Ratatouille

The nominations:

  • Best Animated Feature Film of the Year: Brad Bird
  • Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score): Michael Giacchino
  • Achievement in Sound Editing: Randy Thom, Michael Silvers
  • Achievement in Sound Mixing: Randy Thom, Michael Semanick and Doc Kane
  • Original Screenplay: Screenplay by Brad Bird. Story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird

The Black-and-White:

Hooray for Hollywood! In a season of dreary and depressing films, Ratatouille is a glorious, wonderful change of pace. Thank the gods. Could this be the year of the rat? Wait a minute: it is the Year of the Rat (or at least it will be by the time the Academy Awards ceremony rolls around). What a coincidence, eh?

IMHO this was a great film. It does have one major flaw, which I will discuss below, but overall, it was wonderful.

Here is the plot synopsis from oscar.com:

Remy the rat longs to exercise his talents as a gourmet chef and gets the chance when he finds himself in a famous Parisian restaurant after becoming separated from his family during an escape through the sewers. When his secret improvements to the restaurant’s food are mistakenly attributed to Linguini, the garbage boy, the two team up to form an unlikely culinary partnership that will benefit them both.

Here’s what worked in Ratatouille: first, Pixar has demonstrated again that they really are in a league of their own when it comes to full length animated features. I am struggling to find the superlatives to describe their achievement in this film. Not only did they capture the frantic rats-eye view of the world perfectly, they made all of the characters seem almost, well, real. In the clip at the bottom of this review you see a wonderful monologue by Peter O’Toole’s character. Unfortunately the clip is a bit dark so it’s difficult to see the nuances in the shot like the character’s reflection in the window as he gazes out into the night. Sigh. Well done. There is no doubt in my mind that Ratatouille will, and should, win for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year.

The characters in this movie, with one exception, were superb, both in character development and in execution. If you read my other entries in this blog, you will soon realize that a major beef I have with modern movies is the lack of character development in most films; characters end the film being more or less the same as they began, they just experience a series of grisly adventures but still remain the more or less depressing characters they started out as. In Ratatouille, the film makers remembered to include a journey. And not just a journey for the main character, but also to exquistely explore the evolution of the antagonists as well. Yes!

And ahhhh the antagonists. There are two: Skinner (played by Iam Holm) and Anton Ego (portrayed in another completely outstanding performance by Peter O’Toole). Now I will admit that when I first saw the film, I was disappointed in Skinner — he didn’t seem to have the gravitas needed to be a weighty opponent to our hero (Linguini, voiced by Lou Romano). To some extent that feeling remains. However I have come to see that the subtext of this film is that the antogonist is not the enemy without, but rather the enemy within. Skinner is not needed to be a threat of the caliber of a “wicked witch of France”; our heroes have enemies enough inside of them to overcome. They have to overcome their “inner rat”, and by doing so triumph over any external adversary.

Remy the rat does this by overcoming his natural rat tendencies (and yuck, by the way). And so do all the other rats, both literally and figuratively. The most powerful journey is by uber baddie Anton Ego, who overcomes his own emotional withdrawal and cynicism, coming out of the metaphysical gutter to underburden himself from a long journey in the darkness. Beautiful.

The acting, if I may call it that, was really spot on. All too often in animated films voice actors tend to be a bit over-the-top, perhaps to compensate for not being visually in the character. I’m thinking Robin Williams here. But in Ratatouille the performances were nuanced, measured and complex. Special kudos go again to Peter O’Toole, but also to Sir Iam Holm, Brian Dennehy, and even Janeane Garofalo.

Here’s my main disappointment in the film: Pixar has created, yet again, a film that marginalizes its female character. I believe the term is “tag along female”. The character Collette, played well by Janeane Garofalo, really serves little purpose, other than to provide a love interest to our hero, and create some small measure of dramatic tension. Boo. Pixar: your audience deserves better than this. Why do you continue to make “boy” movies? Do girls really have no role other than to make moony eyes at underdog male heroes, and end up in their arms when good triumphs over evil in the end? This is just plain insulting, and it sends a bad message to the kids that make up a big chunk of your audience. I’m kinda offended as well.

So, in terms of the nominations:

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year — it’s a lock.

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score), Achievement in Sound Editing, and Achievement in Sound Mixing: strong contender. I struggle a bit to quantify excellence in these categories, so I admit that I am somewhat unsure of what to say. The score was great, and they may very well catch a victory in that category. For both sound editing and sound mixing, well they did a much more complex and nuanced job than at least one of their LOUD competitors (The Bourne Ultimatum) so I guess that I support wins in these categories as well.

Original Screenplay: oh Brad Bird (the writer) you came so, so close to getting my support in this category. This is a so much more textured story than, say, Cars, or Jack-Jack Attack, previous Pixar films, and I simply love some of the dialog in this movie. However, you’ve lost my support because you and Pixar just seem incapable of making a movie that doesn’t marginalize girls, and you’ve been at this long enough to know better. Give me a kick-ass princess of some sort next year, and maybe I’ll reconsider. It’s a shame, ’cause the screenplay in this movie really is a cut above the norm, and not just for animated features, but for any film. It’s a joyful, fun journey, something that so few “serious” movies attain. I really would like to give the Oscar to you, but hey, I’m a man of the 21st century so … close, but no cigar.

In closing, I leave you with Peter O’Toole:

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