December 18, 2007
The best thing Pixar has done in recent years is brought Brad Bird into the fold. The Iron Giant (1999) filmmaker has helped continue the animation studio’s winning streak with The Incredibles (2004) and, most recently, Ratatouille (2007). Their merger was the best thing for both parties as Bird could get his films properly promoted (Iron Giant was badly handled by Warner Bros.) and Pixar could add another creative artist to their roster and, more importantly to Disney (who distributes Pixar’s films), continued commercial success.
Remy is a young rat with a highly developed sense of smell that he uses to detect food laced with poison. This comes in handy not only for self-preservation but gives him an instinctive talent for what tastes good. He dreams of learning how to be a great chef at Gusteau’s, the best restaurant in France. Unfortunately, his dreams are interrupted by the old lady who lives in the house where Remy and his fellow rats also reside. She discovers their presence and in the ensuing chaos Remy is separated from his friends and family.
Remy travels through the sewers and ends up in Paris and at Gusteau’s – with the help of the ghost of the recently deceased world class chef of the same name. The rat soon befriends Linguini, the restaurant’s new garbage boy, when he fixes a soup that the young man ineptly tried to make himself. However, rats are forbidden in the kitchen and if word gets out that they have one, Gusteau’s will be shut down. So, Linguini gets Remy to do the cooking and he takes the credit in exchange for keeping the rat safe. Along the way, Remy teaches Linguini a thing or two about how to cook.
Meanwhile, the mean head chef plans to turn Gusteau’s name into a commercial brand to sell all sorts of other food products and hopes to take advantage of a stipulation in Gusteau’s will and inherit a vast fortune instead of Linguini, the dead chef’s son and rightful heir.
The computer animation, as you would expect from Pixar, is flawless as they get the texture of the rat fur when its dry and more importantly when its wet (much harder) just right. It is rendered realistically while still retaining a colourful cartoon look. The animators also perfectly capture other tricky textures like water in an exciting action sequence where Remy is swept through the sewers.
Through Remy, Bird gives us a crash course of a gourmet kitchen, how it works and what the hierarchy is. Ultimately, Ratatouille is a glorious celebration of good food and the enjoyment in not only preparing it but also eating it and appreciating the distinctive tastes of certain foods, the spices used and the so on. This is all wrapped up in a classic underdog story with subtle commentaries on commercialism and the prejudices of others. Best of all, this film celebrates the instinctive skill of improvisation as it pertains to cooking. It’s all fine to stick to a recipe but the truly great cooks know how to improvise and to provide a bold, new spin on an old classic, much like this film.
“Lifted” is an animated short film about an alien being graded on his UFO human abduction skills. Each move he makes is graded by a supervisor much to his dismay. This is a cute, amusing spin on the alien abduction story.
“Your Friend the Rat” is a brief history of the rat presented by Remy and his brother Emile. It tells how they’ve been viewed by past civilizations in an accessible and humourous way.
“Fine Food and Film: A Conversation with Brad Bird and Thomas Keller” features the film’s writer/director and top chef Keller being interviewed by producer Brad Lewis. Both men talk about what inspires and the right kind of environment that cultivates inspiration. They talk about how they got into their respective professions and the mentor that inspired them.
Finally, there are three deleted scenes in rough form with Bird explaining why they were cut. One shows Gusteau’s in action in an elaborate shot that Bird liked but cut it because it was from Remy’s point-of-view. Another scene had Gusteau still being alive and regretting lending his name out to other, commercial foods. Remy’s first day on the job with Linguini with a different take on the dynamic between all the cooks in the kitchen.