Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Film: Ratatouille
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ll come right out and say this off the top: I have a pet rat. His name is Captain Guacamole. We used to have Mr. Chips, too, but we lost him in February. I’m a pro-rat person, so in some ways, the success of Ratatouille doesn’t surprise me. I think the little guys are lovable and a lot of fun to have around. Guac likes being held, he’s surprisingly smart and affectionate, and an all-around awesome pet. I’ll probably always have rats because they’re fun critters. But I also realize that I’m in the minority, and that making a movie about a rat seems like a stretch to most people despite Flushed Away from Dreamworks the year before.

Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a rat living in France and like most rats, he loves food. But Remy isn’t content to eat garbage; he wants to eat good food and wants to cook like his hero Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett). This puts him at odds with the rest of his huge rat clan, but his highly developed senses allow him to detect rat poison in food, making him the official food tester for the family. When the family’s lair is discovered, they are forced to flee. Remy is separated from the rest of the family and ends up in Gusteau’s restaurant, a paradise of food.

Gusteau, an acclaimed chef, has died and the restaurant has passed into the hands of his former sous chef Skinner (Ian Holm). The word is that Gusteau died from a broken heart caused by the restaurant losing a star at the hands of food critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole). Young Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano) has just been hired as a garbage boy in the restaurant, not knowing that he is actually Gusteau’s son and thus the rightful heir to the restaurant.

The problem is that Linguini can’t cook. When he spills a pot of soup, he attempts to fix it, but Remy notices the problem and actually creates a new soup. Linguini gets the credit for this , much to Skinner’s consternation. When Linguini figures out that it was actually Remy doing the cooking, the two come up with a pact. They figure out a way for Remy to control Linguini’s actions so that Remy is actually doing the cooking in the restaurant kitchen while everyone else thinks it’s Linguini. With the soup a hit, Skinner puts Linguini under the tutelage of Colette Tatou (Janeane Garafolo), the kitchen’s only female chef.

What’s very interesting to me about Ratatouille is that it doesn’t follow a typical narrative structure for an animated film. There is no big problem to solve that gets worked out at the end. Linguini finds out that he’s the heir to the restaurant not at the culmination of the film but in the middle. There is no real conflict driving the movie until the last half hour. Instead, the bulk of the film is about the two worlds that Remy lives in, the conflict between what he is and what he wants to be. That conflict is demonstrated to us by seeing him in the kitchen cooking under Linguini’s toque and in the conversations he has with his brother Emile (Peter Sohn) and their father Django (Brian Dennehy).

One of the things Pixar does better than any other animation studio and generally better than any other film studio in general is create moments of emotional perfection. Ratatouille has one of those moments. It comes when Anton Ego returns to Gusteau’s restaurant to try the cooking of the new chef. His first taste of the title dish is a moment of beauty, of such emotional depth that I continually find myself surprised at how well it works. It works not just because it takes us into Ego’s past, but because it shows in a few seconds how important our connections are to food and how much food means to us. On a base level, food is nourishment. On a much more important level, though, food connects to our memory, to our past, to other people. Food is tied to what makes us who we are, and Ratatouille, without expressing it overtly, drives that message home in a few seconds of screen time.

It’s interesting that last month I commented that just last month I attacked Dreamworks for essentially trying to capitalize on Finding Nemo with Shark Tale the next year. In a way, it could be taken that Ratatouille attempted to piggyback on Flushed Away, a movie about a rat. But that really doesn’t feel like the case. I actually enjoyed Flushed Away, but there’s a reason that if you say the words “movie about a rat” people will think of Ratatouille first. This is what Pixar does. They take a subject that shouldn’t work and they make it magic. Ratatouille is that.

Why to watch Ratatouille: Because rats are awesome and this is surprisingly sweet.
Why not to watch: You’re the type of person biased against rats.


  1. I liked Flushed Away, too, but you hardly ever hear anyone mention it.

    This film probably has the most sympathetic portrait of a critic I have ever seen. Sure, they have some fun with the idea of him destroying people (i.e. the coffin shaped room he writes his reviews in), but his response to why he's a critic if he hates food is one that I'm sure every critic in every line of work has received and that the movie response is one they wish they had been able to articulate as simply and as well.

    I agree the big moment is him tasting the food and there's a simple but very effective visual to illustrate his connection to it.

    I don't have anything specific for or against rats, but there was one scene in the film that made me shudder. It's when the whole group of rats (side note: find out what a group of rats is called) are shown from above (about human height) running into the kitchen on the floor. It's a very brief scene, maybe a second or two, but it took me out of the "look at the cute rats" mindset into the "uhhh, a whole bunch of rats just ran right by my feet" mindset for a few seconds.

    1. A group of rats is called (favorably) a pack or a colony. Less favorably, it's swarm or a plague.

      I get that impression in that scene, and I'll admit that if I walked into a kitchen and saw rats running around, I would immediately lose my appetite and run the hell away. But domesticated rats are great little pets, so I'm predisposed to at least give them the benefit of the doubt.

      I love the food tasting moment. It's such a great Pixar moment.

  2. I think Ratatouille is one of Pixar's best. Paris is beautifully realized and the French-themed music complements the mood so well that I can't think of the movie's scenery without also hearing the music. And you're absolutely right about the moment of "emotional perfection". Wonderful. In a subtle visual cue, Ego's pallor slightly changes from gray to a human shade during that moment.

    The only thing that I wonder about is why Remy chooses to cook Ratatouille. It seems coincidental. I wonder if they cut out a scene where Remy, being a rat, happens to overhear information that Ego has a connection to the dish. Or is it because it has Rat in the name?

    An animated food movie with rats that makes you hungry for the beautifully realized food. That's quite an accomplishment.

    1. That I put Ratatouille more in the middle of the pack for Pixar movies says less about this movie than it doesn about Pixar's overall quality. There's a lot here to like, and the fact that it's about both rats and food and works perfectly is just another indication of how good Pixar is when it's on its game.

      The movie doesn't really go into why Remy picks what he does. I've watched enough cooking shows, though, to know that the best way to impress any foodie is to cook something simple and basic as well as it can be cooked. It's not about flash, but about the soul poured into the food.