bittersweet. But it’s not the same way you think it’ll be bittersweet. At the same time, however, and without giving anything away, I also acknowledged that it evoked change and aroused some standout moments, so I guess this was a good thing, and not a bad way to go.
Ah, mon dieu, you can already tell by now, can’t you? I absolutely love this movie. Its message, though focused on food, was versatilely inspiring, the characters were delightful, the animation was marvelous, the atmosphere transported you to its locations, and the story defied expectations. It sadly may not be one of the most famous Pixar movies in the eyes of others, but as far as personal favorite movies go, this might be swimming around in my top ten.
Be my guest – nay, do me a favor – and watch Ratatouille. It will leave you with your jaw dropping and your mouth watering.
— Funny thing is, I caught two flaws in Skinner's proposition for a frozen food product line: one, frozen foods are second rate compared to the gourmet food that Gusteau's made its name for. Not helping was that fact that the frozen foods would've thematically gone international. Which leads to two: one of the products, "Tooth Pick'n Chicken", looks like a KFC knockoff, doesn't it to you?
— Bear in mind that we, the viewers, don’t hear the entirety of Ego’s initial review of Gusteau’s restaurant. All we even hear of it in the movie was the conclusion, which read:
Gusteau has finally found his rightful place in history right alongside another equally famous chef, Monsieur Boyardee.
Man, that must have hurt.
— *SPOILER ALERT*
The argument between Remy and Linguini following Linguini's press conference and surprise meeting with Ego actually left me unsure who to trust more. I wasn't sure if I should've been angry at Remy for being too full of himself and being jealous of Collette, or at Linguini for being cocky, standoffish, and neglectful under his newfound connections and fame. What made it even more interesting was that no one had the right reasons for their arguments, and when it got to be too much, they both learned from their mistakes. Except while Linguni learned from his soon enough to attempt to apologize to Remy for it, Remy got so in over his head with his actions in response to Linguini's behavior that he learned from his mistakes too late. The more I thought about it, and no pun intended, this served as a really good example of an ego clash, especially for kids.