Thursday, 1 September 2011


Ratatouille was a lot of fun. Mark Kermode was on The Culture Show last night saying he didn’t like the film because it was too polished, too perfect, but I disagree. Pixar are still taking risks, still pushing to get a different flavour from the last film, and the one before. Ratatouille was a familiar Pixar premise – underdog fights against adversity, with a little help from friends and family along the way – but taken to extremes. A rat wanting to be a Parisian chef? That’s as underdog as you get.

It bumbled along, checking boxes, having tensions and resolutions just where you expected, although the pacing got a bit wobbly towards the end where what seemed to be the main conflict was cleared up just in time for a new one to take over, but thanks to just the right amount of warmth and humour, it pulled through. Brad Bird’s storytelling voice is also a little different from other Pixar directors’, a little more glib and quirky, which makes for films that on the plus side are less obvious and predictable, but also seem to have a slightly greater distance between audience and storyteller, a small wall to overcome.

I didn’t like everything here – the puppeteering aspect was a bit hard to believe, and the laziest storytelling possible occasionally came out (opening voiceovers, a way to make the main character talk to himself to simplify exposition, institutions represented by individuals etc). Perhaps it’s having seen too many anime like Hikaru no Go and La Corda D’Oro in which a protagonist is given an artificial way to become a great success, only to soon realise how shallow and meaningless that is, leading to a yearning to excel with their own talent – but here we didn’t get that, and Linguini, while soon realising Rémy needed credit where it was due, never showed a desire to learned from his extremely gifted little friend. Quite strange, to see a big Hollywood film saying not, ‘With enough hard work, anyone can succeed,’ but rather, ‘Some have great innate talent, and allowances should be made for them.’

Visually, Pixar are still at the top of their game. It is the duty of animation to put in front of our eyes stories that no other visual medium can express so well, and Ratatouille is full of instances that fulfil this stipulation. Chase scenes between a diminutive man on a moped and a rat, a camera that sweeps through tiny cracks in walls and soars like a bird, a drawing in a book coming to life while always remaining that same illustration even in motion, a room shaped exactly like a coffin – moments of sheer visual excellence. And on smaller scales, too: it is well worth noticing that the depth of field is extremely shallow when the shot is of a rat’s face, as it would be were there truly a camera on something very small. Such a subtle, clever way of replicating a real lens. The Pixar animators are to be applauded.

I found it interesting to see how the writers set the film in France, yet relied so much on English-language puns and wordplay that will be hard to translate. I wonder how these elements were rendered in other regions.

On the whole, then, a clever and enjoyable film, visually stunning, but with some storytelling issues that prevent it from being quite up there with Pixar’s – and Bird’s – best. Oh, and I must say one more thing: Peter O’Toole is awesome.

(expanded from impressions, 15.10.07)

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