Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the Big Deal?
Ratatouille is a CG animated comedy film released in 2007, and it is the eighth film produced by Pixar Studios. Written and directed by Brad Bird, the film follows a rat in Paris who dreams about becoming a chef and works in conjunction with an otherwise hopeless kitchen rookie. The film features the vocal talents of Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Ian Holm, Peter O'Toole, Brian Dennehy, Janeane Garafolo and Brad Garrett. The film began development in 2000 when Jan Pinkava produced the initial concept - when he left Pixar in 2005, Bird took over the project. Released to widespread critical acclaim, the film went on to earn more than $623 million globally and secured five Academy Award nominations, winning Best Animated Feature. It has become one of Pixar's most critically acclaimed efforts and has inspired a video game, theme park rides and even an unofficial fan-made musical on social media platform TikTok.
What's It About?
Inspired by his idol, the late French chef Auguste Gusteau, a rat called Remy dreams of becoming a chef somehow. While the other members of his pack, including his brother Emile and clan leader Django, consider food simply as a resource, Remy has a perfect sense of taste and smell. After getting separated from his clan, Remy finds himself in the attic above the kitchen at Gusteau's restaurant in Paris. Since Auguste's passing, the kitchen is now ran by diminutive dictator and Gusteau's former sous-chef Skinner.
One day, Remy manages to correct a soup that was ruined by the kitchen's garbage boy Alfredo Linguini who catches the rodent in the act. Confronted by Skinner, Linguini hides Remy from his boss but is unable to prevent the soup from being accidentally served. When it proves to be a surprise success, Skinner is convinced by the kitchen's only female chef Colette to keep Linguini on board. With Remy hidden in Linguini's chef hat directing his actions, the two of them combine in an unusual partnership to take the culinary world by storm...
What's to Like?
The first thing that strikes you watching Ratatouille (which is pronounced rat-ta-too-ee if you're not familiar with the French dish) is just how good it looks. It's a marked improvement on everything Pixar had produced up to this point, even Cars which was only released the year before. This is most noticeable when the film throws in a beautifully detailed landscape or cityscape which is not too often, unfortunately. But the film has plenty of visual tricks up its sleeve - take the scene in the trailer above when Remy is fleeing through the kitchen as a variety of implements are thrown at him or a scene in the film when the kitchen is overran with rats and its a hive of activity. Even today, with all the technological advancements made since 2007 (which most be quite a few), this film still stands up against more recent fare from a purely visual sense.
The voice cast do a great job of matching the quality of the visuals with Oswalt, Holm, Garafolo and O'Toole really standing out. Holm is excellent as the slimy, megalomaniac Skinner whose behaviour mirrors a number of chefs I've worked with over the years. Like Cars, this is one that's probably aimed at younger viewers than their parents but it still does a grand job of keeping everyone entertained. In spite of the bizarre premise, the film is possibly one of the most accessible films Pixar has made. There is plenty of slapstick comedy and frantic action to amuse the kids but also lots of in-jokes and references for the adults. It's not afraid to poke fun at TV cooking culture and the ridiculously competitive world of professional cooking.
- To help the animators prepare for a scene where a chef gets wet, an unfortunate Pixar employee dressed up as a chef and jumped into a swimming pool. This was then used to decide which parts of the clothing stuck to the body and which became translucent.
- John Ratzenberger has a small role in the film as Mustafa, the head waiter or maitre d' of Gusteau's restaurant. Ratzenberger had a role in every Pixar film from 1995 (Toy Story) until 2020's Onward. He was absent from both Soul and Luca.
- Jan Pinkava came up with the story, character design, sets and the film's styling. After Pixar lost faith in the concept, the project was dropped until it was revived with Brad Bird now fronting the project. Pinkava was the director, writer and animator of Pixar's legendary short film Geri's Game which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1997.
What's Not to Like?
I do understand why Ratatouille is as highly regarded as it is and as far as Pixar were concerned at the time, it certainly ranks among their best efforts - at that point. But I was never a huge fan of the film which I first caught in the cinema at the time - I struggled with the concept, which seemed too goofy for me to get on board with. I didn't understand what the film was trying to say so if there is a message in the film (other than 'anybody can cook') then I suspect most younger viewers will be more distracted by the noise, colour and chaos. Speaking of the narrative, there isn't a whole heck of a lot going on for much of the movie - once Remy begins controlling Linguini from beneath his hat, the film becomes entirely predictable. In short, I wasn't a fan of this absurd farce.
What I was more intrigued by was the human element of the film. Pixar are somewhat adverse to depicting people in their films because they don't look realistic, compared to backgrounds or environments. But the human characters are so well written and defined that I found the drama going on in the kitchen was more appealing to me than the nonsense involving rodents. It feels like a legitimate working atmosphere, full of the politics and rivalries and sexual tension that you'll find in any kitchen - well, any kitchen I've ever worked in! The literal spectre of Gusteau hanging around the place and the impending sense of dread involving vicious food critic Anton Ego are more than enough subplots to make an interesting film out of and I haven't even mentioned the hinted romance between Linguini and Colette. Granted, these changes would have made this film a far cry from the kiddie-friendly mayhem it actually is. Perhaps I've been spoilt by some of Pixar's more serious fare like Up and WALL-E but these days, Ratatouille feels quite undercooked by comparison.
Should I Watch It?
Ratatouille is a real curiosity, a kinetic and chaotic farce that blends anthropomorphic animals, caricatured characters and exquisite cuisine. It's also among one of the best looking films that Pixar have ever done. But personally, the concept doesn't convince and the film's narrative feels stretched or insufficient for the film's length. Like my own cooking, the film is tasty enough but is undercooked in places, overcooked in others and not exactly setting the world alight.
Great For: younger viewers, chefs, French audiences
Not So Great For: comparing to Pixar's very best, grown ups, murophobics (anyone with a pathological fear of mice and rats)
What Else Should I Watch?
Regular readers will be fully aware of how much I love Pixar films. They are superb movies for entertaining the whole family, by and large, but also tell stories that feel unique and intelligent. By comparison, many other CG animation studios produce films that are essentially the same and focus more on casting big name stars instead of producing a really quality product. I can't help but put WALL-E in my top 5 films of all time - it's a brave and beautiful epic that covers themes like environmentalism, consumerism, artificial intelligence and the nature of love. But it's still a funny and entertaining film in the classic Pixar way, as is Brad Bird's spectacular tribute to the golden age of superheroes The Incredibles which is probably the most fun I've ever had in a cinema. They don't always get it right - Cars 2 is probably their worst film so far and The Good Dinosaur was a massive disappointment - but they are the only film studio in the world who I anticipate any forthcoming release.
Actually, Pixar and Studio Ghibli now that I think of it.
In any case, Pixar are still the ultimate gatekeepers when it comes to producing CG animation - after all, they more or less invented the genre in 1995 by introducing Buzz Lightyear and Woody to audiences everywhere. But as the years have worn on, other studios have risen to challenge them and each of them have their own signature franchises. Sony Pictures have produced films like Hotel Transylvania and the award-winning Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, Blue Sky Studios have the long-running Ice Age series, Illumination have enjoyed huge success with their Despicable Me series and their Minions spin-off while DreamWorks have a number of franchises like Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar and most recently, Trolls.
Main Cast (voice performance)
Jonah R. Skinner
|Director||Brad Bird (Jan Pinkava co-director)|
Release Date (UK)
12th October, 2007
Animation, Comedy, Family
Best Animated Feature
Academy Award Nominations
Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing
© 2022 Benjamin Cox