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 | , ,

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