A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 271 – Ratatouille

Ratatouille – November 26th, 2010

I know I’ve said this about many movies, but yes. This is another overhype victim for me. Here it’s from work. I handle a lot of DVDs at work and this is one of those movies we’ve got copies of in every department, at every branch. It passes over the desk a lot. And whenever it does someone feels the need to ask me if I’ve seen it and tell me how much they loved it. I try not to let this get to me, but it gets a bit wearing. And truth be told, I wasn’t in a hurry to see this, what with it being about rats in restaurant kitchens.

Yes, it is a cute movie, and that’s quite a feat, considering that there are numerous shots of a restaurant kitchen practically swarmed by rats. I’m well aware that there are people who love rats and keep them as pets. That’s great. These rats are not domesticated pet rats, free of disease and all. They are wild rats who enjoy eating garbage. Of course, that’s part of the plot. But it’s still impressive that the folks at Pixar managed to take that plot and run with it and make it work. Even so, the sight of all those rats in the kitchen is not my favorite thing to see.

The plot follows Remy, a rat with an extraordinary gift for taste and smell and combining flavors in ways rats just plain don’t bother with. After his colony is uprooted in the country he ends up in Paris at the restaurant of his favorite chef, Gusteau (now deceased). After meeting the hapless garbage boy, Alfredo Linguini (Gusteau’s son, though he doesn’t know it at first), Remy helps him cook by hiding under his hat and directing his movements. Suddenly the flagging restaurant starts gaining acclaim again, leading to crises for both Remy and Linguini. Remy’s family and old colony show up expecting free run of the restaurant, Linguini buckles under the strain of having to keep the secret that he can’t cook without the help of a rat, and it all soon goes to hell when the rats overtake the kitchen and the staff pack up and leave just when a notorious food critic arrives. There’s also the requisite bad guy who has it in for our heroes and sets them up to fail, and the requisite romance between Linguini and the super awesome Colette, who is one of the cooks.

One minor quibble before I continue. It’s really very small, but it’s the sort of detail that catches my attention. I’ve been getting the magazine Bon Appetit for a few years now, courtesy of my mother. She’s gotten it and Gourmet for as long as I can remember. Now, I understand that at the beginning Chef Gusteau is shown on the covers of those magazines as a demonstration of his fame. But as long as I can remember, neither one of those magazines puts chefs on its covers. The food is always the focus. If a person is there, they’re faceless and only in the shot to hold the food. I am well aware that this is a super nipicky detail, but I include it not just because it irked me, but because well, aside from the movie being about rats in a kitchen, it’s the only thing I found at all jarring.

Everything else in this movie was great. Now, I’m not a huge fan of slapstick, and there is certainly a lot of it in this movie, but while I’m not a fan of it, I can appreciate the skill with which it’s presented here. The physical movements of all the characters are wonderful, and in the fast-paced kitchen most of the movie takes place in there’s certainly plenty of opportunity for physical humor. The fur on the rats is amazing. It looks like fur. Not like animated drawn fur, but real fur. Pixar does some amazing things with textures, and I was impressed by the fur on Sulley in 2001’s Monsters, Inc. but this came six years later and it shows. It caught me right at the beginning and it’s indicative of the visual quality in the rest of the movie, from the food to the fabric of the kitchen staff’s uniforms. It is, as Pixar movies are, a beautiful piece of animation.

The other thing I found notable in the movie was Colette. Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved many of the performances, from Ian Holm as Skinner (the villain) to Peter O’Toole as the critic, Ego. Patton Oswalt as Remy and Lou Romano as Linguini were both perfectly fine, though I can accept Linguini’s accent easier than Remy’s. But while Remy and Linguini are the lead characters and Skinner and Ego are the figures they’re set up in opposition to, the character I focused on was Colette. She’s a tough-as-nails assistant chef in the kitchen at Gusteau’s and I love her. She moves fast, she cooks well and if you mess with her she will cut you up and braise you. Of course, she’s voiced by the ever awesome Janeane Garofalo, so that’s another point in her favor, but she’s also written as a bad ass and never quite loses that. She has moments of weakness, yes, but ultimately she’s strong and interesting and confident and capable. I love that in a female lead.

I admit, this movie did not blow me away. It’s sweet and funny and all the things Pixar does well. It’s animated beautifully, performed excellently, the story is fun and so on. But if it’s just the story we’re talking about, well, I think the dual villain angle here is a little muddy in places with Ego and Skinner. Ego ends up not quite being a villain at all, more an obstacle, which makes his role an odd one. Hence the muddy. But the thing is, the story isn’t what will make this movie memorable to me. It’s the food that will do that. We put this in tonight while our dinner was still cooking and by about fifteen minutes in I was desperate to eat. When Remy arrives at Gusteau’s and watches the kitchen all I could think of was how much I wanted my dinner right then. The movie tells a lovely little story, but on its own it would just be lovely. With the addition of the culinary passion infused into every minute of it? It’s delicious.

November 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Ratatouille

November 26, 2010

Ratatouille

This movie is an odd one. I’m not really a fan of the slapstick humor (however much it may make me laugh) or the awkward situations. This is probably the most cartoonish of all the Pixar movies. It’s full of buffoonery and broad madcap humor. But it is a Pixar movie, which means that it has a heart, and the heart of this movie is a love of fine food. It’s also a Brad Bird movie, which means that it has a lot of visual flare, and even tells the story more at times through the visuals than through the words in the script.

One thing that’s always thrown me about this movie is that although the movie is set in Paris and virtually everybody has a French accent neither of the two main protagonists sound French. They’re both very American. One of the chief bad-guys in the movie sounds English, but that’s okay because he’s the brilliant Peter O’Toole and by the end of the movie his character’s role has somewhat changed. The primary antagonist is another fantastic British actor but he does affect a French accent, with great comedic effect. (I’ve mentioned my love for Ian Holm before, right?) The romantic interest, the classy, cool and kick-ass Colette, also has a French accent – in spite of her being played by the classy, cool and kick-ass American actress Janeane Garofelo.

The story is that age-old tale of a rat from the French countryside who has a love for food and for cooking. Remy understands the mystical powers of ingredients and spices. He has a love for combining flavours. He idolises the famous French chef and television personality Gusteau, who’s best-selling work “Anyone Can Cook” is Remy’s greatest inspiration. Soon Remy finds himself in Paris, where he discovers Gusteau’s restaurant, which has fallen on to hard times due to a poor review from the famous food critic Anton Ego and Gusteau’s subsequent death.

It is at Gusteau’s that Remy discovers the bumbling but well-meaning Linguini. Linguini is an affable fool who can’t seem to hold down any job. His incompetence would have cost him his job as a garbage boy in Gusteau’s kitchen as well, but Remy is on hand to quickly save a soup that Linguini has ruined. And so an unlikely partnership is formed. Remy has the ability to cook like a master, and Linguini has the ability to appear human.

As I said before, I don’t unreservedly love this movie. It’s too heavily reliant on physical humor for one thing. I admit there are bits I couldn’t help laughing at, but Linguini’s capering got a bit much for me after a while. Indeed the entire character of Linguini grates on me a little. He’s a pleasant enough fellow I suppose, but he doesn’t really exhibit any reason for the vast good fortune that is heaped upon him throughout the film. He gets the job. He gets the girl. He gets the whole damned restaurant. Why does he deserve that, aside from the fact that he demonstrates an ability to be a reliable friend for a rat alone in the streets of Paris?

On the other hand there are a few things in this movie that really touch me. The loving depiction of food, for example, is fantastic. This is a movie that will make you hungry. It makes you want to try the dishes that Remy creates, both because of his passion for them and the way the animators have rendered them on screen. They’re just so mouth-watering. Then there’s Colette. She’s the take-no-nonsense kind of girl I enjoy seeing on screen. She’s a confident professional, accepted for her skill in the kitchen and full of sage advice for Linguini as he rises through the ranks. I don’t know that Linguini deserves her, but I wish her all the good in the world.

Finally there’s one particular scene in the movie that absolutely makes it for me. When the snide and self-centered food critic Anton Ego shows up and demands the best that the chef can come up with it is his reaction upon tasting the food that completely blows me away. This is entirely a Brad Bird moment. It’s a touching visual moment with no dialog at all that speaks volumes about the character of Anton, providing him with an entire back story in just a cew seconds, and drives home the almighty power of food. Something that Anton himself has forgotten until that moment. I cannot express how much this one moment in the film drives home the entire point of the whole movie for me – it’s a quick bit of virtuoso film-making that instantly overcomes any problems I have with the rest of the movie. I’d gladly watch the whole thing again any day for that one taste.

November 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment