Thursday, August 19, 2010

More Movies: Ratatouille

Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava, 2007

Roger Ebert: 4 Stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

My Official Preconception: I believe this is an animated feature about a rat who wants to cook. Sounds dreadful.


I am pleased to report that Ratatouille, despite being an animated feature about a rat who wants to cook, is not dreadful. If you have a child who requires to be taken out to a certain number of animated features as part of the socialization process, or who can be effectively incapacitated by the in-home viewing of such features, this is exactly the kind of product you need, carefully crafted to amuse the adult mind while absolutely blowing their childrens'.

Now, the last few decades have given us a number of animated movies that transcend the bearable-to-parents concept to become worth seeing even to unencumbered types such as myself and Mrs.5000. I hardly need to list them: Shrek, The Incredibles, WALL-E, Up, and the quirky Fantastic Mr. Fox, and probably Toy Story, although it's been so long since that one came down the pike that I don't really remember it very well. Ratatouille thinks it is in this class, but it ain't. It lacks the elegance, wit, panache, and/or verve of all of the above. Its plot is a grab-bag contrivance for linking together scenes, rather than a coherent story in its own right, and -- amazingly, for a movie about a rat in a restaurant kitchen -- it fails to sound the slightest subversive note, feeding us instead the approved Disney platitudes about friendship, family, following one's dream, and how shocking acts of vindictiveness towards your loved ones can always be patched up a while later with a big hug, once you've all learned your lessons. Yawn.

To be sure, there are plenty of nice moments, the best of which is when the eponymous ratatouille triggers in a mean old food critic a Proustian memory of his forgotten happy childhood. The love story, or at least the growing sexual attraction, between the two leading humans is kind of fun. But the go-to gag, the jerks and ticks of a human being driven like a backhoe by a rat pulling on his hair, is pretty weak. Humans don't actually jerk around involuntarily in response to tugs on their scalp, so the situation is a little too artificial, even for a cartoon, to be very funny. That the animators clearly think it's the best gag since the pratfall doesn't help matters any.

It would not be a lukewarm Michael5000 review without a list of annoyances, and indeed I wish to mention three. The most egregious is the movie's smug stand against crass commercialism -- the new, bad chef is using the late, good chef's image to market a line of frozen and convenience foods. This is presented as a self-evidently evil and reprehensible act. Now, I'm as against crass commercialism as the next guy, but to be lectured on this topic by the Walt Disney Corporation is like sitting through an anger management class taught by Yosemite Sam. It's quite disgusting, actually.

Secondly, the evil food critic. Give him one tasty dinner and he renounces his foul deeds, writing
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.
This is horseshit, of course, and to present it as a gem of wisdom achieved in a revelatory moment after a lifetime of experience does nothing but flatter that part of us that wants to be pandered to, that wants to watch or read or listen to the least challenging crap available without being bothered by the potentially challenging opinions of others. That's the kind of thinking that torpedoes whatever dialog we might hope to get going about our culture.

My third annoyance is that the 1986 UB40 hit "Rat in Mi Kitchen" was nowhere in evidence on the soundtrack. I consider this a sadly missed opportunity, and can only imagine that something went terribly wrong in the relevant negotiations.

Prognosis: * * 1/2. A flawed but moderately entertaining example of the cartoonist's craft.


Dug said...

"something went terribly wrong in the relevant negotiations"

Either that or Disney aint hip enough to know the song. Then again I might not have known it either if I didn't have a younger co-worker in 1988 that played that tape on the boombox. She also liked Scratch Acid so the UB40 sounded pretty good by comparison.

Dug said...

I've got lots of time to make inane comments while waiting for my vegetation raster to process. Maybe I need to get on Facebook!

LegalMist said...

I agree - a tolerable movie; definitely not in the same class as Shrek et al.

Jenners said...

This is the only Pixar film I've never actually watched ... becuase it is about a rat who wants to be a chef. I'm not interested and my kid ain't interested.

Michael5000 said...

Dug: I live for the inane comments!

Jenners: You aren't missing much, but it would be amusing enough if you took the plunge. But I guess I already said that in the review thingy.

DrSchnell said...

As one with youngun attachments, I can say that Pixar movies, without exception (only ones I haven't seen are "Cars", which is based solely on the title much less innately appealing than even rats in kitchens, and "Up", which by all accounts, I really do need to see) are so far above the average animated crap (in plot, dialogue, intelligence, animation quality, etc. -) that they all look like pure genius by comparison (even the incidences of syrupy Disneyesque cliched (how do you spell that? it looks wrong no matter what I do) sentiment as you mention above), hence the uniformly glowing reviews they (even the second-tier ones ) often receive. I agree that this is a second-tier Pixar effort (The three Toy Story Movies, the Incredibles, and Wall-E are the ones I'd put at the top). One of my favorite things about the Pixar movies is, although they're computer-animation, they don't draw attention to their computer-generatedness by the usual amateurish look and sterile, mechanical sheen. Indeed, they're so good and spectacular at the technical stuff that I find myself forgetting that I'm watching animation altogether, and just watching the movie.

Michael5000 said...

When you there 'pon the scene,
You make everyone scream
Because they know you're so unjust
But when they catch you up
They will kick you up
Because you someone they cannot trust

There's a rat in mi kitchen what am I gonna do?
There's a rat in mi kitchen what am I gonna go?
I'm gonna fix that rat, thats what I'm gonna do, I'm gonna fix that rat.

Aviatrix said...

DrSchnell: I was going to suggest clichéd to mollify you by saying that you might not have that option on your keyboard, but it looks wrong like that, too. I guess when you take the past participle of a verb in one language and you add the past participle ending of another, you're not going to make it look good any way.

Dug said...

Thanks. I was going to quote the song but I couldn't remember what he was gonna do. Fix that rat? Don't know why I didn't remember such a great line.

Chance said...

Now, I'm as against crass commercialism as the next guy, but to be lectured on this topic by the Walt Disney Corporation is like sitting through an anger management class taught by Yosemite Sam.

Har har! That's a good'un! Higpog!

I gave Ratatouille five stars. It is brilliant. You probably missed the subtle subtext.