There's a rat in the kitchen

Aida Nassar
7 Min Read

Ratatouille, Pixar s latest animated film about one rat s dream of haute cuisine, leaves viewers hungry. In the true spirit of haute cuisine, beautifully presented dishes were served up, but in such miserly portions. The quirky storyline had potential. The animation was superb. The chemistry between the characters, however, lacked spice.

The story was inspired. Remy, a county rat with the talent and desire to create epicurean wonders, finds himself in Paris at the doorstep of Gusteau’s restaurant, the legacy of master chef Gusteau. Having passed away after being stripped of one of his Michelin stars, the restaurant is now under the dictatorship of Gusteau’s former sous-chef Skinner.

Mice have won the hearts of moviegoers since Ub Iwerks drew Mickey Mouse in 1928, and I’m almost certain had it not been for the play on the word “rat-attouille, Remy might have been a mouse too. Rats carry diseases. Rats are not cute. Or are they?

Remy may be the exception. He is adorable. His passion for food is infectious. He’s driven and determined that a rat can have a picky palette. Children will walk out of the movie and ask their parents if they can have a pet rat, or head to merchandising outlets for the next best thing – a cute, stuffed Remy. I’m sure Disney’s merchandising machine will produce an endless menu of items to satiate children’s appetites. (Bets are that there is already a children’s cookbook in the making.)

One evening, as he watches the bustle in Gusteau’s kitchen, Remy is unable to resist spicing up the soup that newly hired garbage boy, Linguini, interferes with. It’s an instant success with a food critic. Fate intervenes to provide Remy with the chance to fulfill his dreams.

Hidden under Linguini s chef s hat, Remy instructs the culinary-challenged boy how to create fabulous dishes, quickly raising both Linguini s and the restaurant s reputation. “Ratatouille cleverly explores the restaurant world with its ferocious rivalries and turbulent kitchen politics.

“Ratatouille came by its acting chops the old-fashioned way, turning to real-life chef Thomas Keller for the inside dish on kitchen kinetics.

Keller s stint as rat-a-tutor was part of an intensive prepping effort that included signing up the Pixar crew for cooking classes and sending filmmakers to dine in fine French restaurants. The idea was to make sure the computer animation turned the gourmet goodness cooked by Remy into a feast for the eyes.

It was important that it looked really appetizing, says Kim White, the movie s lighting supervisor at Emeryville-based Pixar Animation Studios. The food needed to look absolutely as beautiful as it could look.

The finished product looks effortless, but it wasn t.

Going into the movie we knew food was going to be hard, says Apurva Shah, the movie s effects supervisor. Food is almost the opposite of a lot of computer stuff. It s organic. It s sloppy. It s fluid.

For the chopping sequences, Shah and his colleagues used what they learned from cooking class and watched videos of kitchen work to figure out such things as what kind of marks should be left on the board and whether to have pieces clinging to the knife.

When Colette [a chef in the movie’s animated kitchen] teaches the young cook how you cut onions, how you cook vegetables in a pan, how you season everything – that s it, that s how we do it! television celebrity chef Cyril Lignac, owner of the trendy bistro Le Quinzième, told reporters at the Washington Post.

The biggest challenges were the elastic foods – how to make dough squish and bulge and wine slosh.

Animation aside, “Ratatouille lacks the spice. Linguini’s character is shallow and his motives are underdeveloped. The romance that heats up between Linguini and Colette is harder to swallow than a chef rat. What does an ambitious chef who has conquered a male dominated world see in an untalented garbage boy?

Remy’s cuteness does little to counter the scenes of swarming rats that compel the adult viewers to dial the number of an exterminator before they get home. You don’t want a colony of rats living under your floorboards, no matter how well they can cook. The horrific – and quite unexpected amid the levity of the story – scene where Remy’s father takes him to a rat extermination store to demonstrate human’s disdain for the vermin only reminds viewers that humans have a long way to go before they warm up to rats.

Every once in a while, the movie reveals an inspired scene that reminds us that Pixar’s greatness is in its attention to detail. Remy always washes his front paws before he cooks. Emaciated restaurant critic Anton Ego, voiced by Peter O Toole, pens a column entitled “The Grim Eater. He’s mean, sarcastic, and has the best lines. When asked why, if he likes food, he’s so thin, he responds: “I love food. If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow.

If you have young children, don’t assume they’ll enjoy it. The adult themes and references to wills, garish marketing plans, and genetic testing leave them baffled.

Overall, though, it lacks the “wow factor that we’ve come to associate with Pixar. The film leaves viewers – young and old – with hunger pangs. With AP

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