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Sunday, March 23, 2008


Yes, we do screen the occasional Oscar-winning, recently released blockbuster, especially one that deals with one of the family’s favorite pastimes: cooking. (Both sides of the extended family share a habit of planning dinner while eating breakfast, and a visiting grandmother once declared that at least one of our children is a supertaster.)

Pixar’s latest classic was clearly inspired by the Anatole book series by Eve Titus (the same author who wrote the Basil the Mouse Detective books), one of Ben’s latest passions. Anatole is a French mouse who, upon learning that humans think mice dishonorable thieving brigands, decides to earn his keep by becoming a secret taster and advisor to a Paris cheese company.

Ratatouille extends the rodent-as-foodie construct, introducing an eccentric rat, Remy, who is not just a super-duper taster, but also a master chef who finds his way into the restaurant kitchens of his idol, the recently deceased (but still spiritually available) Chef Gusteau. There he helps a lowly floor-mopper, the inept Linguini, take the Paris food world by storm, finding love (with Jeneane Garofolo! – or at least her voice lent to fellow-chef Colette) along the way.

First off, the good stuff: the film is animated brilliantly, not just the Paris vistas and rat-infested sewers, but also the copper pots, chopped greens and boiling tureens constantly in motion in Gustau/Linguini/Remy’s kitchen. The shots where Remy navigates a human-size world are even more inventive than similar scenes in Pixar’s Toy Story (not to mention our family’s other favorite mouse tales: Pinky and the Brain).

On the downside, the human characters are not nearly as well written as they are drawn. Linguini is a stick figure, and his romance with the tough-as-nails Colette not at all believable. The filmmakers also wrote themselves into a corner by allowing communication between rat and rat, human and human, but not between the species. In order to allow Remy to use Linguini as his “beard,” they cook up a phenomenon whereby the rat can take full control of Remy’s body by pulling strategic locks of the human chef’s hair. While this leads to some funny slapstick moments, even more fantastic world of The Incredibles did not require such awkward contrivances.

The one exception to the animated cast's lack of dimensionaity is Anton Ego (voiced by the incomparable Peter O’Toole), the snobby, powerful, brutal restaurant critic who has no regrets for having ruined the career of Chef Gustau (through ugly criticism which eventually led to Gustau’s death by broken heart) and cannot wait to turn his wrath on Linguini. The thirty second scene showing Ego’s reaction when tasting the title dish of the film, prepared strategically by Remy and friends, encapsulated a well-crafted meal’s ability to make us see past ourselves. Far from being superfluous or decadent, food is depicted here unapologetically as a platform for artistry, with art’s unique ability to allow us to transcend.

Movies, of course, can do the same thing – although not often enough in Ratatouille.

Who’s Pick: Ben

Ben: 5/5
Mom: 5/5
Eli: 5/5
Dad: 4/5 (message to Brad Bird: Please don’t take it personally)

Total: 19/20

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