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The very first review I wrote for this blog was the 2009 animated masterpiece The Secret of Kells, a gorgeous blend of Irish art, fantasy, and history which, incidentally, centers around the growth of a young artist. So what better way to mark this blog’s fifth anniversary than to look at another animated classic that masterfully expands on the themes of creativity, the nature of the artist, their work, and how public perception and greed thwarts the new and experimental?
Oh, and it’s also the first Pixar movie I’m reviewing because somehow I never got around to one in the past five years (so-so holiday specials notwithstanding).
You know, animation directors rarely get the recognition they deserve. A ton of work goes into creating each scene, each character, each frame from scratch, and it’s not surprising that two or more people usually have to share the responsibility of getting the movie out on time. Only a select few animation directors have risen to some prominence outside of their community, but not quite to the level of their live-action peers – with perhaps one exception.
Brad Bird, maybe you’ve heard of him: The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, helped kick off The Simpsons; he even made the jump to live-action and made some pretty good stuff in that medium too. I specifically say medium because, as he so rightfully stated, animation, like live-action, is a medium, a method used to produce artwork, not a genre. There is a distinct difference that studios and the public tend to ignore because of the stigma that animation is meant for children. Animation is a means to tell stories through, not a boxed-in category to dump kids’ movies into.
You’d think Bird’s passion and dedication to crafting mature stories for both adults and children would have made him a shoo-in to direct Ratatouille, especially after his Oscar win for The Incredibles. That wasn’t the case, however. Long-time animator and storyboarder Jan Pinkava got the ball rolling, but was replaced when the the film hit story troubles. Anyone who’s kept an eye on Pixar’s output will undoubtedly note that whenever a director is switched out during production (Brave, The Good Dinosaur, and depending on your POV, Toy Story 4), the resulting features wind up being, well, let’s call them a mixed bag. But in this case, bringing Bird onboard was nothing short of a godsend for Ratatouille. The film may have started as Pinkava’s brainchild, but it was Bird who really got what the story was about. His drastic changes, from redesigning the rats to be less anthropomorphic to even killing off one of the central characters, reinvented the film from the ground up, and got him his second Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
I’m happy to say that at the time this review is being wrapped up, Ratatouille is undergoing something of a critical re-evaluation and renaissance; yes, it was a big hit on release, but there was a long period of time where, despite its overwhelming success, it was something that Pixar itself seemed to have forgotten about. There were no plans for a sequel (unless you count the uproarious short “Your Friend, The Rat”), no TV series, no high demand for a consumer product line, little to no character presence in any of the Disney parks, and it wouldn’t receive a proper ride until 2014; even then, it was added to Disneyland Paris (a clone was set to open in Epcot’s World Showcase last year though it was delayed due to 2020 being…2020). For whatever reason, nobody was interested in talking about it or utilizing its potential like most of Pixar’s other films. That apparently changed as of last year; Maybe the movie gave people that comfort food for the soul they craved during quarantine, or the Kingdom Hearts 3 minigames centering around Remy controlling Sora reminded them how fun it was, or maybe it was the Ratatouille musical meme on TikTok that became so popular that they turned it into an actual musical. But I have to ask, why? Why did Ratatouille fall off the radar for so many in the first place? Well, after poking my nose in a few places, the main consensus I got from people who didn’t believe it rose up to Pixar’s lofty standards was because they considered it “boring”.
Now I try to respect most other’s opinions when it comes to animated movies, but…boring?
Is fast-paced, expressive computer animation that still holds up with what Pixar puts out today boring?
Are colorful, relatable characters in a vibrant reimagining of the City of Lights boring?
Is an original story that shows how creativity can apply to an unlikely field and an even more unlikely creator boring?
Is one of the most iconic actors of the twentieth century delivering the greatest speech about criticism and its relationship to art boring?
If your answer is no, then you’ve come to the right review blog.
(Also, Schafrillas Productions uploaded his take on Ratatouille while I was in the midst of writing this, so I apologize if I accidentally retread any of the points he made in his review. Go check it out when you’re done with this, it’s quite good.)
Our story opens with the main character crashing his way onto the screen narrating his predicament.
Meet Remy, played by Patton Oswalt. There are many things I owe to this movie, and being introduced to the comic genius that is Patton Oswalt is one of them. He’s a great comedian, an excellent voice actor, and listening to his diatribe against “The Christmas Shoes” while putting up holiday decorations is something of an annual tradition for me. He gets my seal of approval. Remy is a rat born with a highly-developed sense of taste and smell and is far less eager than the rest of his family to consume whatever rotting scraps of food his clan scavenge from the compost heap. This is also probably the quickest I’ve ever related to a single character. I too have extremely sensitive taste buds and it’s made me the butt of my family’s occasional culinary jibes, but it’s not a joke. Put a single flake of parsley in my food and I will find it. And you’ll have made a very powerful enemy that day.
Remy’s dad (late great character actor Brian Dennehy) doesn’t think much of Remy’s “picky” eating until Remy sniffs out some rat poison near the waste. Rather than learning to appreciate his son’s gifts, he gives Remy the monotonous job of checking their daily haul for poison. By the way, it’s never said in the film, but Remy’s father has a name, Django, which wouldn’t be a problem except whenever I hear that name all I can think of is this:
Another point Remy and Django (the D is silent) clash over is how they get their food. Remy hates stealing, especially since what they’re taking is literal garbage. Django is more cavalier about what they consume, food is fuel after all, but warns Remy to stay away from the kitchen. It’s not worth risking their necks over higher-quality sustenance. Still, Remy frequently sneaks in as the lady of the house sleeps with the TV on and gets his kicks in the form of popular chef Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett applying a wonderfully cartoony French accent to his trademark bass). It’s through him Remy finds a purpose. He learns that food is more than just a means of survival, that it can be used to create wonderful, exciting new things, and cooking is as beautiful and meaningful a form of self-expression as art.
This idea is beautifully illustrated in the sequence where Remy tries a bit of different kinds of food. Each taste is visualized through a unique bit of color, shapes and music. When the flavors are combined together, the screen explodes into a lively, saturated display of Fantasia-like animation as he savors the experience.
Remy does have a reluctant confidant in his gluttonous brother Emile (story artist Peter Sohn), who’s mildly more accepting of Remy’s talents and aspirations than their father is. One stormy day, Remy ropes Emile into devising a new recipe with fresh ingredients they’ve found and cooking it on the roof, with electrifying results. He then drags him to the kitchen for some spices. Ignoring Emile’s discomfort, Remy takes in an inspiring news story on the TV about Gusteau. His mentor’s famous words “Anyone Can Cook” warms Remy’s heart – which in no way prepares him for the blow that follows. The report on Gusteau’s life isn’t a retrospective, but an obituary. Gusteau, the artist Remy idolized from afar, is dead.
But there’s no time to mourn as the old lady wakes up and spots them. This scene establishes that all humans hear rodent speech as unintelligible high-pitched chatter, so Remy and Emile can’t just apologize and ask her to chill. Even if they could, though, it probably wouldn’t change the fact that she’s a lifetime member of the NRA.
In their haste to escape, Remy and Emile inadvertently oust the colony to the homicidal granny. The rats evacuate to the river. Remy runs back for Gusteau’s cookbook (hence the opening crash) and loses his family in the sewers. He washes up in parts unknown, alone and starving. While he waits for someone to find him, he turns to his book.
From this point on, we get an interesting twist on the mentor/student relationship that so frequently crops up in movies about creating art. The mentor usually kicks the bucket around the midway point, leaving the pupil in a slump until they figure things out for themselves. But what happens when the mentor is A) already dead when the story starts, and B) someone the hero has never even met and has only secondhand media exposure to go by? The answer is so simple it’s brilliant.
Gusteau is now an imaginary friend Remy can vent to and subconsciously give himself advice through. Every now and then, usually at a moment of uncertainty, Gusteau appears like a little conscience over Remy’s shoulder saying what he needs to hear – whether or not he chooses to listen is another matter, though Remy’s banter with this jolly sprite provides some memorable moments. I’ve seen one interpretation of this claiming that it really is Gusteau’s ghost (Ghost-eau?) guiding Remy along and playing dumb over things he shouldn’t know, and yes there are a few coincidences that play into that theory, but I actually prefer the film’s intended takeaway. It gels much more nicely with the story’s outcome and intended message, as opposed to just a lucky protagonist being chosen by a magical spirit mentor.
Anyway, Gusteau encourages a despondent Remy to go explore above ground. Remy scampers up through the mazelike walls of an apartment building. He’s almost tempted to sate his hunger with some stolen food but Gusteau reappears to convince him otherwise (“A cook makes, a thief takes […] Food will come to those who love to cook.”) Remy continues to wind his way through the cracks and crevices of the rooms, encountering little surprises (and early Up cameos) along the way, like an advent calendar full of sweet treats and nuggets of foreshadowing, all building up to the point where he reaches the top of the world.
The muted, stormy colors of the countryside and sewers give way to the vibrant sunset and golden glow of Paris, inviting us to a whole new realm of limitless possibilities. The view of Remy’s minuscule height juxtaposed against the vast city puts us right in his shoes, in awe of this breathtaking sight; combine that with the gorgeous swell of Michael Giacchino’s main theme* and it chokes me up every time.
Oh, and what else makes Remy’s discovery of his city of dreams even sweeter? The realization that he’s wound up right at Gusteau’s own restaurant.
It’s here we meet the human players of this story, running the gourmet kitchen at the height of the dinner rush as smooth as clockwork. But before we go any further, I have to discuss how the human characters look and are animated…and to do that, I’m gonna have to look at what came before it…
Look, not to dunk on The Incredibles, it’s a great movie, but even when it premiered I could tell the animation of the time wasn’t quite up to snuff for what they were trying to do. Yes, they move just fine, but while the texture and movement of the characters’ hair are highly realistic, it’s a stark contrast to how plasticky and rubbery everything else is. I find it a mite too distracting at times, not helped by how limiting the lighting and color palette is. I hear Incredibles, and I immediately think of either tons of red, or monotone fluorescent grey and white; not very interesting. As for the designs of the character themselves, they’re great – in two dimensions. Some of them make the jump to 3D animation just fine, but others…
Now compare this to Ratatouille’s human characters:
It’s the right balance of cartoony and realistic, cute yet over-exaggerated, loose yet detailed. Of course, Ratatouille’s animation wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for the leaps in technology and lessons the animators learned in making the films that came before it. The Incredibles walked so Ratatouille could fly.
Making his way into the kitchen is Linguini, voiced by story artist Lou Romano, who also happened to voice he aforementioned Bernie (Coincidence? I think NOT!) Linguini’s late mother was an “old flame” of Gusteau’s who’s written a letter to Chef Skinner, his former partner and now owner of the restaurant, asking to give her boy a job. He’s assigned to garbage duty despite Skinner’s trepidation.
So let’s talk about the character of Skinner. One of the few stigmas Pixar has is that they supposedly don’t have any good villains. This always came off as a rather biased assumption to me. When I stepped back and thought about it, I realized most of the people who make this claim are only comparing them to the classic Disney villains (Maleficent, Jafar, etc.) The thing is, Pixar doesn’t roll like Disney does. Whereas much of the fun from certain Disney movies come from the villains, Pixar’s heroes have always been the main draw. Some of their movies don’t even have antagonists because the stories hold up so well on their own that they have no need for a guy in the corner laughing maniacally as he plots the heroes’ downfall. So when Pixar does create a villain for their story, they run the risk of having an antagonist that amounts to an easily overcome obstacle which is just as easily forgotten later.
And Skinner? He’s considered one of those villains that fall through the cracks – which is wholly unfair.
Skinner’s not a sociopathic monster like Hopper, Lotso or Ernesto de la Cruz, a charismatic but dark reflection of the hero like Charles Muntz or Stinky Pete, or a fun over-the-top psycho like Syndrome. Well, he’s fun, over-the-top, and bordering on butterfly net territory, but he doesn’t have a giant robot on standby. What he is, however, is a riot. We have an uptight chef with Tall-Poppy Syndrome and a Napoleon complex whose thirst for control at all costs drives him to near-insanity (it’s also worth noting that not once during the film do they make any pointed short jokes at Skinner’s height. Watch and learn, Katzenberg). That alone presents a hundred comic opportunities, but what really sells the character is an impeccably hilarious performance from Ian Holm (rest in peace, Bilbo) and the animation. Good lord, I hope whoever worked on Skinner gets all the Annie Awards. He brings to mind the best of the Looney Tunes; if Chuck Jones made Yosemite Sam into a manic little French cook, this is what he would be. Watch the moment Skinner thinks Remy’s hiding under Linguini’s toque and tries to catch him unawares; screencapping it barely does the speed, movement and extreme facial expressions justice:
Remy watches the kitchen from above and impresses his imaginary senpai with his knowledge of its inner workings. When he catches Linguini accidentally spilling a kettle of soup and spoiling it in an effort to cover up his mistake, he throws a fit that only a die-hard fan watching his beloved kitchen be desecrated could throw. Remy falls through the skylight into the kitchen where he spends the next two minutes escaping every conceivable form of death at a breakneck pace. Just as he’s found an opportunity to flee the kitchen, he catches a whiff of Linguini’s soup and nearly vomits.
At first Remy throws in a handful of spices to keep the worst of it at bay. Then he keeps returning for more. And finally, he realizes the incredible gift laid out before him, this one golden opportunity to finally cook something in the very restaurant he’s always dreamed of. What follows is one of the film’s centerpieces, a long take encircling the pot as Remy joyfully flies about flinging ingredients inside. He is an artist in his element bringing his very first masterwork to life. His enthusiasm leaps off the screen. Remy’s movements and the incredible score grow more frenzied and euphoric the more lost he becomes in his creation…
…until he realizes he has an audience.
Linguini hides Remy, but is caught by Skinner who assumes he was overstepping his bounds and cooking. In his rage, he’s too late to stop the soup from being served (again, love the sudden swift animation of him running out screaming into the dining area, freezing, then dashing back in again). The whole kitchen screeches to a halt as they await the response – see, the woman who was served wasn’t a customer, but a critic. Even Remy puts his escape on hold to hear the outcome. Remarkably, the soup is well-received. Linguini gets the credit, but Remy gets his first taste of validation.
Now, this praise is a massive deal for the restaurant; it was once a prime culinary cornerstone, but in the time since Gusteau’s passing, it’s been reduced to a tourist attraction. To the average Parisian, dining at Gusteau’s is like eating at the Applebee’s in Times Square (before circumstances made venturing out of the house to dine anywhere a novelty). Not helping this image is Skinner using his power over Gusteau’s estate to sell a line of cheap frozen food under his old friend’s name. Anton Ego even explicitly compares Gusteau to Chef Boyardee, a famous chef in his home country who was reduced to the face of canned pasta after his death.
So for those of you who are lost, this story’s about a creative enterprise that’s lost its way since the death of its beloved founder…
…is under the control of a man who prioritizes profit over art…
…who reduces the name of said enterprise in the public eye by producing low-end rehashed versions of successful products…
…which ends when a daring creative underdog is brought into the fold and helps restore the place to its former glory.
Don’t look at me like that, the comparison had to come up sooner or later.
Skinner’s ready to fire Linguini for going over his head, but Linguini has a defender in the only female chef in the kitchen, Colette (Jeanine Garuffalo), who reminds Skinner of Gusteau’s motto: anyone can cook. The fact that Linguini’s a garbage boy doesn’t diminish his supposed talent in the slightest. Plus, the public learning that the man who created such an excellent dish was fired wouldn’t do the struggling restaurant any favors. Skinner reads the room and reluctantly gives Linguini another chance to prove himself, but warns him that he’s got his eye on him. He then spots Remy escaping and forces Linguini to go exterminate him; the restaurant risks instant closure if even a trace of a rat is discovered in its walls.
Linguini takes Remy to the banks of the Seine to drown him, but can’t bring himself to do it. He’s not a murderer, he’s just a plain old noodle boy with no family, no prospects, no money, and no hope. In this moment of vulnerability, he reveals how terrified he is over these new expectations placed upon him and the possibility of losing his job – and then he realizes that Remy can actually understand him. One of them can cook, and the other can pass off as human. Maybe, just maybe, they can make this work…
Pixar’s all about its dynamic duos: Woody and Buzz, Mike and Sully, Joy and Sadness, and so on. Remy and Linguini are no exception. The one thing that differentiates these two from all those other Pixar pals, however, is that they can’t just talk to each other. The filmmakers could have easily shrugged and said “Sure, rats can talk to humans in this world, why not?” but that would have been too easy. By rendering Remy silent throughout his scenes with Linguini, it doubles down on his status as an outsider in the human world as well as giving the animators a chance to shine through pure expression and movement. The only other relationship like this in any Disney movie I can think of is Dumbo and Timothy, another mammal-rodent partnership, oddly enough (though who’s talking and who’s silent has been reversed).
One thing I also I enjoy about this friendship is that it’s not all hunky-dory right off the bat. When Linguini releases Remy, Remy plays him like a chump and runs off, but thinks better of it and returns. When Linguini finds his refrigerator’s been plundered he immediately assumes Remy stole from him until he discovers that he was making breakfast for the two of them. The foundation of a solid friendship has been laid, but there are still prejudices to overcome, and character flaws and communication barriers to work through, and that makes for some entertaining drama and hilarity.
Then there’s the matter of how exactly they’re going to pull off this charade. All their attempts at hiding Remy while he shows Linguini what to do are painful, awkward, and make Linguini looks like he’s snapping under pressure. It’s only by pure happy accident that Remy discovers the key to their act.
Apparently part of what drew Brad Bird to this project was the infinite animation possibilities that could come from a man being puppeteered from the top of his own head (wow, it’s like this guy has 30+ years of expertise in the craft or something). This leads into a fun montage of Remy and Linguini learning to work together until their cooking looks as natural as can be. The gags are great, and it’s tremendously satisfying to see them come together.
Soon Remy and Linguini are able to replicate the soup and pass off Linguini as a chef, but that was only their first challenge. They still need to learn how the kitchen itself is run, and Skinner foists that job onto Colette. One could argue Colette’s just the token female character thrown in solely to be the love interest to Linguini, but there’s a lot more to her than that. When her lessons start, she cuts the crap and gets right to the point.
Colette’s the one woman in this restaurant working a highly stressful competitive job in what’s already a largely male-dominated field. She takes her job seriously and wants Linguini to do the same, so he’d better wise up and follow her every word because she’s not about to let some upstart garbage boy screw her over. Her introductory monologue is tantamount to “fuck the patriarchy” and I am here for it. Jeanine Garuffalo wrings years of frustration out of Colette, channeling that emotion into spirited near-frantic aggression that makes her a trip to watch. That animosity isn’t just there for the sake of making her an angry shrewish girlboss either; there’s a few moments subtle moments of animosity between her and Skinner throughout the film that validate her hostility. I have to wonder what the movie would have been like if they delved into the sexist gatekeeping mentality that’s the norm in so many creative areas and made the parallels between Remy’s climbing through the ranks and what Colette must go through on a daily basis.
And as for Colette and Linguini becoming an item later on, you see their connection grow through their teachings. She notices how much he’s paying attention and how he isn’t put off by her attitude, and he’s the first person there to acknowledge her contributions and genuinely thank her. It’s clear she takes that to heart, so when their relationship escalates into something romantic, it’s neither a surprise or unwarranted.
The montage of Linguini and Remy thriving under Colette’s tutelage is another of the film’s highlights. Not only does the food look amazing (as is the case for nearly every morsel in the feature) but shows how much cooking expertise the crew soaked up in their research. And admit it, it’s thanks to this scene we all secretly listen to how restaurant bread crackles to see if it’s really fresh. No? Just me? All right then.
It’s also during these lessons that we’re properly introduced to the people who keep the kitchen running, from pyromaniac chef Larousse to the overly anxious waiter Mustafa (the obligatory John Ratzenberger cameo). Now stop me if you heard this one: “All these characters are so interesting and I wish we could learn more about them and spend more time with them instead of Remy and Linguini -“
If this was a series where we could devote more time to each character, sure, I could understand that complaint, but in a film, every second counts. I applaud Pixar for making sure they’re not just interchangeable models filling up the background, but people saying we should see more of them are missing the point. Linguini and Remy are the ones we’re supposed to be following, and if we were to spend more time with the side chefs, then the plot would come to a screeching halt so we’d learn more than we need to about these tertiary characters whose impact on the story is minimal at best. What we get are fun little tidbits, sure, but to put it in culinary terms, Remy and Linguini are the main dish, while the other chefs are the spices that keep things a little more interesting but aren’t supposed to be the main draw.
The only cook who Linguini doesn’t win over is Skinner. He’s not happy that the restaurant is doing well based on Linguini’s success; this unimaginative greedy sellout just wants to profit off his dead friend and is leery of anything that could put a stop to that. Plus, him spotting Remy everywhere but never outright catching him is making him increasingly paranoid. Skinner reaches his breaking point when he notices an important detail in Linguini’s mother’s letter that he previously overlooked – Linguini is secretly Gusteau’s illegitimate son.
Skinner alerts his lawyer, who is rightly concerned about his client’s sanity when he goes on a tirade about Schrodinger’s rat. He calms Skinner down and tells him to make sure Linguini doesn’t learn the truth before the month is out. If he does, then the restaurant and everything that comes with the Gusteau brand passes to him instead of Skinner.
Anyway, Remy and Linguini must put what they’ve learned to the test when a customer asks for something new on the menu. Skinner chooses to revive an old failed recipe Gusteau hid away because he couldn’t make it work, knowing there’s no way Linguini could hope to succeed with it either. Of course, he didn’t count on Remy’s culinary vision and Linguini’s tenacity. Remy improvises an entirely new dish using the good bits of Gusteau’s recipe as the foundation, which horrifies Colette as she’s a stickler for following the recipe to the letter. The back and forth between Remy and Colette with Linguini stuck in the middle as they race against the clock and each other to complete the meal is charged and hilarious. I’d like to think a more clever person than I would be able to make some jokes about this scene, but it’s Pixar. Why try to top something that’s already so funny to begin with? The tension boils to a head as Remy and Colette fight over the sauce that will make or break the dish, with Remy coming out on top by just a flick of the wrist. The meal is a smash hit, much to Skinner’s dismay, and Linguini and Remy earn themselves even more high praise.
While the kitchen celebrates, Linguini sneaks Remy outside so he can have a little personal R&R. Skinner then pulls Linguini aside and tries to pry his secret from him with copious amounts of wine. Ah, it makes me nostalgic for the good old days when you could show cartoon characters getting plastered on real alcohol, none of this acting goofy after too much ice cream nonsense. Linguini doesn’t spill the beans, but goes on a random harangue about the unappealing name of the dish ratatouille (title drop!). Frustrated with his lack of answers, Skinner leaves Linguini to clean up the entire kitchen on his own.
Meanwhile, Remy reunites with someone he never thought he’d see again rifling through the garbage – Emile. Ignoring Gusteau’s warnings, Remy takes a few scraps from the kitchen so he won’t have to gag at the sight of his brother eating trash. We get a repeat of the scene where Remy experiences the wonder of creating new flavors through Emile, though here it’s played as a joke. Try as he might, Emile can’t fully appreciate Remy’s outlook as he’s happily entrenched in his “eat first, ask questions later” mindset. Humorous as it is, it subtly sets the stage for the next dramatic step in Remy’s character arc. He’s finally found comfort with what he’s doing and is living his dream; to show how far he’s come and how he can’t go back to his old life, even when a way suddenly presents itself, makes perfect sense at this point in the story.
Emile insists Remy returns home with him to the clan, who have taken refuge in the sewers. Against his better judgment, he does and is welcomed back like the prodigal son. It doesn’t take long for his outsider status to rear its ugly head, however. Django doesn’t take kindly to learning Remy works with “the enemy” and accuses him of not behaving like a real rat should. When Remy asserts that making art with humans is what he truly wants, Django takes him aside to give him a cold, cruel reminder of what he believes people really think of rats. He leads Remy to a shop filled with rat poison, traps, and the corpses of actual rats dangling in the window. It’s highly disturbing and based on a real store the Pixar crew found in Paris during their field trip, so, points for accuracy? I debated with myself over whether or not to use a screencap of it but decided against it for the sake of any sensitive readers. Just enjoy the ironic Disney logo.
Django reinforces the notion that humans will only see rats as vermin to be disposed of, and trying to change that only leads to death. In any other children’s movie, this would be the point where Remy starts questioning his partnership with Linguini and their camaraderie begins to crack.
Thankfully, Ratatouille is no children’s movie.
Remy outright rejects Django’s nihilistic views, refusing to accept that the future is nothing but an endless cycle of violence and fighting to survive. I really can’t say anything better than what Remy himself states:
Change IS nature, Dad, the part that we can influence. And it starts when we decide.
Throughout the movie thus far, Remy makes it a habit of walking on all fours only when he’s embracing his natural rat instincts or when he’s trying to appease his father; otherwise he’s on his hind legs the majority of his screentime, another visual cue for how he’s embraced the human world. Here, he gets right up and walks away, no longer caring what his dad thinks. Django asks where he’s going. “With luck,” Remy shrugs, “forward.”
Remy returns to the restaurant where he finds Linguini sleeping off his hangover. He takes control when Colette shows up, but she is insulted by Linguini’s conspicuous silence. Sobered with a slap, Linguini attempts to reveal both his emerging feelings for Colette and tell her the truth about Remy – though neither confession goes smoothly (watch where her eyes dart to when Linguini says he has a “tiny chef” and remember that there are no coincidences in animation). Linguini moves to expose Remy himself but Remy quickly maneuvers his puppet man into a romantic kiss with Colette, which she eventually reciprocates.
So Remy’s secret is safe and Linguini gets the girl. All is well – or at least it would be if this new romance didn’t provide its own set of complications. Linguini begins listening more to Colette and resisting Remy’s control in the kitchen as a result. Remy doesn’t care for this shift in loyalty for obvious reasons, but as we’re quickly shown, he has very good reason to worry. His feelings of neglect are exemplified when Linguini loses Remy while riding on Colette’s motorcycle and he has to escape deadly traffic and a murderous mob of cafe patrons by the skin of his teeth. He can’t survive in the human world without Linguni, but it seems like he’s starting to do fine without him. It’s a stark reminder that his masquerade is a fragile one, that the world sees him as nothing more than a filthy little thief unless he’s working out of sight.
Remy returns to the restaurant and finds Emile waiting for him with a few of his friends asking for more handouts. He goes to get the key to the fridge in Gusteau’s office. There he finds the letter and will and learns the truth about Linguini, to which he and Gusteau have the best reaction to:
“He’s your SON?”
“I have a SON?!”
“How could you not know this??”
“I am a figment of your imagination. You didn’t know, how could I?!”
Skinner returns in the midst of this revelation and chases Remy around Paris on a motorcycle to steal the documents back from him. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about how this chase scene feels out of place compared to the movie thus far, but I have no problem with it at all. Maybe it’s not as well-received because of how cartoony the image of a little man on a motorcycle chasing a rat is when all the previous chases have had Remy trying to escape more life-threatening, believable scenarios previously; still, it’s still fun, exciting, and gives us a moment to explore the city outside the restaurant. Y’all are being too harsh on it.
Remy gets the papers to Linguini proving he’s the Prince Spaghetti That Was Promised. Linguini takes control of the restaurant, fires Skinner, condemns all the
direct-to-video detritus frozen food to a trash fire, and starts living the high life with Remy and Colette, all while Skinner grouses from the streets. It’s a sweet uplifting montage made even lovelier by the film’s joyful theme song “Le Festin”. It’s difficult to listen to that song and feel down. Even the few difficulties that present themselves during the scene don’t feel so terrible when paired with it, whether it’s Emile visiting Remy with an increasing amount of his friends asking for more fresh food or Skinner trying and failing to get back at Linguini by calling the health inspector on Gusteau’s.
But all good things must end, as they say, and they start to take a downturn at a press conference held at the restaurant. Like I said earlier, Schafrillas got his Ratatouille review finished well before I could, and I don’t know what else I could say here because he perfectly articulated why so much of the third act comes together brilliantly. In a movie like Ratatouille where it’s less about reaching specific goals and more about the characters, ego drives the conflict and threatens to tear our heroes apart. Everyone we see is touched by arrogance in some way. Remy isn’t thrilled with Linguini taking all the credit for his hard work, especially when given several opportunities to introduce him to the world, and feels even more slighted than he already was after Colette came into the picture, despite the fact that Colette played a big role in upping his game. Linguini, now that he’s officially declared Gusteau’s heir, starts believing that he doesn’t need Remy anymore and is resentful that he’s being treated like a puppet, forgetting that he wouldn’t be where he was without Remy. But nowhere is this sense of ego more brilliantly personified than a man actually named Ego – Anton Ego, to be precise.
I’ve been waiting until now to talk about Ego, because though he occasionally appears during the first two-thirds of the film and shapes some things from the sidelines, it’s not until this moment where he enters the characters’ lives proper that he poses a true threat. There are so many clever death motifs surrounding him, from his vampire-like design to his coffin-shaped office – hell, his nickname is “The Grim Eater” – all of which are appropriate since critics can kill anything with a negative review. It’s safe to consider Ego the main antagonist of the feature, not so much for what he does but because of what he represents. Ego views himself as the authoritative voice on cuisine, that his opinion is the only one that matters. He sees anything that challenges that as a personal challenge to his very being, and that includes Gusteau’s regaining popularity long after his scathing review robbed the restaurant of its stars and caused Gusteau himself to die from Padme’s Disease. Ego will not stand for it. Ego is ego. The only thing that will appease him is to to rise like a revenant and deliver the final word and ultimate killing blow to that which would dare to defy him. He strides up to Linguini in the midst of the conference and lays down his challenge – he’ll return in twenty-four hours, and if he doesn’t love the food he’s served, then Gusteau’s is toast.
And before we progress, I’d just like to shine a spotlight on who brings Ego to life vocally. In the year between when I started this review and when I finished it, I watched the movie My Favorite Year for the first time; I already knew Peter O’Toole was a great actor, Laurence of Arabia and so on, but I had no idea he could do comedy as well as drama. Then I rewatched Ratatouille for the umpteenth time to try to gather my thoughts for this review and all the pieces came together. The fact that Ego was listed among O’Toole’s most fondly remembered roles after his passing speaks volumes the impact he leaves on this film. The character wouldn’t be the smug, pretentious, intimidating and riotous figure he is without him. It’s not just his pointed jibes that make him unforgettable; his delivery walks that fine tightrope between subtle menace and sweet summer ham (“Yes, I’d like your heart, rrrrrrrroasted on a SPIT” he gleefully growls to Linguini in a brief but darkly comic nightmare sequence). In other hands, Ego would be a one-note villain. But thanks to Bird’s writing and O’Toole’s acting, he’s a multi-layered character who steals every scene he’s in.
Thoroughly shaken and stressed, Linguini takes Remy aside and has a one-sided shouting match with him which a spying Skinner overhears and learns the truth from. Emile and his friends also happen to witness their fight and mock Remy for being a human’s “pet”. Overwhelmed and exasperated, Remy hastily invites the whole clan, including his father, to raid the kitchen that night for a bit of petty revenge. All goes well until Linguini shows up to apologize to Remy, which of course means the deception is revealed at just the wrong moment, and his and Remy’s friendship is apparently ruined. Yeah, yeah, I know I’ve given grief over the third-act misunderstanding/liar revealed/split-up trope before and my feelings on it haven’t really changed.
The way they pull it off still manages to be somewhat natural. As Remy and Linguini’s clash of egos reaches its boiling point, it only makes sense that one of them would lash out like this; not only that, but Remy was guilty of giving into his rat instincts, and his remorse after he gets caught is immediately palpable. I think the biggest difference between when Ratatouille engages this cliche and when other movies do it is, again, the fact that Linguini and Remy can’t just easily talk things out. Other friendships and romances could if the screenwriters were clever enough, but our noodle boy and rat of our dreams don’t have that option to begin with. They both need some time apart to cool down and realize on their own how much they need each other, even if they have to indulge in a temporary falling-out to do it.
The following evening Linguini fails spectacularly at rallying the kitchen. A guilt-ridden Remy wants to go help his friend, but that gets put on hold when he gets caught while saving Emile from a trap set by Skinner (I swear Remy’s captured so many times that he should change his name to Princess Peach). Skinner informs his captive that he’ll be helping him prepare his own frozen food franchise if he wants to stay alive. Then he locks Remy in the trunk of his car and books a front-row seat at Gusteau’s to watch Linguini’s downfall.
Suffice it to say Remy is at his lowest point. Luckily, he’s not alone.
Trapped with the thoughts in his head, Remy is forced to confront his deepest insecurities, the ones that set him down his path just as much as his desires have. Gusteau won’t leave him alone because, as he says, he’s only as free as Remy imagines himself to be. Spurred by this, Remy viciously tears through the lies he’s told himself throughout his journey in a desperate plea for answers:
I’m sick of pretending. I pretend to be a rat for my father, I pretend to be a human through Linguini. I pretend you exist so I have someone to talk to! You only tell me stuff I already know! I know who I am! Why do I need you to tell me? Why do I need to pretend?!
It’s a rant that cuts to the very center of his turmoil, made even more heartwrenching by Patton Oswalt’s performance. All his life, Remy’s been torn between the human world and the rat world, forcing himself to be something he’s not to try to fit in both of them. But Gusteau, ever the inner voice of reason, gently sets him straight with just a few words.
Ah, but you don’t, Remy. You never did.
And with that, the truth of Remy’s identity dawns on him. Fittingly, this is the very last time we see Gusteau.
A superficial glance would tell you that you could take away this scene and not miss a thing; if that were to happen, however, the film would greatly suffer for it. It’s the closure to Remy’s internal conflict that he needs and that we need to see. In plenty of screenwriting and fiction writing courses I’ve taken, part of a main character’s arc depends on unlearning a lie he or the world around him has told him. He cannot achieve his goal unless he does so. This is the moment where Remy does, and the path to his destiny is cleared. The inverse of that, where a character doubles down on believing the lie and takes a tragic turn for it, is also why I’m okay with Skinner hanging around the film after he loses his job. There’s nothing an uncreative business-type loves more than to stick it to those who snubbed him; in keeping with the theme of ego, he feels he needs prove that everyone was better off under his one-track management.
Django and the clan rescue Remy and he returns to the kitchen over their protests because he knows who he is now – a cook. Linguini stops the other chefs from killing Remy and tells them the whole wonderful, insane truth about who’s truly behind their string of successes. In letting go of his ego and admitting he has no culinary skills despite his lineage, he reaffirms his friendship with Remy and shows he’s also embraced who he really is. And this is where the whole restaurant bands together to cook a knock-out dinner and prove their little chef’s worth, right?
They all walk out on him. Despite how they stood behind Linguini through Remy’s strange, brilliant creative endeavors, this is one idea too crazy for them to get behind. Even Colette, who’s more heartbroken over being lied to, storms out in tears. In a cute movie featuring talking rats that cook food, it’s an unexpectedly realistic turn that blindsides you on first viewing.
Linguini and Remy, left totally alone with Ego waiting impatiently, resign themselves to failure. Django, however, witnessed Linguini’s heartfelt defense of Remy. He realizes that his son was right, and tells him he’s proud of him for not giving up on his dream. He calls in the rat clan; they’re not cooks, but they know how to work as a team. So now Remy’s back in the game giving it his all and nothing could possibly go wrong –
Oh yeah, the health inspector, betcha forgot about him, didn’t you? Turns out this one-off gag has a solid payoff. The rats deal with this delightful new complication by taking a page from Willard’s playbook and kidnapping the health inspector. They then get to work on preparing food for the whole restaurant (after sanitizing themselves, of course) with Remy doing an admirable job commandeering the entire kitchen. It’s a wonderful, silly, inspiring sight. Linguini single-handedly steps up to the task of waiting on the tables on roller-skates. Colette returns as well, having had an epiphany after seeing her mentor’s philosophy in plain sight.
Remy reveals what he has in mind for Ego: the simple cooked vegetable stew that Linguini drunkenly ranted about – ratatouille . “A peasant dish,” Colette scoffs. But not the way Remy envisions it.
So Linguini serves Ego and Skinner the ratatouille. He takes a bite, and something amazing happens:
My best friend took me to see Pixar In Concert for my birthday one year, and when it got to this part during the Ratatouille section, the audience cracked up. Yes, seeing a bitter old man thrust back into his childhood by tasting some food is funny – funny, and jarring, and beautiful.
This ratatouille is no fancy feast, but a simple dish made out of so much love and care that Ego flashbacks to the last time he had such a meal, one made by his own mother when he was a boy. There’s no denying it; this ratatouille may seem like the last thing someone would serve in a ritzy restaurant, but to him, it’s something wonderful, something that touches him at the most intimate level.
Ego’s first appearance right before we meet Remy has him expressing disdain for Gusteau’s philosophy that anyone can cook, priming us for the number one difficulty Remy must face – to show that he can cook in a world that says he can’t – and setting up Ego to be completely proven wrong.
The pen drops from Ego’s hand with a monumental crash: the perfect symbol of him surrendering his power and pride to simply enjoy this delicious culinary masterwork.
Not even Skinner is immune to the power of perfect ratatouille. Once he scarfs down his dish, he barges into the kitchen demanding to know who cooked it and promptly joins the hogtied health inspector.
Ego gives his compliments to the chef, who he assumes is Linguini, but his humble waiter admits he’s not the one deserving of praise. That begs the question – who is? Linguini sprints back into the kitchen and brings out Colette, who tells Ego that he’ll have to wait until the last customer leaves if he wants to meet the real chef.
So Ego waits.
And he waits.
And he waits.
If there’s one slight nitpick I have with this scene it’s that the narration tells us everything that we can already see for ourselves. It might have been stronger to just have the scene play out silently, but I can tell they needed a way to naturally transition to Ego’s monologue while also bringing back Remy as the narrator to wrap things up, so I give it a pass. When the restaurant is completely empty, Colette and Linguini reveal Remy to Ego. He smirks; this must be a joke. But no, they show him the rats in the kitchen, Remy’s combo-puppeteering and culinary skills, the whole nine yards. Ego’s smile slowly vanishes. When the demonstration concludes, he thanks them for the meal and departs. After an anxious night of waiting, his review is published.
Whenever I insert a video clip there’s always the risk that it’ll be taken down and ruins the flow of the review, yet there’s no way you could get the same emotional pull from reading a wall of text copied and pasted from the script instead of experiencing the moment of Ego’s review itself.
five six years since I began this blog, Ego’s revelation has taken on a whole new meaning to me. Sure, it’s fun to write and read negative criticism and suggest ways to improve, but more importantly, taking a closer look at all these films and specials has given me so much. It taught me how to defend the works that need defending, to embrace the new, to reevaluate my past opinions and tastes, find inspiration in unlikely places, and to truly appreciate how much work goes into creating each singular vision regardless of intent or interference. It’s easy to sit at a keyboard and make fun of stuff. But it’s still stuff that people have put years of their lives into creating, whether or not I consider it “good”. In short, as Ego says, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than my own criticism designating it so.
Another thing that makes this scene perfect which nobody talks about is what Remy does throughout it. As the restaurant closes for the night, he’s given the choice of waiting out Ego’s deliberation with Linguini or his family; that familiar dilemma of choosing between two sides of himself is brought forth visually. Instead of picking one or the other, however, he chooses to go his own way by himself. In any other film, the protagonist wandering the city streets alone would be a melancholy sight, but here, it’s reaffirming and uplifting. For the first time, Remy has chosen his own path and is perfectly happy with who he is, enjoying the sunrise comfortable in his own skin. And when the review arrives as glowing as the dawn, both mankind and rat-kind are there together to celebrate with him.
So that should be the end, right? Ego’s come around, Remy gets the validation he always hoped for, everything’s all wrapped up in a neat little package. Unfortunately, as the movie itself has already stated, real life is never that simple.
I’ve seen this movie with an audience at least twice before, and I can recall the sound of disappointment in the theater as this reveal punched us all in the gut. The kitchen staff abandoning Linguini and Remy was enough of a shockingly realistic twist that nobody saw this coming either. Of course they had to let Skinner and the health inspector go even after what they’ve seen (otherwise you’d get some snarky douchebags on the internet theorizing that Remy is a murderer). They’re not monsters so they couldn’t just hold them hostage forever, though of course the first thing the two would do on being released is to, ah, rat them out.
Gusteau’s going out of business not only affects Remy, Linguini and Colette but Ego as well; he sadly lost his job and credibility for supporting a rat-infested restaurant. The good news is he’s back on his feet thanks to a certain wise small-business investment. Then we see that Remy has been telling this whole story to friends and family over dinner he’s serving in the rodent section of his own new restaurant. It’s nowhere near as big and fancy as Gusteau’s, but it’s got great food, a cozy atmosphere and the wait for a table goes down the block. Colette is the sous chef, Linguini serves, Ego is a frequent and happy customer, and Remy is still thriving in his very own kitchen. And our story comes to a close as we learn the restaurant’s name.
Is Ratatouille my favorite Pixar movie? It’s a question I have a hard time answering. The first Toy Story is a technological landmark that still gives me all the childhood nostalgia. Toy Story 2 makes the case that sequels can be better than their predecessors. Wall-E has one of the best cinematic romances of the past decade and is a better environmental fable than most movies that tackle such themes. Up manages to follow that perfect opening with a moving and wildly inventive story. Luca is a sweet little ball of gay Italian sunshine. Inside Out and Coco are visual and emotional masterpieces that make me cry every damn time I watch them. And I’ve seen Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo enough times that I could recite them from memory with no regrets. But out of all of them, Ratatouille has aged like the finest of wines. The animation? Stunning. The acting? A delight. The writing? Schafrillas’ comparison to a superb indie movie is spot-on. The status of a single restaurant is low-stakes in comparison to thwarting supervillains, saving a kingdom or even getting home to Andy, yet it’s these fascinating characters’ struggles and dreams that invest us. It’s got that perfect balance of comic capers and mature storytelling that most live-action films wish they had. It’s a movie I turn to when I need a laugh, a dazzling view of Paris, or a feast to nourish my artistic side.
Back when I first saw Ratatouille in the summer of 2007, I was a high school kid transitioning to senior year with little to no idea of what I wanted to do with my life after graduation. All I knew was that I wanted to make art. Now, all these years later, I’m on my own creative journey, trying to prove that I’m an artist like Remy. He uses food, I use words and colored pencils. It’s been a bumpy road, but after all the hard work, setbacks, rejections and revisions, I’m getting there. In that time, I’ve come to appreciate and love Ratatouille’s story and message because it’s so close to my own experiences, to the point where I own a poster signed by one of the story artists.
While nearly every animated feature is a work of art at the most basic level, so few of them tackle art itself and what it means to be an artist. Perhaps the greatest thing that can be said about Ratatouille is that it does so in a way that’s unexpected but genuine. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rat who wants to cook, a blogger, or a writer-illustrator; the desire to create, to leave that personal mark on the world is always there, and will always find its way out with enough determination and passion, even if reality meddles with the outcome. Whenever I’ve had my doubts, I’m reminded of the perfect message this movie left us, one that reflects my own hopes as Ego realizes what Gusteau really meant when he said anyone can cook:
Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.
And, like Ego, I shall always return to Ratatouille hungry for more.
Thank you for reading! I’m sorry it took this long to finish but as you can see, I had a lot to say about Ratatouille. I hope it was worth it. I want to thank everyone who stuck with this blog for the past six years, and for all your support whether it was through Patreon or through your wonderful comments and encouragement. Here’s to the next six years and more.
Thanks also to my Patrons Amelia Jones and Gordhan Rajani for their generous donations. Patreon supporters can get special perks including extra votes, movie requests, early sneak previews and more!
Now that the anniversary review is finally done, I should tell you how things are going to go down for the indefinite future: the next review, Song of the Sea, will go up on the 20th, as will every film review each month. The Faerie Tale Theatre reviews will be posted on the 6th, ensuring you’ll get new content at least every other week. See you soon!
Artwork by Charles Moss
*- I couldn’t find a way to naturally say this in the review proper, but Michael Giacchino’s score is incredible, easily one of my favorites if just for the humorous titles he gives the tracks, ie. “Granny Get Your Gun”, “Remy Drives a Linguini”, “Kiss and Vinegar” and so on.