Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Last time I spoke of Pixar, I had the misfortune of landing probably their worst feature. It's unfortunate because I really do love Pixar. I like how they don't talk down to their audience, how they make movies that people of all ages can enjoy, and how they take unexpected ideas and make interesting films about them. Yes, I called Cars' premise something akin to Maximum Overdrive, but they've also made the most potentially queasy premise known to man - Rats in a kitchen, cooking your food, getting their little rat paws on all the herbs and spices - and made it into a charming and lovely romp. Yes, today is Ratatouille day.

The story goes that once there was a rat, named Remy. He, being more selective than other rats, wanted to be a chef, which was problematic because he's a rat. On one end, there are his rat brethren, who insist he be like them and eat garbage and do normal rat things. On the other end, there are humans, who are understandably uncomfortable around rats. Eventually, he finds an intermediary in the form of a man named Linguini, who can't cook but is easy to manipulate through his hair. He eventually takes over the restaurant of a disgraced chef who is also the Great Gazoo. This all leads to a climactic review by the renowned and a bit obnoxiously overplayed as evil Anton Ego, who inexplicably has a coffin shaped office and dresses in an angry black.

Actually, the Ego character was an odd one, because it's not what I would expect from either Pixar or Brad Bird. Pixar has been a critical darling since the beginning, mostly because they make movies for families that are always quite good. Bird also has been mostly charmed when it comes to critical standing, at least in recent years. He was on the Simpsons when it was everyone's favorite show, before making the Iron Giant, which everyone loved, and the Incredibles, which everyone loved even more. While there is certainly a bit of redemption late film, it's still somewhat anti-critic, and that seems a bit odd, considering that critics love Bird, want to marry him, and give birth to his children.

Of course, it's understandable everyone loves his films. It's got a positive message - no matter where you come from, it's possible to be great - and it doesn't talk down to his audience. His characters are charming and thoroughly drawn, the visuals are exciting and thrilling, and the attention to detail is amazing. Even better, here's someone who can make an action sequence, and the various chases that Remy is involved with are thrilling, exciting, and should be watched by all directors who are planning on filming a chase sequence in this day and age. He uses animation in ways that live action could never possibly manage.

Another great thing is the divide between rat world and human world is filmed in such a way that it is always clear whose perspective it should be viewed from. When watching from the rat's perspective, the world is larger than life, exciting and full of immense danger. From the perspective of man, it seems familiar, but it actually makes one almost envy the rats, just because they're living from a different world. It's a subtle thing that is vitally important in making the film as interesting as it is.

Like all Pixar films, and like all Bird films, the most important thing is that it trusts kids. The story is a little complicated, but it makes sense, is easy to follow, and it believes that kids can make sense of it. It is a world with danger, and it trusts kids to be okay with that. It tries all sorts of entertaining cinematic tricks and flourishes, and trusts that kids will keep entertained.

That's the success of the entire Pixar empire, and of this film in particular. By trusting kids, it makes the overall film enjoyable to everyone in the family. It, like the titular dish at the end of the film, manages to recall the joy of childhood for people of all ages, and brings back memories of things that might have been forgotten as people grow and change. This is what a family film should be, something that everyone can enjoy and get something out of, no matter how old they might be.

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