I first watched Ratatouille at a cinema in Lyon. It was dubbed in French, so the synching was a little off, but it was good enough that when I moved back to England I wanted to see it in the language it was made in (even though, ironically, I’d seen it in the language it should technically be in…)
It’s not easy to make a rat cute. Only Disney could make a rat touching your food a heart warming, disease-free tale of chasing dreams. In fact, Remy is every restaurant owner’s worst nightmare; a rat with a hypersensitive sense of smell, who can find rat poison and warn his fellow vermin.
Most people who found a rat in the kitchen of a restaurant in real life – even one they didn’t want to work in – would probably hit it with a saucepan. Fortunately, Alfredo Linguini (the homages to great food are non-too-subtle in this movie) realises that the rat has saved his skin and fixed the soup the awkward young man nearly ruined. He takes Remy home, through the streets of Paris which are superbly animated in this film. The sight of the bridges over the Seine by night is breathtaking and, even though our protagonist comes from the sewers, there is not a single blight on the beautiful landscape; no graffiti, no litter. Charmant!
Though Remy can’t speak to Alfredo, they understand each other and the method they devise for the rat to control the human in the kitchen is entertaining and innovative. His fellow rats are against their allegiance, and the resident villain Skinner is highly suspicious of Alfredo’s blossoming abilities as a chef. It wouldn’t be a Disney movie if an unusual friendship didn’t have to face adversity and the risk of estrangement, but this is such an unusual union that there’s no sense of repetition or predictability (even though the other thing Disney usually guarantees us is a happily-ever-after). And small and sinister Skinner, with his sallow skin and ridiculous moustache, is a modern villain with real-world motives; there’s not a magic wand or tentacle in sight.
The subplot, in which an evil restaurant employee is trying to use the name of Remy’s hero – Alfredo’s father – to release microwave meals is a clever and modern twist on the threat quick cuisine poses to gastronomy lovers everywhere. Alfredo is presumably the celebrity chef’s illegitimate love child, a detail which will (hopefully) go over the head of small children, but it means there’s a plot with enough complexity and suspense to keep parents entertained. One of the reasons I enjoyed this film was the way in which food is presented as though an additional cast member; it’s lovingly prepared and carefully presented, and it’s integral to the plot. When formidable food critic Anton Ego comes to taste Alfredo’s food, he puts his trust in Remy who prepares a very simple dish in contrast to some of the complex creations we’ve seen leaving the kitchen. The gamble pays off, and Ego’s association of the eponymous dish with a rosy childhood brings the importance of good food to the fore once more.
Colette, Alfredo’s love interest, has beautiful blue eyes but a bulbous nose and an over-the-top French accent. She’s an assertive woman in a man’s world and while she can be terse, impatient and speaks impossibly rapidly, she’s also a good-natured gossip. The scene in which she gives Alfredo the low-down on their colleagues, along with some much-needed advice, is packed with amusing extraneous details and the wonderfully fluid animation (watch the wiggling hips of the black chef!) that tells you this isn’t an early union of Disney and Pixar. The anticipated happily-ever-after comes in the form of a restaurant run by rats and humans – including Colette – working in harmony, is exactly what you’d hope for, but try not to over think it…would anyone really go to a restaurant where rats were welcomed into the kitchen? That said, the ultimate underdogs – a gawky redheaded boy and his sidekick the rat – triumph, and that’s got to be a recipe for sure fire entertainment!