The first thing I am going to say about the movie Ratatouille is this: don’t take your kids. Serious. That way you can enjoy one of the best story-tellers in movies today without having to worry about popcorn, drinks, potty breaks, or other assorted kid things.
Okay, you can take the kids. They’ll enjoy the cute rat and his kitchen antics. However, they won’t come close to appreciating the delicious tapestry that Brad Bird and company creates for our viewing pleasure (and my mixed metaphor pleasure…). In my opinion, there is no better filmmaker today, and he happens to work for the best movie company in Pixar. Yes, I loved The Incredibles, also written and directed by Mr. Bird. I have also heard wonderful things about his movie The Iron Giant, which I have yet to see.
Enough gushing. The thing is, if a writer can take the concept of a rat in a kitchen (my mother-in-law is still having trouble wrapping her head around that) and make it entertaining, endearing, and overall believable, then you have a real talent. Remy is a country rat in France who has a nose and taste for the good things in life, related to food. His family is not so picky, and it causes a lot of tension for Remy. It seems he has been sneaking into a house to watch a cooking show by the famous Parisian chef Gusteau and has been learning the fine points of cuisine.
After an incident that sweeps him through the sewers to Paris, he ends up in the kitchen of Gusteau’s restaurant. The restaurant is struggling after the great chef’s untimely demise, and is being run by a charlatan more interested in making cheap frozen foods using Gusteau’s name. Remy stumbles across the new garbage boy, and after fixing a soup that the boy, Linguini, had messed up, is linked with the boy in finding their destiny together.
Linguini is hired as a chef but can’t cook beans. Remy ends up riding under his hat and controls him by pulling hair like levers to mastermind a renaissance in the kitchen. But this cannot be blissful: tension arises from Remy’s lost family, the paranoid head chef, and an icy food critic.
The lesson applicable to writers that read this (and hopefully all of Hollywood can catch it as well) is the insistance Pixar has of making the story first, rather than the other trappings. Remy is a fully realized character. He is nuanced, conflicted, and vunerable. The interaction of Linguini and his rat savior is very touching. The movie plays the heart strings gently and keeps you engaged despite the clamoring of the younger set.
Not that the movie is all character development. The visuals keep improving with time, and Pixar shows off a rat’s fur when wet or impacted by…static electricity. There are times when Remy’s animal behaviors (sniffing, fearing humans or danger) are so lifelike despite his cartoonish image. The zany things Linguini does while controlled by Remy are eye-popping. The story has plenty of action and conflict to keep the pace moving. Even The Incredibles slows for a little while, but I didn’t catch any of that with Ratatouille.
I’ve enjoyed Spiderman 3, watched Pirates 3, and suffered through Fantastic Four: Rise of the Poor Screenplay. None of them compare to the joy that is Ratatouille. Those of us in the creative community need to speak with the only language Hollywood understands: our dollars. If you value creative and compelling storytelling, go see Ratatouille. You’ll also have a great time!