Thursday, March 11, 2021

Reserved Seating Ranks the Pixars: RATATOUILLE

 by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino

The review duo who have the secret recipe.

Rob: Welcome back to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: And I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: Our Pixar series continues with 2007’s Ratatouille. Directed by Brad Bird, it’s the story of Remy (Patton Oswalt), a Parisian rat with a highly-developed sense of smell and taste. Not content with a life spent rummaging through garbage, Remy has a series of misadventures that lead him to the famous Gusteau’s Restaurant, where he crosses paths with young Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano), the long-lost son of the deceased Chef Gusteau. Though Linguini is the heir apparent to his father’s cooking empire, the restaurant’s egotistical owner, Chef Skinner (Ian Holm), recruits him instead as a garbage boy, and it’s not until Remy gets involved that the young man begins to live out his charismatic father’s famous maxim: Anyone can cook. Ratatouille was an Oscar-winner, a box office smash, and remains the primary reason hapless tourists order mashed vegetable stew in French restaurants.

I lost interest in Pixar during my college years, so this was only my second or third viewing of Ratatouille. It’s a masterpiece. The cast is stacked (if Peter O’Toole is sixth billed, your cast is stacked), it’s beautifully animated, and it celebrates one of my favorite things on the planet: food. There is absolutely no denying that Ratatouille is a great movie.

Here’s the thing, though: I sometimes have a hard time finding its emotional core until the end. It’s a very, very busy movie with a lot of moving parts. It’s about legacy, love, friendship, creativity, and each of these themes is fleshed-out well within the narrative, if not within the characters. But the central relationship between Remy and Linguini still doesn’t quite work for me. It’s more than an hour in before Linguini discovers his destiny, and while that sets up their third act drama nicely, there’s just a bit too much of a midsection lull where the texture of their relationship isn’t growing or changing in a significant way. The movie trades that time to develop other characters, and at 110 minutes, Ratatouille might have been better served trimming some of that down.

Still, it’s a great movie. Adam, what are your thoughts on Ratatouille?
Adam: Ratatouille is my favorite Pixar movie. At least I think it is. It is so far, but who knows what will happen once we continue revisiting the Pixar movies? In any event, I agree it’s a masterpiece. I’m a sucker for movies like this and Coco that are so specific in their setting. The atmosphere of Paris and especially Gusteau’s Restaurant are so lush and inviting that it makes me want to get up, move to Paris, and submit my resume just to have the honor of taking out their trash. First and foremost, I love Ratatouille for that hangout aspect. It’s not necessarily me wanting to hang out with the characters but rather the environment.

Rob: Totally agreed. I’d honestly have loved ninety minutes of Remy explaining all the roles in a restaurant kitchen.

Adam: I love the message of Ratatouille, which is not to belittle those who are good at cooking with “Anyone can cook,” but to point out that talent can come from any background or demographic. It’s a solid message and something Pixar does so well, which is to hit you with a pearl of wisdom in the third act that often times is so simple but feels revolutionary.

Rob: This is the heart that I sometimes have trouble finding. I almost wish Linguini had a genuine interest in cooking/knowledge of his lineage earlier on in the film, which would help those lulls I mentioned grow more organically. Still, these are quibbles.

Adam: I’m also entirely in the bag for the Patton Oswalt performance as Remy. Oswalt seems to be doing a stand-up comedian tactic with his character in Ratatouille, which is that if you’re yourself interested in what you’re saying, the audience will be interested. I’m not sure if Oswalt is a fan of cooking, but his performance expresses a joy and passion that’s infectious. It leaves such an indelible impression on me that I’m able to overlook how disgusting having hundreds of rats roaming a kitchen is as a visual. That shouldn’t be overlooked. Ratatouille could have been Joe’s Apartment very easily, but the animation from Pixar and everyone’s performances allow me to ignore any potential gross-out factor. And good lord that score by Michael Giacchino is incredible. This is such a good movie!

Rob: Apropos of nothing, we have to mention Janeane Garofalo. Patrick would kill us if we didn’t mention Janeane Garofalo. She rules.
Adam: What did you think of Ego’s monologue at the end about the responsibility and purpose of the role of a critic?

Rob: I love it. The bit about risking very little and thriving on negative criticism fits the popular conception of a critic’s role. But as you and I both know, criticism is a very personal thing. We put a lot of work into it. We’re not flippant or dismissive (at least, not all the time). We recognize the effort of creation and try to take a holistic approach to our evaluations. It’s also not as fun to write negative reviews as people might think. It’s often a “laugh to keep from crying” situation, where you have to find an angle to entertain the reader because there’s nothing real to say about the text itself.

To say that critics aren’t fans — some of the most ardent, committed fans — is completely ridiculous, and the bit in which the ratatouille makes Ego recall his mother’s cooking nails that precisely. There are egos (no pun intended) in the community, and some writers value their brand over their writing, but Ego’s final conclusion about the democracy of creation is something I think we can all agree on. Articulating a point of view requires a lot of work, and discovering something that challenges that point of view should be a wonderful thing, not something that personally insults you. After years of cynicism, Ego finally remembered that. What did you think of it?

Adam: I can’t remember if the lessons espoused by Ego are ones I knew already or if I know them because I heard them in Ratatouille. Probably the latter.

I agree that being a critic is never as difficult as the artist creating the thing being put up for criticism. I also, like you, usually don’t take pleasure in negatively criticizing a movie or especially someone’s individual work. It’s a delicate balance of being nice and saying what your intuition tells you that you have to say in order to be honest. Unless it’s here, I usually avoid writing about movies I don’t like because what’s the point? One thing I love about our website is that we almost always are writing about something we enjoy or at least find interesting to discuss. Also, what is good and what is bad is very subjective and relative. Look no further than my reaction to The Crow: City of Angels - it’s not a good movie but I love it more than many movies I think are good. It’s a special weird alchemy that’s fantastic to talk about under a critical lens. It’s like “Why am I reacting this way to something I know isn’t good? What does it say about me?”
At the end of the day, it goes back to Ego eating the ratatouille. It evokes a fond memory or sense of personal nostalgia that supersedes any concept of quality. I like where Ego closes his monologue, which is that the role of the critic is to champion the new. There’s nothing better than when I find a small indie movie (like Shithouse) or a goofy mainstream movie (like Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar) that I literally can’t wait to tell people about. You and I are lucky to have a platform to do that. Being a critic, at its most noble, is to be a professional appreciator. It’s my responsibility to find the movies to champion that I know no one will champion better than I will.

Random question - was there any food in Ratatouille where you wanted to reach into the screen and try it? I also wanted to pour sauce on everything.

Rob: Oh, it’s the crusty bread. That moment when Colette (Garofalo) explains that you can judge the quality of bread by the symphony it makes when you crunch the crust? I felt that deep in my soul. Bread is the best.

Anything else on Ratatouille? I’d ask how you rank it, but you’ve already made that clear! It’s near the top for me, as well. What are we watching next week?

Adam: Just that I love it. I can’t wait to go on the Ratatouille ride at Epcot when it opens and it’s safe.

We’ll be back next week with a return of our baseball series and 1994’s Major League II. Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Colette was such a badass and, after her "toughest cook in this kitchen, worked too hard, too long" speech, I was surprised she went for Linguini. Like girl what, this child? Well, at least he can rollerblade, which looks fun.