business in marketing art to children. By surreptitiously
pounding images into their heads through shows like Little
Einsteins, we're somehow making them smarter. What this
"educational" stuff fails to do, though, is actually inspire
them to their own bouts of creativity. To do that, you can't
actually lecture. You have to create an inspiring work of
Brad Bird gets that. Not that he's necessarily out to inspire
children; like any great artist, all he really wants is
to do good work in his chosen medium. With Ratatouille,
he's continued Pixar's legacy of quality family-friendly
films, but also made a clear statement about the burning
need to create, and art's place in the soul.
watching Ratatouille, you can have no doubt about
the artistry of cooking. Oddball rat Remy (Patton Oswalt,
warm even when Remy is uncompromising) explains it in music
and color so forcefully, you'll be salivating over computer
generated ingredients. Blessed (or cursed) with an advanced
sense of smell, Remy has within him an urge he does not
understand. His father Django (Brian Dennehy) wastes his
gifts by using him as a detector for rat poison.
As must happen
in animated films, this lonely rat longs for more. Without
his father's knowledge, Remy has taught himself to read,
and finds himself fixated on the cookbook of renowned French
chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett).
within the world of the film, Gusteau titled his book and
lived by the motto, "Anyone Can Cook." A rat dares to dream.
When disaster strikes the colony, Remy finds himself in
Paris, haunted by Gustea and almost miraculously living
outside the restaurant that bears the late Chef's name.
You think you
know the rest, but you do and you don't. Bird skillfully
mixes standard plot elements with new storytelling herbs
and spices, setting up one major conflict, resolving it
and moving on to something else. At first, things center
around Remy's friendship/partnership with the talentless
human Linguini (Pixar animator Lou Romano) and their conflict
with the diabolical Chef Skinner (Ian Holm).
As the antagonist,
Skinner represents the clearest obstacle to art - mass marketing.
Under his rule, the Gusteau name will be reduced to a line
of frozen fast foods, turning a great artist into a posthumous
corporate mascot. (Though that's not necessarily
evil; let's not bite the hand feeding Pixar offered by the
ghost of Walt Disney.)
isn't all that stands in the way of greatness. Remy feels
pressure from his family and the rat colony. Of course,
his very presence in the kitchen is also a health code violation.
Then there's the cadaverous Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole), the
great food critic whose judgment broke Gusteau's spirit.
That's a lot
to contend with, and a lot of symbolism sneaking into children's
subconscious. For make no mistake, this film is absolutely
appropriate for children, but like many previous Pixar efforts
with a depth that elevates it to something more. Even Janeane
Garofalo gets pushed into a performance that's new territory
for her - doing a French accent.
isn't perfect. That accent thing might be a little bothersome
because it's not consistent among the characters. Though
Linguini must have been at least raised in France, he speaks
with the laid-back tones of, well, a happy animator living
in Emeryville. Some of the character interactions feel a
bit stock, though every actor makes a tremendous effort.
But then we
join Remy in gazing at the Paris skyline. The artists at
Pixar have filled the screen with sumptuous image upon sumptuous
image. It's not overwhelming, but it's the kind of detail
that begs to be seen again and again. It's a nice counterpoint
to Remy's ability to add tiny details to his cooking, exciting
the senses and evoking memories and/or desires. After all,
isn't that the point of art?
pushes the boundaries of what Americans accept in animated
storytelling, but not so much that viewers won't follow.
The genius of Bird and his boss John Lasseter is that they've
been educating us all along, making their stories resonate.
Perhaps anyone can cook, offers Bird, and perhaps anyone
can make a film. Though not everyone has talent, anyone
could have talent.
We're lucky so many found their way to Pixar.