Everybody seems to be in agreement that PIXAR has a back catalogue that is pretty near perfect. It wouldn’t be until Cars 2 in 2011 that they would finally provide something that the general public would deem Not Up To Standard, but that’s 4 films from here. So where, I ask you, is the love for Ratatouille? Why was it held in such high esteem at the time but seems now to get much less recognition than the likes of Toy Story or Wall-E? I’m not sure I can’t answer that question, but I’m taking a look at it regardless.
We follow Remy the rat as he is separated from his family, and finds himself the assistant of a Parisian garbage boy as he becomes a successful chef. Once again, we find ourselves at the mercy of director Brad Bird and, once again, he delivers a solid film. Ratatouille doesn’t shy away from society’s views on rats, including it as a message throughout the film, including a rat killing store featuring dead rats. On top of this, the film opens with Remy being shot at, which immediately puts him on the back foot. Remy is constantly fighting to be appreciated, first by his father, then by his new human friend Alfredo Linguine, and eventually by the inhabitants of Paris. He is already considered strange in his family because he has a heightened sense of smell and taste, meaning he actually has an appreciation for the food he eats instead of the trash consumed by the rest of his family. It’s a unique premise, and one that isolates our tiny protagonist immediately, but this doesn’t mean that when he finally meets Linguine that he stops being alone. Linguine has his own issues to work through, and because he can’t speak rat, can’t fully appreciate what Remy is going through. For those moments when Remy is truly alone, he is joined by a figment of his imagination in the form of Paris’ (now deceased) top chef Auguste Gusteau. Not only does this stop Remy from having to talk to himself, but it also provides a fun dynamic and entertaining character.
Each character is unique, regardless of how large their role in the plot is. Linguine may be our main human character, but his eventual love interest Colette is just as, if not more, memorable. She is an extraordinarily passionate cook and one of the toughest women you’ll ever see on screen. Then there’s the kitchen staff including Horst, who supposedly once killed a man with his thumb, and Harousse, who is banned from several casinos in Las Vegas. Our main villain is Chef Skinner, who is now in charge of Gusteau’s restaurant and cares only about profit. He is the only person to figure out that Linguine is in cahoots with Remy but, since he can prove it, becomes increasingly frustrated. On top of this, he is vertically challenged and voiced by the wonderful Ian Holmes. Usually PIXAR villains are downright evil, but Skinner is just a man seeking money. As a result, I think most of the joy from watching him comes down to some schadenfreude. We take just a hint of joy from watching someone else suffer, especially if that person is seen as a villain, but on the other hand he is a capitalist so maybe he deserves it. My favourite character ends up being one of the “lesser” roles and Paris’ biggest food critic- Anton Ego. Gustaeu’s belief, and indeed the message of Ratatouille, is that anyone can cook. Ego wholeheartedly disagrees. He has this strong presence every time he enters the frame, and you couldn’t have found someone better to portray that than the legendary Peter O’Toole. Of course, in the end, he learns that anyone can cook, but only a few can be truly great. This leads to a beautifully delivered monologue about criticism, and the people who choose that as a career. It really drove home to me the very reason that Shakesqueer exists because while criticism is easy, it takes effort to focus on the positives.
Ratatouille may hold the designation of a children’s film but it really doesn’t treat itself like one. Not only does it have some rather dark moments, but it’s shot like a proper blockbuster movie. The cinematography is something truly special, and that is apparent from the very first frame. We open on a slow pan towards a cottage whilst the film’s title fades onto the screen. That is a shot that could have come straight from a period piece, but it’s here in Ratatouille. It doesn’t stop there, with the film making the most of its Parisian setting. The lighting and atmosphere throughout are perfect, demonstrating exactly why Brad Bird is one of the finest directors working today. That cinematography pairs wonderfully with the score, provided by Michael Giacchino who is also one of the best in his field. It has a very quaint and upbeat sound to it that I can only describe as “undoubtedly French”. My favourite aspect lies with how the score seems to scamper along as the rats do. It scurries, but it’s also mellow when it needs to be and is fanciful at times too. Perhaps all of this is why Ratatouille won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture in 2008, the 3rd PIXAR film to do so after Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. As the 8th film since the company’s inception, Ratatouille was proof that PIXAR was unstoppable. They were only getting bigger and better with every release. On its own, this is a unique experience with some highly entertaining characters. There may be moments when you forget this is “for children” because it is a wonderful reminder that we don’t need to speak down to them. To everyone involved…