It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...

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.
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