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July 15th, 2007

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01:15 pm - Our Quality Assurance Guarantee: 100% Genuine Animation
There is a scene in THE INCREDIBLES, Brad Bird's 2005 animated feature, in which the 10-year-old budding superhero Dash, forbidden to use his powers of superspeed in "everyday" life, is finally allowed to run full-blast in order to escape from some menacing mechanical buzzsaw hovercraft. As he is pursued, he finds himself running over a body of water. He looks down. He realizes that he's fast enough to actually run on water. He grins with wide-eyed astonishment (I believe he also indicates that this is "cooool!") and then takes off even faster. Dash leads the buzzsaw hovercraft through a wild and exhilirating chase sequence which perfectly captures the joy of someone who finally gets the freedom to do not only what they love, but what they do well.

Dash's scene is but one of many wonderful scenes in THE INCREDIBLES, but the only one that really nails that feeling. RATATOUILLE, on the other hand, is all about that joy. I am beginning to suspect it also represents exultation on Pixar's part of gaining creative freedom from under the thumb of Eisner & Co.

See, RATATOUILLE was slated to be the first film released by Pixar after it had finally and officially broken off with Disney. That meant that the film was developed with no creative input, for varying definitions of the word "creative", from Disney executives because it wasn't theirs to touch. It wasn't an easy task; Brad Bird was asked to take over Jan Pinkava's "Rats!" project after assisting as story doctor for a brief spell. Brad then performed a complete overhaul and was able to do so without The Mouse continually sticking its collective fingers into the, er, pie or sauce or souffle or whatever cooking metaphor is supposed to go here.

Then suddenly Disney announces it's buying Pixar outright. As part of the terms of sale, Disney is contracturally obligated to release RATATOUILLE. Without being able to muck about with it.

Brad Bird looks down, looks back, sees he's outrunning the execs, grins and goes "Cooool!"

The result is that we get to see what Pixar was going to show off as its "See what we can do without those guys?" film. Its initial shot across the bow of Disney animation, if you will, and I hope you do. And considering how the film is all about discovering what you love to do, realizing that you do a very good job of it, and then exulting in the freedom of going out and doing it, I'd say that was a rather appropriate message to send as one's declaration of studio independence.

And then Disney got it back. But they didn't know what to do with the film. They had to release it, but had no idea how to market it. They couldn't figure out which target demographic to target (is it for kids? or for people who can actually pronounce the name?) so they just sold it in a relatively quiet fashion, atypical of The Mouse's usual marketing blitz, and told folks not to set their financial expectations too high on this one.

The fact that RATATOUILLE has, in its second weekend, without benefit of Disney's typical relentless promotion and cross-promotion and cross-cross-promotion, posted a domestic gross of just under the same amount as the overpromoted CARS had by its second weekend ($109M vs $117M, respectively) is amazing testament to the quality of the feature. Apparently word-of-mouth can put butts in seats if the film's worthy enough.

And the fact that the film is absolutely gorgeous, amazingly animated and has a touching and inspiring story without turning preachy or treacly (seriously, Anton Ego gets more character development in a 10-second flashback than most cartoon villians get in an entire feature) is just, well, icing on the cake. Or whatever cooking metaphor you want to put there. My god it was astonishing. There was the level of detail and technical complexity (that bread! the wet fur! the way the rats breathe in short little breaths like real rodents do!) and the swirling, swooping, amazingly exhilirating scenes, perfectly choreographed and paced, especially the sequences involving Remy the rat in the kitchen of Gusteau's.

Then there was the fact that while this was rated G, there were still grown-up conventions throughout (did you actually think you'd see the day when a Disney film featured an actual factual honest-to-goodness bastard as its human protagonist, and practically labels him so?) Oh, and all the culinary and foodie bits, including a power dynamic familiar to anyone who's ever worked in a kitchen, from the tyrannical head chef to the martinet sous chef (are they ever not dour?) to the sole woman in the kitchen who's had to fiercely assert herself to even get the privilege to work the line. And on it goes, right on down to "Oui, Chef", the universal kitchen equivalent of "aye aye!" (There's a reason Anthony Bourdain gets a thank-you at the end of the film; this stuff is straight outta Kitchen Confidential.)

It should be no surprise that Brad's crew did some serious research for the film, including what must have been some horribly arduous fieldwork at French Laundry, La Tour d'Argent and Taillevent, among other fancy eatin' places. Thomas Keller even gets a voice cameo as one of the diners at Gusteau's. Pixar does its homework. Pixar wants to get things right. Want to know what a fellow in chef's whites would look like after going for a unexpected dip in the Seine? Well, Pixar actually dunked a guy in chef's whites just to find out. It is this attention to detail and love of the craft (and no shorcuts such as motion-capture, as the end credits boast) combined with great storytelling that makes RATATOUILLE probably the most beautiful animated feature I've ever seen. Sure, I've a few quibbles with some of the story, but they're pfiffling and honestly, at the end of the film, they didn't matter. The applause did.

So yeah, I liked it. Maybe sometime I'll tell you even more reasons why.

(52 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2007 05:45 pm (UTC)
I hope Disney doesn't leap back into the Pixar creative process, bad musical numbers and Robin Williams at the ready. They've twisted their own franchise into a cheap parody of the classic Walt Disney ouevre: not just a case of too many chefs, but too many accountants acting as chefs.

I hate Disney. Long live Pixar.
[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2007 06:10 pm (UTC)

Quality of Product is Essential to Continuing Success

I am hoping that with John Lasseter at the helm, Disney animation won't creep back into the Cheap and Formulaic. He's already chucked weaker projects and put the focus on reworking the remaining ones. He killed the Direct-To-Video Sequel franchise, hates the "Disney Princesses" and "Disney Fairies" merchandising lines, and wants to give Imagineering more power over the beancounters.

And as long as he can show that they can reap big bux without sacrificing quality, he'll be able to do whatever he wants.

Still, there's no promises, only hope. And I hope that this works. If not, well, we'll always have Paris.
[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2007 06:20 pm (UTC)
I wasn't going to bother with this movie until I read this post. Now I'm curious. Thanks.
Date:July 15th, 2007 06:21 pm (UTC)
Okay, I keep hearing people raving about this movie. I must say -- I really, really intensely disliked The Iron Giant, and I thought The Incredibles was only okay (and the animation made my whole skull ache). I kind of liked Cars, although it was overlong and kind of flaccid from a story standpoint. Do you think I'd like Ratatouille?
[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2007 06:36 pm (UTC)
I think you would like it for its technical merits. The animation is not as chaotic as The Incredibles, and not nearly as, well, superhero cartoony, though our human protagonist is appropriately named Linguini (he often moves as if he doesn't have a bone in his body.) The Parisien landmarks are also rendered beautifully (there's more to the city than la Tour Eiffel) so if you've any familiarity with the city, you'll like that.

However, there is one bit near the end which I believe you will absolutely detest. It is an important turning point but one I think that, given what I know about your tastes and creative bent, may be the gamekiller. I'd explain in greater detail but it involves spoilers.
[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2007 06:38 pm (UTC)
I thought Ratatouille had a super cute story and the animation was, but I didn't know all of this back story. Thanks!
[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2007 06:38 pm (UTC)
I adored this movie SO MUCH, but I was unsettled at how much it...erased women. There were no female rats, except the dead (absent, silent) mother--the story which is described as "about family" is about fathers, sons, brothers. Colette gets the speech which is an astonishing stroke of realism about how incredibly sexist her industry is--but her narrative function is to stick up for Linguine, to teach him so that he can surpass her, to be the one who comes back and supports him. And, of course, the whole concept of Gusteau and of "anyone can cook" is obviously based on Julia Child, but for some reason, he *had* to be a man.

I agree with everything you said about the artistic AWESOMENESS, and it really was a beautiful portrayal of finding your joy in life, of becoming an artist in the non-masturbatory Romantic self-indulgent sense. But I wish it hadn't left me feeling like...well, apparently anyone can cook, but you're only worth making a movie about if you're a man. (Or a male rat.)
[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2007 07:19 pm (UTC)

(spoiling hopefully minimized, watch out people)

That speech was amazingly honest.

Thing is, I don't think Linguini surpasses Colette. Personally, at least. He does in the public eye, however, and she calls him on it. She totally nails him on it. And I'd go so far as to say that when it came to mentoring, Remy was the one who got any benefit from it. At the end of it all, I'd say Liguini is merely a figurehead while Remy and Colette, as equals, exist above him. And I believe he gained the humility to accept that (yet at the risk of spoilers, I was kinda hoping Colette would fully take over the biz. But there's another running theme in the story -- that of the figurehead, be it Gusteau or Linguini, being manipulated behind the scenes. Are we always to accept that?)

Now: What if Colette had been clued in to Remy early on? How would she have treated Linguini? I am suspecting she may have known he was a fraud all along, but then this romance thing came into it.

I think throwing romance into it was forced. Completely forced. I don't like it when romance is forced. It is a device used simply to make sure the two characters have something to like about each other even when there hasn't been much else developed. (One of my pfiffling quibbles.)

The lack of any other major female characters is more than pfiffling now that I reflect upon it.

In the original story treatment, Remy was to have a mom, the matriarch of the brood -- but moms are always the nurturing and caring characters in a story like this. Remy would have never had the compulsion to strike out on his own and continue that way had he not been constantly trying to fight the lifestyle which his father tried to impose upon him. Still, it doesn't explain why the only rats we deal with are guys.

On the other hand, with the absence of female rats, at least we didn't have to endure Remy falling in love, too.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:July 16th, 2007 09:23 pm (UTC)
If you do not write reviews professionally - please consider it.

Ditto. I loved reading this. I love pretty much everything you write, of course.

I couldn't believe how beautiful the movie was, both in animation and in storytelling. The fountains! How did they do that? And the Ego flashback alone is worth the price of admission. Not only is it tremendous character development, but it perfectly captures in video the sense of taste and memory.

I loved it. I'm going to see it again and again.

[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2007 08:30 pm (UTC)
In case I haven't mentioned it before, you're smart and funny and I like you very much.

And yes, the movie was gorgeous. That moment with Ego was genius. Hubby was a garde-manger and then a sous-chef once--we had many moments laughing our asses off where the rest of the theater completely missed the joke. That took balls on Bird's part. My four-year old daughter dug it heavily. She also thought 'Cars' sucked. A proud moment for Mama.
[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2007 09:53 pm (UTC)
Beautifully said and echoing my thoughts well. May I link to this?

As for the lack of females quibble, I honestly mildly noticed but paid it no mind. Colette explains very well and honestly why there's no other women in the kitchen. There's plenty of female diners and news people, even the first critic was I believe a woman. As for the lack of female rats, to be fair we really only saw 4 rats with any depth - Remy, Emile, Dad, and the big lug Emile's friend. It makes sense that most of Emile's friends would be male. We don't know there were no female rats, we just didn't have focus on any but those few.
[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2007 10:51 pm (UTC)
As the one who made the quibble *g* I quite pointedly *didn't* complain about the lack of women in the restaurant's kitchen, and I greatly admire the writers for including Colette's angry acknowledgement of institutional sexism. What bothered me was the rest of the cast--

Gusteau--based on a RL woman, but a male character
Emile's friend--male
Health inspector--male
Granny with shotgun--female

That's eight roles. One is female, and I don't believe she has any lines(aside from muttering/screaming *g*). You could reasonably argue that the bulked-up physically intimidating rat would have to be male. Which leaves six speaking roles without a fixed gender, and they're *all men.* Not to mention the explicit *absence* of Remy's mother, who didn't even get any specific reminiscing, just a brief mention for a few seconds.

I mean, yeah, it'd be problematic also if there were two or three "bad" women characters and all the protagonists were male. I'd complain about that too, to be honest. But--it would be less disturbing than just deciding there are no women in Paris except this one chef. (Good lord, no wonder she's angry! *g*)
[User Picture]
Date:July 16th, 2007 03:25 am (UTC)
No comments on the firing guns? :D?

Shotgun! Fired repeatedly! Another handgun! Fired and almost hits Remy!


Did the crazy broad in The Rescuers fire a gun at any point? My memory is hazy.
[User Picture]
Date:July 16th, 2007 03:36 am (UTC)
Heh, actually what got me more was flagrant alcohol use.
Date:July 16th, 2007 02:44 pm (UTC)
I just saw this yesterday! I agree with all your comments, and also feel the need to note that this is the first Pixar movie where I'd enjoy owning the soundtrack.
[User Picture]
Date:July 16th, 2007 03:13 pm (UTC)
I loved this movie. Brad Bird kinda owns my soul, though.
[User Picture]
Date:July 16th, 2007 09:25 pm (UTC)

no school like the old school

Judging from that awesome Elastigirl costume, I can bet!

(I've enjoyed Mr. Bird's work since The Iron Giant, which I campaigned long and hard to get shown at our local sci-fi film festival since it was cruelly ignored at the box office. At the end of the film, the whole house applauded. Lovely moment. The next year I campaigned for Battlefield Earth on the grounds that it'd be ripe for heckling, but it was so loud and obnoxious nobody could say anything. Ah, well.)
[User Picture]
Date:July 16th, 2007 05:40 pm (UTC)
We got back from Disneyland yesterday. And while we saw two rats in costume in New Orleans Square and there was a float in the parade and they had some merchandise in the shops... that was it. That. Was. IT.

I was really suprised that there wasn't Ratatouille themed everything everywhere I turned.

Adam's out of town this week. I'm taking the girls to see it tonight.
[User Picture]
Date:July 16th, 2007 07:54 pm (UTC)
Nicely said.

My kids loved the film, and Julie and I had a great time too. It was entertaining for the kids and yet smart enough for adults. Not the sort of 'here's a joke that grown-ups will get, and now back to the kiddie action', either.

And I was surprised by the way it ended as it seemed completely unDisneyesque. But now I know why, after having read your review.

(p.s. 'villians' -> 'villains')
[User Picture]
Date:July 16th, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC)
But it's I Before A Day!
[User Picture]
Date:July 16th, 2007 10:23 pm (UTC)
Did you know that Ratatouille is being released in Japan under the name Remi no Oishii Resutoran (literally "Remi's Delicious Restaurant")? Leaving aside the fact that, near as I can tell, restaurants themselves shouldn't be described as delicious (outside of the Wonka Factory, I mean), it's like they didn't even try. *sigh*

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