Ratatouille has got to be one of the most fun loving, light, and entertaining films Pixar has ever made. Sure, now there’s a lot of Pixar love to go around. Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, and Cars. Then along comes along Ratatouille, which breaks all the rules. There are two main characters, a rat and a man, (neither of which fit the “typical” mold for children’s’ protagonists) and two main issues, one about being a rat and one about being a man (neither of which fit into the “typical” mold of what children are entertained by). Yet Ratatouille makes it work, thanks to Pixar's usual brilliance of filmmaking and storytelling.
The basic premise of the film involves the rat, Remy, who gets separated from his family and finds himself in Paris. Now, Remy is a different kind of rat. He believes in the motto of the famous Chef Gusteau that “anyone can cook.” Remy takes his belief right into Gusteau’s restaurant where he finds Linguini, a garbage boy who thinks he might want to go farther in the restaurant industry but doesn’t know a thing about cooking. After a rare discovery, the unlikely two realize that together they can cook. Their choice leaves Remy with a disapproving rat family, while Linguini has no family at all. Both characters must discover not only themselves, but also redefine "family" and discover their place in it.
The best aspect of the film is that while all of this is going on, it’s still entertaining. The kids still love it even if they don’t know what saffron is, or what a will is. They get it. The adults love it for the humor, playfulness, and wholeness of the story. The audience wants Remy and Linguini to succeed against the odds of restaurant owners, food critics, and the dreaded health inspector because they need someone pure to root for in films. These characters aren’t sticky and gooey with Care Bear love or too bold or heroic to not see their own faults. They are made up of their faults. Their faults follow them into every aspect of their lives. This is how life works. When life gives you lemons, you make ratatouille. They are the personification of not forgetting where you came from and yet knowing that that is not where you are going.
Ratatouille isn’t hurtful; it doesn’t put anyone on the spot. It’s honest and fresh and continues a legacy with Pixar whose pedestal is raising higher with every film. To date Pixar’s biggest accomplishment is that they always make “real” movies. There is pretending and there is creation, but all of it happens in what-if scenarios of real life. It’s as if they say: this is how the restaurant business works, but what if there was a rat that could cook? John Lasseter needs to get to work, but what if he takes the Porsche instead of the Benz? Pixar has made a formula for success without making movies that are formulaic.
Is Ratatouille perfect? No, but no film is. For one, the word ratatouille itself is very tricky to spell. Don’t believe it? Stop reading, close your eyes, and try to get it right. (Cheater.) Secondly, during the first half of the movie, after the set up of Remy losing his family but before he and Linguini are really seeing eye to eye, the pace drags a little. This is because there’s already an investment in Remy’s character but that’s been put on pause to play up Linguini. But the unforgettable scene near the end where the food critic comes back to the restaurant absolutely makes up for any shortcomings the film may have.
Ratatouille is by far one of the best animated films ever to be made and yet has no dragons, princesses, magic spells, time travel, sports, or human gases leaving the body as the main humor of the film. It’s entertaining for all ages and strong enough to hold on and continue to be entertaining for generations to come. While there still is no need for a sequel, prequel, or otherwise, Ratatouille’s simplicity and complexity deserve to be seen more than once and with as many people as possible. Bon apetit!
The Disc for Ratatouille is just as stylized and well done as the tempo of the film, and again, light and humorous. There are some wonderful special features here, just not as many of them as one would like. This is such a huge film, and Pixar should know by now how much of a following to expect, so to have so few extras is a little disappointing, but brownie points to the four or five that were included. (Probably look for a special edition in a month, just in time for Christmas.)
There is, of course, the newest short Lifted which uses Linguini as a would-be alien abductee. Another animated short included is called “Your Friend the Rat.” This one is quite cool, giving a history of the rat which is really entertaining for the kids yet actually pretty factually amusing for the grown ups in the room.
There are also some deleted scenes and a great piece featuring interviews and footage with Brad Bird, the director, and Thomas Keller, the chef they spent time with to make the film. Both are hugely inspirational and totally give a lot of advice for creative minded people to geek out on. Keller is even shown serving up the ratatouille dish just as it looks in the film.
The issue with the disc is that, while earning Disney points is nice, lets face it, that’s not why people buy the DVDs. What’s missing? The same thing that’s always missing. An audio commentary by the director. Brad Bird is a wealth of information for people that want to be inspired by how movies are made, animated or not. What kind of shots does he look for? What makes a good script? What makes a good scene? A good character? A realistic character? An audio commentary could have made this disc go from beefaroni to alfredo.
The other thing that’s missing is the part where they show the recipes. The Fried Green Tomatoes DVD has recipes. The Spanglish DVD has recipes. Why not at least one, the one we all want: a ratatouille recipe. That’s not too much to ask for, is it? It could have been left hiding on the disc somewhere. There are a few rat droppings left around like Easter eggs, but not enough to satisfy the person that spends the time to look for them. While it is somewhat disappointing to think of what isn’t on the disc, for what is there, at least it all fits in with the film as strong additions and not just last Thursday’s leftovers.