Friday, 10 June 2011

Favourite Films on Fridays: #28, Ratatouille

Okay, a rare bit of cheating here at Alex-Spencer.co.uk today. Today is Ratatouille's turn at FFoF, and I wrote a piece on it just over a year ago. I've not got much more to say, and I was quite pleased with it, so here's a slightly edited version of that:
ffofinfo28
In many ways, Ratatouille is the black sheep of the Pixar family. Produced, along with Cars, in that period when Pixar had broken away from Disney and were searching for a new identity, it often gets lumped in with that film's confused aims and mixed success. It's not the clear classic of Toy Story or Finding Nemo, nor the adult breakthrough of Wall-E or Up.

Fittingly, what Ratatouille is, is misunderstood.

Even in my own memory - having come out of the cinema, raving about how it was a bold statement on the situation of the artist - the film was difficult, even boring. My lofty claims were shot down, not unsurprisingly, as nonsense. Look at the funny English student, they laughed. Watch his silly dance.

And perhaps the dance remains silly. But, watching it again, Ratatouille says everything to me. It is a manifesto on originality, what should matter (and what, in reality, does matter) in Great Art. I'll break this down....

Remy - the film's hero, the plucky, sellable-to-the-kids rat - is an artist. His art, for the purposes of the film, is cookery. It is clear from the beginning that this passion goes far beyond your everyday omnomnom, and to the fervour of an auteur. He is visited by visions of his hero, the chef Gusteau, and risks his life to pursue this passion.

Yet, he remains tied down by his roots. Remy is of course a rat: the natural enemy of the cooking industry. Though he looks to the stars, Remy is unarguably of the gutter. I couldn't help but see an undertone of class to his position- all the talk of snobbery and 'us vs them' has the ring of working class rhetoric. You could read in multiple other ways, but that's the one that - significantly, perhaps - stood out to me.

Though, as Remy's hero proclaims throughout: "anyone can cook", regardless of who they are.

But Remy's family don't understand. Their ambitions focused purely on survival, Remy's interests are surplus. The humans, the class he (pretentiously, you might say) aspires to, repress him. Early on, by shooting a shotgun at him.

So Remy ends up in Paris, gay ol' Paree, in the company of multiple humans. What they represent is where the film starts to get interesting, and complex.

Our secondary hero, the gangly ginger human Linguini, is just a proxy for Remy's ability. For the purposes of the film's metaphor, he is just another part of the artist: the physicality, the real life, struggling to juggle multiple demands and stresses. The resemblance between him and Remy is not coincidental.

In the middle is Skinner, the villain of the piece. He embraces genre, sticking rigidly to convention. The cooks working under him are told to create nothing new, only to stick to Gusteau's successful recipes. It is for this that Anton Ego, secondary villain and Will Self lookalike, condemns the restaurant as "tourist fare."

Ego vs. Remy is the film's great success. Ego is the critic who has lost his passion for what he criticises, Remy the untrained but talented outsider. Ego is, as Linguini oh-so-tactfully points out, "thin for someone who likes food." There is a parallel with Remy here- earlier on, his family accused him of looking thin. Why, they ask. Not enough food? Or too much snobbery?

The moment of Ego's rediscovery is glorious. It snaps back to his childhood, revealing the critic's roots as a working-class farmhouse type himself, triggered by the titular ratatouille: "a peasant's dish". The colour shoots back into him, and we see a return to passion: later on, he dons a beret (always a handy piece of short-hand), moving back from critic to artist. All thanks to the work of an outsider, who is finally outed.

And, of course the world can't take the revelation that this is a kitchen run by rats. After all, there is always a backlash against the pretentious intruder...

Ahahaha.

Maybe I am putting too much thought into this. Maybe it is a kids' film, plain and simple, untainted by the thoughts and experiences of its writer/director. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions: I'm Remy, all passion and no consideration. I haven't even talked about the visual poetry of the tasting sessions, the lump the ending left in my throat, how much I identified with... well, everyone. Maybe I have pretensions above my station.

Good.

At least I'm not the embittered critic. I'm a few years away from becoming pure, emaciated Ego.
FFoF28Ratatouille
...A full year closer than when I originally wrote this, though.

3 comments:

Christian O. said...

I'm going to talk a bit about Ratatouille, but what I really want to talk about is a running theme in all of Brad Bird's works.


It's funny you mention class, because every viewing I have of a Brad Bird film (aside from the excellent Iron Giant) is mired by the reoccuring theme of "don't attempt to break out of your role"; a notion that is very much in tune with the class system. Remy is, and apparently always has been, a cook, and Linguini has always been a bit of a failure as a cook and a clumsy human being.

They are never going to go beyond whatever limits they were born with.

In The Incredibles every single character, whose powers aren't inborn, is evil. Mirage, Underminer, Bomb Voyage and finally Syndrome all rely on technology to be superpowered. Syndrome's entire plot is give people the opportunity to become something more and he's villified for it. He's not villified because he's commercializing it, he's punished like Prometheus for the audacity of granting regular human beings the chance to be something more. I think that's an appalling moral to put in a children's film.

Christian O. said...

By that I'm not saying that you can't deal in more cynical themes in works for children, or that art is somehow bound in a code of ethics, but I wholeheartly hate the idea that the theme can be propegated without problemizing it even slightly.

Alex said...

I've encountered this argument before, and thought about it a bit (especially as regards The Incredibles)but my reading of Ratatouille runs completely counter to that.

I can see how it's a question of natural ability, but Remy does overcome the limitations he's born into.

And, okay, maybe that suggests some kind of caste system? But surely that undermines the argument as it relates to The Incredibles. Because Syndrome and Underminer, at least, were clearly born with the ability of creation, like Remy. (Just in their case, it's superweapons/giant mole drills.)

And do you not think Gusteau's motto is upheld in the film?

(Thank you, by the way, for being so consistently incisive and interesting. You are my fave! x)

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.