HE’S DYING TO BECOME A CHEF.
When creating the concept for Ratatouille, director Brad Bird got help from Thomas Keller, a distinguished chef. He advised the director on what goes on in the busy kitchen of a successful, classy restaurant and also had a few culinary tips up his sleeve, including the design of the ratatouille served at a climactic moment in the film. As much as we enjoy the story, performances and laughs, we also need to be enchanted by the appearance and scents worthy of Paris and a potentially five-star kitchen.
A rat who’s also a dreamer
We’re introduced to Remy, a rat who lives with his colony somewhere on the French countryside. Remy is a dreamer, a fellow who looks up on humans and sees them as creatures who do things rather than steal them; the latter is how he views himself and his family. Inspired by the legendary Paris chef Gusteau who once said that anyone can cook, Remy (who has an advanced sense of smell) wants to be that “anyone”. However, one fateful night when he and his brother Emile are looking for saffron in an old lady’s kitchen, they’re discovered and the ensuing commotion forces the entire colony to evacuate. Remy is separated from Emile and their father, but ends up in Paris via the sewers – in fact, very close to Gusteau’s restaurant.
The chef has passed away and the eatery is now run by the sadistic and uninventive Skinner. One of his cooks has just hired a garbage boy, Alfredo Linguini, the son of a former employee. When Linguini accidentally screws up a soup, Remy does his best to repair the damage when no one’s watching. The soup impresses one of the guests to the degree that Skinner reluctantly hires Linguini as an apprentice chef, thinking he was the one who made wonders. Linguini knows better and when he realizes that Remy not only can cook but understands what he says, they make a deal. Soon, Gusteau is wowing Paris again… but will Skinner learn what’s going on?
Infatuation with Paris, and cooking
That old Disney concept of humanizing cute animals remains intact, but do we really mind? This is one animated film that works equally well for kids and adults without resorting to gags that no child will understand; expect a smorgasbord of wisecracks for grownups and you will be disappointed. Director Bird shows an infatuation not only with Paris and the art of cooking, but with what could best be described as the 1960s (just like he did in The Incredibles). Adding to the charm, it’s a Paris that doesn’t really exist anymore (if it ever did). The atmosphere also benefits from Michael Giacchino’s music; he’s written a very warm and infectious score, perhaps his most accomplished yet.
The characters and the actors who give them life are all very amusing; Patton Oswalt is likable as the gifted rat, Ian Holm deliversa broad interpretation (including the accent) of the scheming Skinner and Peter O’Toole is absolutely fabulous as Anton Ego, the most revered and feared restaurant critic who writes his reviews in a coffin-shaped room; I love how every word he speaks appears to soak in poison.
The story might be a tad overlong, which happens sometimes in Bird’s films, but it isn’t simple and predictable. It needs time to unfold and I applaud the director’s constant efforts to resist dumbing it down and use the opportunity to tell a somewhat complicated story in an animated film.
Near the end of the movie, Anton Ego discusses the fate of the critic. We may wield power over whoever offers up their work for judgment and we take delight in nasty remarks because they’re fun to write and read… but in the end not even the best of reviews are remembered. The films are though, and one of them will undoubtedly be Ratatouille.
Ratatouille 2007-U.S. Animated. 111 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Brad Lewis. Written and directed by Brad Bird. Music: Michael Giacchino. Voices of Patton Oswalt (Remy), Ian Holm (Skinner), Lou Romano (Alfredo Linguini), Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn, Peter O’Toole… Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, James Remar, Brad Bird, John Ratzenberger.
Trivia: Co-executive produced by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton.
Oscar: Best Animated Feature. BAFTA: Best Animated Film. Golden Globe: Best Animated Film.
Quote: “I haven’t reviewed Gusteau’s in years! If I remember, I left it condemned to the tourist trade. Here it is. I wrote, ‘Finally, chef Gusteau has found his rightful place in history alongside another equally famous chef – Monsieur Boyardee.’ That was where I left it. That was my last word – THE last word. Then tell me, Ambrister, how can it be POPULAR?” (O’Toole to his assistant (Brad Bird), questioning Gusteau’s recent success)
Last word: “They had trouble – everybody loved the idea and they loved the look of it and the cast of character types and all the possibilities of the premise but they were having trouble getting the story to coalesce. It kept wanting to go off in too many different directions and a little over a year and a half ago the Pixar founders John Lassiter, Ed Catmull and Steve Jobs asked me to come on the project, write a new script and kind of get in onto the big screen. So my motivation at first was respect for these amazing, really genius guys through some fluke of nature happened to get together and make a company that is actually an amazing place so I wanted to help them out in any way I could. Then my next motivation was oh my God, what have I done. I agreed to the original schedule – ahhh! It was complete fear and that so I just went through it. I described it to somebody else as driving down the freeway the wrong way and just trying to live and make a movie that made sense and fulfilled all the possibilities of [original story writer Jan Pinkava’s] brilliant premise and just survive. We just finished it a couple of weeks ago and I’m still just… heart beating from not dying in my freeway maneuver.” (Bird, Collider)