It’s a Pixar kind of day. Earlier this week, I got into the dark and depressing, life is hell kind of movies with Meek’s Cutoff (2010), Funny Games (2007), and La Vie en Rose (2007)—don’t do drugs, children—and it’s time to cleanse the emotional palette. So it’s Ratatouille (2007) and Monsters, Inc. (2001). First, Ratatouille. We’ve probably all had one or more transcendent experiences with food. I haven’t had many, but understand the phenomenon. It’s contentment with an electrical shock. I don’t understand it, I am no gastronome, but the wonderful thing about film is the capacity to communicate through the behavior of its actors. Even when they’re computer-generated rats. Remy (Patton Oswalt) is someone out of place. He is a rat, but he loves good food. His guru is the great chef Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett) whose mantra was “Anyone can cook!” before he died sadly after a brutal review by Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole). Remy’s father Django (Brian Dennehy) and brother Emile (Peter Sohn) don’t understand him and, after a mishap with a human, they are separated in the sewers of Paris. With the spirit of Gusteau to guide him, Remy finds his way to the kitchen of the great chef’s restaurant where the hapless Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano) has just gotten a job as garbage boy on the power of his dead mother’s recommendation. You see, Linguini’s mother was very close to Gusteau, and it isn’t too much to make him the garbage boy. But Linguini gets in trouble, screwing up a soup that requires Remy’s intervention with excellent results. So, Linguini accepts Remy’s help and the help of the pretty cook Collette (Janeane Garofalo), and becomes famous for his cookery. But look out, chef Skinner (Ian Holm) smells a rat and he thinks he’s seen one too!
The movie is told mostly from the perspective of Remy, and I mean perspective. The ‘camera’ stays low and tight, giving everything the massive scale it would have to a rat. But they don’t stay there, obviously, they take the view of the humans when it’s Linguini’s turn as well as the occasional crane or helicopter shot. CGI allows for a three-dimensional world of great scale and detail, obliterating the lines between live-action and animation. Animators still stay away, maybe as far as they can, from accurately-proportioned human characters. Those films that have tried to do otherwise have not gone well. The best attempt I’ve ever seen is The Adventures of Tintin (2011) and that’s far from perfect. But the art of the thing allows films like Ratatouille to try to visualize the taste sensation, massage gravitational forces, and soften the effects of physical violence.
I’m a big fan of the short animations that go along with Pixar’s fabulous films. Sadly, the Blu-Rays don’t seem to combine them, but I played the pretty dark short called Lifted (2006), about a trainee alien attempting a human abduction, before beginning the show. Very fun, very neat. It and the main attraction are superbly animated. With the same level of anthropomorphic nuances that make these animations breathe. They also have simplicity of spirit which makes them so satisfying to watch.
Pixar excels at story and writing and Brad Bird is one of the most excellent. He co-directed Ratatouille with Jan Pinkava—also credited with Jim Capobianco and Bird are for “original story”—who hasn’t, for some reason, had as much success as Bird who has moved into live action after The Iron Giant (1999) and The Incredibles (2004). This story of the little rat who could is as much about Linguini, the boy without direction and Ego, the man who is continuously disappointed either because of failing standards of the chefs or because it is so much easier to write those reviews—how true.
The latter story resonates best at this very moment. I loved the movie, I readily recommend adding Ratatouille to anyone’s Blu-Ray collection. And yet, how do I describe why it was so enjoyable? The French sound, lovely. The voice acting, superb. Animation, I’ve discussed. It is simple, it entertains, it dabbles in retreaded cliché with a sure hand, it is a perfectly prepared piece of filmmaking. Is it ambitious? Not in telling a new story, but it tells an old story marvelously.
Pixar makes movies that everyone can enjoy. They are the family movies. They make me so happy.