Looking back on… Ratatouille

Ratatouille (2007)
Directed by: Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava

Starring: Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano, Peter Sohn, Peter O’Toole, Janeane Garofalo, Will Arnett, Brad Garrett
Written by Luke
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Ratatouille’ is only the second Pixar film to feature a cast predominantly made up of humans – the first being director Brad Bird’s ‘The Incredibles’. But whatever the film has to say about humans, it does so through the eyes of the vermin we despise and chase from our world without heed or caution.

That’s not necessarily an indictment of rats as a species, as what the film does is humanises the rats as emblems of an existing social structure that exists within our society – specifically regarding Remy, who is played with gusto and compassion by Patton Oswalt. Remy is obsessed with humans, more explicitly the food that they can create. Having an acute sense of taste and smell he is forced to live his life in the sewers, feeding off of the garbage and leftovers that we cannot consume or desire. Reinforced of his place in the world by his family – his father, Django (Brian Dennehy), and bother Emile (Peter Sohn) – he aspires for more, and finds himself swept up and lost in the city of Paris, where he embarks on his journey towards greatness.

The film is as visually stunning and designed as any production in the Pixar canon. Brad Bird’s eye for composition is still one of his focal, winning achievements in the area of the medium. His work as an animator in the past means that every sequence and shot is storyboarded, drawn and coloured to perfection. Scene geometry makes sense in every location, but there’s an aura of grounded atmosphere and realism to the way everything looks. From the matted quality of Remy’s fur, to the raindrops on the cobblestone outside, and the way the warm light passes through the clouds in any given landscape shot. Even the fabrics of cloths feel like they carry a physical, tangible weight and weave to their presence.

This is all before reaching the food. The food in the film is designed and textured to a level or real world professionalism, and is sure to join the likes of ‘Barbette’s Feast’ and ‘Big Night’ amongst cinemas most delectable and mouth-watering cinematic experiences. Everything feels undeniably elegant and ‘French’ in appearance, as does the atmosphere that’s accompanied by Michael Giacchino’s soaring, emotional and pungently classical score.

The human characters that populate the film’s primary setting of Gusteau’s restaurant are extraordinarily well drawn and designed. Although Lou Romano’s human hero, Alfredo Linguini, is something more of a loveable oaf than a character, the reason why he works is because of his believability as a person. His journey with Remy as they grow and change together reinforces each other’s narrative arcs, even if his comes up a little shorter than Remy’s more dominant presence in the narrative. The physical comedy of Remy and Linguini’s antics (a mirror of the animators ability to animate their own characters) is Keaton-esque slapstick comedy of the highest order with a great internal logic – although it owes more of a debt to Jacques Tati.

Even around these two though, there’s an entire cast of delightful new faces and figures to be found circling them. Jeneane Garofalo manages to elevate apparent love interest Colette Tatou into a versatile and stern yet humble creation that really sticks in the mind. Remy’s comradery with the spectre of Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garret) lend itself to some hilarious introspection – such as, how can he inform Remy when he is simply a figment of his imagination? All the while buzzing around are the likes of Will Arnett, James Remar and John Ratzenberger as lingering background presences.

Sir Ian Holm does very well with the active antagonist Skinner, even though he feels somewhat lacking in depth his motivation is spelled out pure and simple. But the real narrative opponent lies in Peter O’Toole’s aptly named Anton Ego; a festering, pretentious and downright ghoulish food critic who seeks no greater pleasure than bestowing scorn upon those who offer themselves up for judgement. Not only is his design perfectly pitched (both physically and his deathly home) and O’Toole’s performance utterly outstanding, but his presence in the films third brings about the film’s most transcendent moment in its final movement.

It daren’t not be spoiled here to savour the effect it would have on the viewer, but the final scenes of Ratatouille might be amongst the best work the studio has ever accomplished. In fact, there is the temptation to dispense with any description of said sequences significant importance and instead to just quote Ego’s entire final sermon word for word, and it’s a heartbreakingly beautiful epitome of Ratatouille’s theme that leads to the story’s wonderfully concise addendum.

You see, Remy’s journey speaks of the staggered social construct that dominates the city; a cultural hierarchy that many strive to climb, yet find themselves sticking to what they know out of fear of dismissal for their hidden roots as working/lower class individuals. The finale of the film is one which consciously disarms any professional critic from stating damning words against the film. To do so would almost prove the film almost correct in its assumptive qualities regarding the reception of within a contemporary cultural status and power structure.

Because of some minor character faults, and a kind of saggy second act which dwells a little too much on the human drama, ‘Ratatouille’ is often overlooked when placed alongside the titans of the ‘Toy Story’ series and its kin. But upon closer examination it might be one of their most poignant and meditative works in the long run. Not only a gorgeous looking and feeling movie, filled to the brim with content and conflict that elicits enormous joy from seeing it all flawlessly directed by Bird, but a touching and inspiring work of animated art that speaks volumes about its standing and digestion in the popular consciousness.

Rating: 9 out of 10

 

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