(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Ratatouille (2007)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Remy the Rat elevates a mediocre white dude to being the owner of a once five star Fresh restaurant (above a much more qualified female chef), despite a total lack of qualifications.
Why It’s on the List: What makes Ratatouille so different from a lot of previous Pixar movies is you can really see the improvements in technology. Not only do the rats look good, but there are a wide variety of human characters (something Pixar had struggled with in the past) and some gorgeous vistas. The initial moment where Remy sees Paris laid out in front of him is gorgeous and looks as real as if the audience was really there.
There are aspects that hit differently in 2020 versus 2007. Its perspective on critics is a mixed at best. Anton Ego is a walking stereotype, a critic so self-important that he thinks of himself as more important than the thing he reviews. I know this is something I ran into all the time when I reviewed wrestling shows. Let me tell you. Ego is 100% wrong and someday a filmmaker is going to an interesting movie about the relationship between art and critics.
What works about the film is the character relationships. I appreciate Remy and Linguini’s relationship. They have good banter and it’s wild to think Lou Romano is not even a full-time actor. There is a trope of having the mediocre white male hero learn or take cues from a much more qualified woman. I think this is trope exists to create romantic tension and get a woman into the movie even. Despite this trope, Linguini and Colette have a good rapport as well.
In addition to the characters, there’s some gorgeous set design and this is a film that shows a very kind of specific appreciation of food. In an era just before cooking reality shows became a thing, I think this is one of the rare pieces of art to show food as art, not just what we stuff in our mouths. This is a Pixar movie I loved when I saw it in 2007 and still mostly holds up because of the animation and characters.
*Critics are never portrayed well and even in this movie. Ego is a dick. His behavior shouldn’t be tolerated because he’s clearly biased and bitter. As much as people want to think critics live in ivory towers, that most definitely is not the case. I follow enough of them on Twitter to know how much struggling there is freelancing and multiple writing venues or barely holding onto the full-time jobs they do have.
MVP: Jan Pinkava was the original director and is credited with a lot of the major story elements. He unfortunately lost control of the production at the behest of John Lasseter. This is not as controversial as what happened on Brave, but it is noteworthy. Veteran animation director Brad Bird took over and guided the film until the end of its eventual release. I have to give both men their due for creating a spectacular looking and well told piece of filmmaking. Pixar generally does a very good job of merging the various animators and writers’ visions together so it comes across as seamless. This movie still works despite the change in direction and issues with production.
Best Performance: It’s wild to think about Patton Oswalt’s in the context of the peak content era. This is a man who has seemingly been in every kind of genre: comedies, dramas, podcasts, the MCU, his own comedy specials, even a true crime docuseries! He tragically lost his wife a few years but has continued to work, and this oddly feels like an early performance in the context of his career. He’s a great choice for Remy and is generally a great voice for any animated feature. He delivers the comedy and emotional beats well. Being able to make the audience care about a rat is a job for the animators but especially the voice artist in this case.
Best Quote: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new: an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto, “Anyone can cook.” But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist *can* come from *anywhere*. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.” – Anton Ego
Is there a sequel? No. I don’t really think there’s anywhere to take this story that’s in any way interesting.