Ratatouille

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If anyone really needs to see the true genius of Pixar laid out bare, they only really have to look as far as the studio’s eighth feature, Ratatouille, a masterpiece in concept that may rank as some of the best, pure storytelling the animation has ever produced.
Think I’m being over kind to a Pixar flick that, to date, hasn’t been expanded on with a sequel or a Disney+ follow up series? Then think on this: has their ever been another movie from the geniuses who toil there that has managed to do so much with elements that should be anathema to audiences both young and old.
The private lives of toys, souls and shape shifting sea creatures enjoying life in Italy all have many colourful hooks to ensure viewers, but a rat? Who COOKS? What’s next, a bird eating tarantula becoming a masseuse? An anaconda giving out free hugs?
If Ratatouille is any indication, the storytelling alchemists at Pixar could probably make those work too…

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Remy is a rat living in rural France with his colony but while all the other rodents are content to forage and steal food to throw on the pile, Remy has been blessed/cursed with a hyper sensitive sense of taste and smell that gives him a palette far more refined that your average dumpster diver. While Remy’s father and brother despairs at his ever increasing anthropomorphism, Remy’s love for humans – and cooking in general – inevitably ends in disaster as the colony is chased out of their home directly due to the young rat’s culinary aspirations (and a shotgun wielding biddy).
Separated from his family and whisked down a storm drain, Remy starts hallucinating that the ghost of his idol, legendary chef Auguste Gusteau is offering him moral support and his fortunes soon take an impressive upturn when he finds he’s in Paris and even stumbles upon Gusteau’s restaurant that’s seen better days and better star ratings. As chance would have it, also turning up at the restaurant is Linguini, the clumsy, illegitimate son of the renowned chef who has no idea of his parentage and simply wants a job and as he’s put to work mopping the floor and throwing out the garbage, he gets to know the rest of the kitchen including the tyrannical head chef Skinner and determined but threatening female chef Colette.
As Pixar-style fate would have it, a string of misadventures lead to Remy and Linguini forming a formidable team in the kitchen with the rat secretly puppeteering the dufus from under his chef’s hat by strategically yanking particular strands of hair, but as Linguini’s star rises and he starts a relationship with Collette, Skinner plots against him while Remy’s ratty roots resurfaces to make him question his affinity to humans.

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Simply put, Ratatouille simply shouldn’t work – its incredible sense of whimsy means that virtually every aspect of its beguiling story shouldn’t mean a single thing to its target audience – after all, last we forget, even though the studio takes great pains to make sure their movies target all ages, this is a kids film and rats, a golden hued Paris and the desire to create are all things that you would think would whizz over the heads of many an impatient tot.
But director Brad Bird hasn’t let seemingly banal, adult shit slow his animated roll before as proven by the mid-life crisis infused superheroics of The Incredibles and after a tortured production, Ratatouille may arguably be the closest that Pixar has ever come to the out-of-the-box imagination of Studio Ghibli.
Taking the adage that creativity must never be stifled (even if it’s a delicious dish whipped up by a potential plague carrier), the movie does some inspires cooking of it’s own, mixing its heart warming message with a dash of physical comedy (Lou Romano’s Lunguini is essentially every flailing limbed goof Jerry Lewis ever played), a hint of farce and a fittingly admirable desire to not follow established rules. As per usual, there are no Disney-style song breaks – but beyond that its astounding how much Ratatouille breaks the established formula that Pixar had been clinging to since it began starting with the fact that it’s two leads can’t actually understand each other and while their central partnership may hint at the usual buddy movie credentials of Woody and Buzz or Marlin and Dory; Remy and Luguini’s relationship is less antagonist and is more of a team born of mutual need than fateful action. Elsewhere, the film doesn’t fall back on a panicked last reel chase, instead trusting the situation and characters to confidently guide it to its typically heartwarming conclusion that comes from the surprise serving of the titular dish that wins over Peter O’Tooles marvelously cadaverous critic, Anton Ego by having him relive his childhood thanks to some genuinely mouthwatering CGI food porn.

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In fact, so much of the movie doesn’t take the easy way out it boggles the mind; how many other movies attempts to explain the nature of taste to a target audience weaned on Happy Meals and chickie nuggies to give a solitary crap about things like a spot of nuance on the taste buds – but it manages, thanks to Remy’s rat-splaining and an inspired use of colour and shapes to suggest that tastes is not unlike music. In fact, thanks to his strong, distinctive vocals, Patton Oswalt’s Remy may in fact be Pixar’s most underrated leading man as the movie has us completely bond with his desires and trouble almost instantly despite the phobia inducing appearance of him and his scampering colony.
Yet another feather in Ratatouille’s cap is the choice of a tough to place time period for its setting of Paris, virtually glowing with warm light and hinting that it’s the perfect place for an artistic outsider like Remy to find his place in the world, its magnificently cheeky too with its population seeming full of passionate bohemians and killer one-liners – “Listen, we hate to be rude, but we’re French.” says Janeane Garofalo’s blunt Collette – a much needed advocate for how tough it is for women to succeed in the world of professional cooking.

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Maybe not as obviously eye catching as some of Pixar’s noticeably louder works (never forget that this came in the wake of the far flashier yet infinitely more emptier Cars), Ratatouille may actually be one of the studio’s greatest triumphs, investing you in an adventure barely almost solely on creating with a lead that should be the direct opposite of appealing – and if nothing else, I didn’t see Brave get referenced in Everything Everywhere All At Once, did you? I mean, surely that’s just a sign of good taste…

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