Pixar deservedly has developed a reputation as being one of the best in the business when it comes to quality family entertainment. This is in large part because while their stories are inventive, off-the-wall high-concept affairs that strain credibility at times, they’re always grounded in real emotions that everyone, adult or children, connect to in profound and intense ways.
Aside from the usual suspects from the house of Pixar like Inside Out, Toy Story, Wall-E, Up , let’s start with one of the rather underrated movie, Ratatouille, which deserves the same level of reference and praise.
In Ratatouille, it’s the story of a young French blue rodent named Remy, who is gifted with an extraordinary sense of smell and taste buds. He’s positively inspired by a TV cooking show with Chef Anton Gusteau, whose motto is “Anyone can cook!”. When fate places Remy in the sewers of Paris and beneath a restaurant made famous by his culinary hero, Remy’s passion for cooking soon sets into motion a hilarious and exciting rat race that turns the culinary world of Paris upside down.
One of the great pleasures of Brad Bird’s “Ratatouille”, just one of many in a picture that is itself about the rewards and the frustrations of seeking pleasure, is its inherent lightness. This pixar flick is a strong specimen of plea against mediocrity… and a reminder that genius can turn up in the unlikeliest places.
Lifting Pixar’s animation to ever greater heights with its breathtaking textures and detail, the film delivers the requisite frantic fun and quirky characters for the young audience without ever talking down to them. The breathtaking reveal of Paris, the legendary city of lights, is only one of the many delights of this exquisitely designed movie.
Writer and Director, Brad Bird captures the heady chaos of working in a kitchen, the edgy, adrenaline-fueled ballet in which a handful of players avoid one another, and help one another, as each keeps a hand in a dozen things at once. Ratatouille is chock full of information about how a kitchen is run, such as Collette’s instructions about how best to handle multiple saucepans: “The mark of a chef: messy aprons and clean sleeves.”
The Chaplin-caliber physical comedy of Remy hiding under Linguini’s toque, which puts most live-action comedies to shame, is alone worth the price of admission.
Quite simply, it’s the best restaurant based movie ever made. The tiny details are astonishing… the faded burns on the cooks’ wrists, the “personal histories” of the cooks, the attention paid to the food and so much more.
The lair of the nasty critic Ego is a comic-nightmare vision straight out of Charles Addams, a coffin-shaped study that suggests nothing so much as a man shut off from the world.
Near the end of the picture, Ego has a speech that begins with a statement about the uselessness of critics, about the way they live for the experience of slapping things down instead of creating anything worthwhile themselves. The speech winds its way around to a more complicated revelation, about the importance of finding beauty and wonder in unexpected corners of our world.
This scenes never fails to give me goosebumps no matter how many times I see it. The scene is full of emotions that are difficult to describe or portray. You have the critic in a state of hate with the intent to destroy. But in an instant is transported to a state of both vulnerability and love. Peace.
Pixar magic, when they take the time to use it, is not just about excellent storytelling, but also about taking the time to make characters more than a millimeter deep. Ego could have been just a throwaway one-note character, but instead they take the time to give us a background and a more complex motivation.
The whole monologue by Anton Ego is one of the best bits of dialogue that Pixar or Disney have ever done… As we’ll see in future movie-posts as well, Pixar movies turning Adult for a moment are their best moments.