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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Ratatouille is a great Pixar film

Remy and Linguini in Ratatouille

Ratatouille is about a rat, Remy, from the French countryside who wants to be a chef. He goes to a French restaurant opened by his cooking hero, Auguste Gusteau, only to realize that the place is in shambles after the chef's death. His successor, Skinner, is more interested in making a quick profit by selling mass-produced microwave food under Gusteau's name.

Remy meets the kitchen's new garbage boy, Linguini, and together, they try to return the restaurant to its former glory with Remy's artistry and talents. (Their method actually involves the rat burrowing into Linguini's hair, hidden from view by the boy's torque, and then controlling Linguini by pulling his hair... it's pretty surreal when you really think about it)

Looking back at the last few reviews of 3D animated films I've written, I noticed that there really isn't a single one where I didn't criticize the quality of most 3D animated films. I was merely joining in the chorus, agreeing with everyone that these works are mostly cynical studio-manufactured, mass-produced products meant to make a quick profit.

I don't intend to do the same here, but many who saw this film had interpreted it as a film about the eternal conflict between art and commercial, in which the quality of an artistic work is compromised, the 'safe' formula adhered to, just for the sake of maximizing earnings. When 3D animated films started to seem like surefire hits in the box-office, many film companies aside from Pixar and Dreamworks began churning out 3D animated films of their own, talking animals, 'hip' pop culture references, saccharine manufactured sentimentality drown in snide cynicism. Quality sacrificed for commercialism. That end of the spectrum is represented by Skinner.

Yet the other side of the spectrum, inhabited by Remy, belongs to those who live for the arts, often through their romanticized worldview, they isolate themselves from the ignorant masses, fearing that they would 'achieve mainstream success' that would demean the value of their works, turning them into 'sellouts'. Perpetually disgusted and exasperated with capitalism and commercialism, with consumerism and many other things that start with 'c' and ends with 'ism'. they are caricatures of 'starving artists', talents and creativity make them revel in pretentious self-importance, overindulging in their works.

Remy started out alone, perpetually a frustrated solitary figure who couldn't get his own family to understand his passion for his artistry (cooking), in some ways, he was snobbish, who is there to understand him but himself? Only the great Gusteau is one he can respect! But in the end, the pinnacle of success for him is attained with the love of friends and the support of his family, and the acceptance of customers. Does that make him a 'sellout'? To me, it's just a happy medium, it's not as if he cares nothing about personal glory nor fame, just that he respects the customers enough to create something wonderful for them in his pursuit for glory and fame.

Another interpretation of the film I read from IMDB bowled me over.

Ratatouille is actually more personal than the eternal conflict between commercial and art, it's really mirroring what had happened to the Walt Disney company in recent years.

Auguste Gusteau = Walt Disney

(Both are father figures who hosted popular TV shows... and have a special relationship with a rodent)

After his death, the company became increasingly shameless in their efforts to seek profit, quantity took precedent over quality, with them churning out sacrilegious straight-t0-video sequels of classic Disney cartoons.

Maybe Remy is Pixar, or maybe Remy is the future of Disney's direction, and hopefully other film companies as well. While it's undeniable that they are doing things for profit too, they do it without insulting their audience's intelligence. Efforts and passion are poured into their creations to ensure that the quality is consistently good. Even a lesser Pixar film like Cars, to me, was better than anything else. As for Ratatouille, a film that seemed slight in concept and storyline... lingers strangely in my mind. It's the execution that made it so memorable. Style, creativity, imagination and technical superiority mixed together. The slow buildup didn't mean much to me until I slowly paid more attention. "The writing... damn, this is good writing." I wanted to say during a scene where Remy and his father are having a conversation under the rain. I was left breathless towards the end.

Funny how a little animated film like that could make me type out a lengthy post like this.

A 9-minute preview of Ratatouille