Ratatouille – The movie and the dish.

On Tuesday evening I went to a special private screening of Ratatouille, the lasted animated offering from Pixar/Disney. The event was organised by Silverbrow (he of GFW blog talk I attended) who managed to wangle a screening for some foodie bloggers from Wired, the UK publicity company promoting the film.

In the pre-screening drinks and nibbles I got chatting to the author of cheese and biscuits, as well as a sprightly seven year old called Bee, the only child there, with whom I had a lengthy chat about the collective works of Mr Rohl Dahl, both of us engaged in a ‘favourite bits’ arms race around his writings. We both agreed that the relationship antics of Mr and Mrs Twit were indeed very funny. I mention this because Dahl understood the minds of children very well. when you’re young, you see the world differently, for example the bendy sofa on which Bee, Bee’s mother and I were sat had a small gap behind it, and Bee remarked ‘you could hide behind there… Or store things’. I love this sort of abstract mental leaps.

And there’s something of the child’s eye viewpoint in Brad Bird, Director of Ratatouille. It’s as if he has one adult eye and one childs eye. There’s been lots of press about Ratatouille when in was released in America. (in July!) Most critics and commentators seeking to attach current moral issues to it, ranging from childhood obesity to the cooling of Franco-American relations in light of the Iraq war, so I won’t repeat those here. I just think the Pixar chaps have once again turned out a cracking bit of story telling done through top class animation, animation that is to Toy Story what OS X is to Windows 3.1. It’s the little stuff, stuff you have to actually snap out of the narrative to see and take in, like the fur and the bubbles and the grace of movement. It’s amazing. The way all the rats move for example is spot on.

But I’m sure Bird et al would be the first to tell you that without a cracking script the CGI ain’t worth squat. And while the plot is conventional, as in a seven year old can follow it, the script, the actions, the slap stick and the dialogue is as complex as they can allow.

For example. They actually got to call it Ratatouille. There’s a bit in Douglas Copeland’s Mircoserfs where the lead character, Dan, says ‘American’s can only absorb one or two foreign words per year, Hagen Daz etc…’ This is a kids movie with a French food word as a title, yes they’ve had to put the phonetics ‘rat-a-too-ee’ underneath on the webpage, but isn’t this how kids learn to say words? Your child now knows a foreign word and how to say it… from a movie title, that’s a good thing right? You know in the blandness of Corporate America ™ this could so easy have been called ‘The little rat that could’ or ‘Rat chef’ or something. Also, job descriptions and the words and phrases of the kitchen are maintained, the chefs tall hats are rightly referred to as toques, the chef’s positions as chef, sou-chef, chef de partie, plonge etc. This lets kids figure stuff out and learn. I remember as a child learning the names of dinosaurs just so I could say what I thought were big complex words. It’s why a baddie race in the last series of Doctor Who was called Raxacoricofallapatorious. Kids love all that tongue twister stuff.

For me what really hit home as too why Pixar have pitched it perfectly was that after the 20 adults in the room had stopped chuckling as a particular gag, there was Bee down the front still laughing for a further 15 seconds. Look out for the bit where Linguini is asleep but being ‘driven’ by Remy, and how, with his shades on, they’ve captured French aloof coolness. Also a bit near the start where two lovers are quarrelling, and one shoots the ceiling, only then to start passionately kissing.

The food. Bird spent some time with top chef Thomas Keller of the French Laundry, who also created the signature dish (recipe) of the title that Remy cooks for Anton Ego (voiced splendidly by Peter O’Tool) when Ego reviews the restaurant at the end. There’s a wonderful bit where Ego, the bitter cynical vampiric critic pops the first mouth full into his mouth and…. Wooosh.. is transported back to his childhood, and his mum’s home cooked ratatouille. The animation used to express how things taste is also novel, Skinner mini version of Chief Inspector Dreyfuss skulking around trying to find the rat is also spot on. It’s sheer class from start to finish, and a great piece of family entertainment that restores your faith in story telling and animation, but then it’s Pixar, they’ve never had a dud.

However… If there must be a fly in this otherwise excellent soup, it’s the distributors (Disney) launching schedule. And this applies to lots of content these days from everyone.. Out in the US in July, but not here till October?! Come on guys, this would have been a fantastic summer holiday release here in the UK where it rained all summer, maybe it was to keep it away from Harry Potter?

(More on what I think about this here (soon)…. as it’s sort of grown into a new post.)

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