A belated review of Ratatouille

ratatouille-movie.jpgYesterday, we finally got to see Ratatouille (the movie that is, not the dish), when it opened in western or French-speaking Switzerland. The movie theater in Lausanne was only sparsely filled, though since the weather was so glorious, and it was Swiss National Day (sort of like Independence Day in the U.S. in terms of the way in which people celebrate it, with barbeques and fireworks) I guess that was sort of understandable. Anyway, my review, with many spoilers, follows after the jump.

I've been a big Pixar fan ever since I saw the Luxor Jr. short many years ago. I have all of their movies on DVD. Despite the fact that Ratatouille combines three of my favorite things - Pixar, France, and the love of food - I don't think it's a perfect movie by any means - and, dare I say, not quite Pixar's best either. (I happen to think that Toy Story 2 is their best.) That's not to say I didn't love it - I did, absolutely.

Like most other food lovers who've reviewed this movie, I adored the details - the burn marks on the chef's arms, the logical and realistic layout of the kitchen at Gusteau's, the explanation of mis en place by Colette. I loved the passion of Remy, who is, despite his ratness, a true artist. The animation and the artistry is, as with all Pixar movies, unsurpassed - it could be their best in that respect ever. (Whenever there was a scene with a swarm of rats, I couldn't help cringing.)

I think what keeps the movie from being a real masterpiece is the weakness of some of the characters, especially Linguini. He rather reminds me of a typical Disney prince, in that he's a non-character. Sure, he can't cook, but it's not really explained to my satisfaction anyway why he would endure having a rat pulling on his hair for so long - sure he wants to keep the job, but... I just found him to be quite unsatisfactory somehow.

I also wanted just a bit more about Skinner. What made him such a bitter, mean and small (not just in stature, but in thought and deed) man. Did being a sous chef to a chef with so many accolates ruin him? Was he destined never to be great himself, which is why he's so bitter and out to destroy his former boss's reputation? Is he Salieri to Gusteau's Mozart? I know there's a length limit to any movie, but I just wanted a little bit more there.

Speaking of sous-chefs...I thought that Colette, who by the end of the movie is effectively Remy's sous chef in their new restaurants, was somewhat underwritten too. It did seem that she was destined to be a sous chef rather than the chief, the artist - she can recreate recipes flawlessly, but she can't seem to create her own. This is rather interesting in light of what happened to Skinner. I suppose this was done to enhance the stature of Remy as the one, great artist in the piece.

Another bit of nitpicking I have, which I know is really esoteric, is the way in which the actual cooking/creative process of Remy is demonstrated, especially with the infamous soup. It plays up the cliché image of French cooking: add this, that and the other ingredient, more and more of them, until you end up with something delicious. I rather think that this just goes against all that is modern about cooking, and is certainly not the way the best chefs in French cook now. But I know, we are talking about an animated movie here...

There is one moment that really does raise Ratatouille to great heights: when Ego tastes Remy's ratatouille, and is instantly transported back to a happy moment in his childhood. That moment of pure joy, of transcendence, is what great food can bring - and those few seconds captured that rapturous feeling so perfectly.

(A note for anyone in Switzerland: I'd thought that Ratatouille opening was delayed in the German speaking part until October because of subtitling problems. Well that doesn't seem to be the case since the movie did have German and French subs! I'll never understand the distribution system of movies in Switzerland where a part of the country gets a movie months before another...it's so illogical. More thoughts about this on my personal blog.

We also thought about going to see it in France because we thought it would be fun to see it with a French audience, but we couldn't find any theater within reasonable daytripping distance showing it in non-dubbed form. Boo to dubbed movies. At least here in Switzerland there are many theaters showing movies in the original language, as opposed to Germany and France where they tend to dub everything.)

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