David’s Favorite Films, #25: RATATOUILLE

It’s not a huge secret that many Pixar productions, at least to outsiders, take on the appearance of being “troubled.” The animation juggernaut has produced commercial and critical hit after hit* since the original Toy Story set the industry on fire back in 1995, but the production process has occasionally hit some speed bumps.

Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.

-Anton Ego

Toy Story 2 was rescued from the direct-to-video trash heap and given a brand-new script. John Lasseter took over Cars 2 from the original director when that film started to have problems. Mark Andrews took the reins of Brave after Brenda Chapman (Pixar’s first female director) was dismissed. Even the highly-respected Bob Peterson was relieved from next year’s The Good Dinosaur, reasons unknown (fortunately, he’s not leaving the company).

We may never know what the original Ratatouille would have looked like, and on what scale Brad Bird made changes when he came in to replace Jan Pinkava, but we do know this: Bird crafted an exceptional film.

*Okay, obviously this doesn’t include the Cars series. An unfortunate black mark on their record, to be sure.

If I were to name my favorite working directors, It’d be 1) Spielberg, 2) Christopher Nolan, and 3) Brad Bird. He only has four feature films to his name: the fantastic The Iron Giant, The Incredibles (which will also appear on this blog), Ratatouille, and the best-of-the-series Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol. His current project, Tomorrowland, is highly-anticipated. He’s an exceptional storyteller, with perfect control of character and a genius’s eye for staging action sequences, whether animated or live-action. Point being, he’s awesome.

Ratatouille tells the story of Remy (Patton Oswalt, perfectly used), a French rat who has dreams of being a chef. Since this is set in a human world, that’s a somewhat unreachable dream. After he is separated from his family and lost in the sewers of Paris, he emerges outside the restaurant of his hero, the chef Gustau (Brad Garrett), who occasionally appears to him as a subconscious adviser. He accidentally demonstrates his skill to a young dishwasher named Linguini (Lou Romano, also a Pixar employee), and strikes an unlikely bargain: Remy gets to “be a chef” in exchange for helping the incapable Linguini do the same.

Looming over the events of the story is the film’s secret weapon and most profound character: the lugubrious culinary critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole, marvelous). When Gustau’s starts to regain popularity, he salivates at the chance to put Linguini in his place. His office resembles the interior of a coffin. Even his typewriter looks like a skull. The film sets Ego up as the antagonist, and we await his comeuppance along with Remy’s success.

Except…the film brilliantly pulls the rug out from under us in the third act. Ego has an experience at the restaurant with that, as he puts it later, “[rocks] me to my core.” When the scene whooshes into a childhood flashback, triggered by Remy’s cooking, the character is entirely redeemed in a single heart-stopping moment. Ego then goes on to write a beautiful piece of positive criticism, that loses him his credibility but gives the film a poignant and moving denouement.

You don’t have to be a foodie to love Ratatouille. It’s a film about creativity. It’s about how genius can come from unlikely places, and how the truest incarnations of that genius often go unobserved or misunderstood. It’s a film that is constantly gorgeous to look at (and listen to–composer Michael Giacchino does some of his best work), and surprising in the best ways. Most importantly, it resonates deep in the soul of anyone who desires to create, and bring something beautiful and artistic into the world…and that could be anyone, because anyone can cook.

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