Ratatouille (2007)

A computer-animated cartoon about a cooking rat who’s trying to make it big in a swanky Paris culinary industry? Wow, how high were the people who came up with this ridiculous idea? And how brave were the producers who green-lighted this project, and put up resources for this film? And then, when time came to promote and market the movie, just how much fighting went on behind the scenes over the title of the movie – Ratatouille? These things I need to know. An unusual concept, an expensive project, and an awkward title – so many things that can easily sink a film, and yet nobody budged. Nobody dumbed down the idea or changed the main characters from rats to … maybe dogs. I assume there are dogs in Paris, some maybe are aspiring chefs, but a rat… It took a lot of balls to see a project like that through, and I admire the person who stuck to it.

Ratatouille (crap, I’m still having difficulties typing this title, it keeps tripping after the second ‘t’ – my hands are simply not familiar with this letter combination) is the latest Pixar animated film. It’s the one that kids will enjoy for the colourful characters, and adults will enjoy for all its grown-up humour and culinary accuracy. We saw it with our kids (3 and 5, respectively), and let me tell you right now – the kids missed most of the jokes, but definitely enjoyed the visuals, and the unbelievable sequences. There are two or three amazing chase sequences that are probably inspired by Mousetrap board game and Incredible Machine computer game. All the gadgetry in the kitchen is being used for those unbelievable chases. Just that alone is worth the price of admission – and they managed to respect the laws of physics as well – objects fall and bounce just like they would in a real world, and you catch yourself caring and worrying for a little rodent that might indeed be killed by that boiling pot or slamming door.

Of course in between the amazing sequences is a great ‘fish-outta-water’ comedy, about a rat with a gift for cooking. He loves great food, he can make it taste even better. Only two problems – how to escape the stigma of rat’s life i.e. feeding on garbage, and how to get along with chefs in a restaurant’s kitchen. Not just any restaurant, but one that’s owned by an egotistical man who may or may not legally have ownership rights. Throw in an awkward, clumsy dishwasher and a driven female chef who wants to eventually (and rightfully) run the kitchen, and you got yourself quite a few triangles. Competition, critics, love, revenge, a secret will and a whole lot of rats.

This film is definitely a few notches above Cars, and deals with people rather than countries or cultures (Cars, I think, was sunk by its over-the-top Americana). Sure things may seem different in Paris, but people are all the same – the girl wants to be recognized in a place run by men; the boy just wants to be seen as somebody more than a klutz, and the rat wants to cook. Everyone has dreams and goals, and they happen to strive for them in the same place, where the pressure is always on food quality, at any cost. It’s a pretty realistic landscape, but it makes for hilarious sequences and quite interesting social observations.

Ratatouille looks gorgeous – the fur, the tail, the whiskers are unbelievably realistic, and they move, they actually move. The world this movie occupies seems a little too serious for a cartoon, but as soon as you humanize all the characters, it’s a small step to “cartoonize” them and easily put them into comical situations. And then – this is the part I loved the most – you can just as easily take a small step and humanize them again, to make things interesting to older kids, or to their parents. This is a cartoon about a workplace – an unusual setting – but if it worked for Antz and Robots, it can – and does – work here.

Our younger kids may not have gotten all the lines, but they know the characters, like the look of the film, and know a little bit more about great food, and working and dealing with all kinds of people. What more can you ask? Go see it, and then go buy it. A great-looking film with a kid-friendly message.

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