27 November 2007


What’s only slightly more repulsive than a mouse? A rat.

What’s only slightly less scary than a fluffy yellow newborn duck? A food critic.

What’s only slightly less awkward than a six-year-old asking, “Mommy, where do babies come from?” A six-year-old asking, “Mommy, what does ‘fooling around with the ring-master’s daughter’ mean?”

What happens when scriptwriters take all the above and try to make a movie about a food-loving rat cooking up fabulous in a gourmet kitchen peopled with risqué Frenchmen and one dorky American illegitimate? Ratatouille.

Can’t say we liked it. Though the animation is really, really good and fun to watch, the script and the concept ruin this movie as a little people-friendly gather-about.

Regarding the animation: I am consistently impressed with Pixar’s ability to make the most mundane objects (like kitchen floor tiles) look beautiful and REAL. I really enjoy watching their characters’ eyes nudge about and convey depth and thought. I am regularly impressed by the characters’ cheeks and mouths when they speak, and the HAIR Pixar manages to create is really quite amazing. Overall, the animation exceeds anything they’ve done before; it is more impressive than The Incredibles on this point alone.

But in every other way Ratatouille does not live up to The Incredibles, which is, in my opinion, a fantastic family movie. Where The Incredibles is about the individual being made strong and functional by a healthy family, Ratatouille is about the family being a hindrance to the creativity and power of the individual. Where The Incredibles is about healthy marriages and strong friendships, Ratatouille is about seeking after your own interests and developing apart from your roots. In short: The Incredibles manages to verge away from the boring, unhelpful Sesame Street message: “Be true to and love yourself; if anyone ever says you're less than perfect, why, just give yourself a big hug!” Ratatouille embraces that old message while taking unhelpful risks. And the strange absence of (and subtle hostility toward) all mothers (minus one nice, though short, scene toward the end) makes Ratatouille one big, well animated, mildly humorous disappointment. (Note to Pixar: You’re in the kids’ entertainment business; stick to dancing toys and super-hero families and leave the parenting to me.)

Regarding the risks: I am not opposed to children’s movies being a bit intense (Polar Express), neither am I opposed to a bit of grown-up humor (Toy Story). I am opposed to the insertion of mature concepts and themes when those concepts are central to the plot and completely exposed. For instance, the main human character, Linguini, is the illegitimate son of the dead restaurateur, Gusteau. Fine, fine, fine—but the movie centered a bit too heavily on the idea and raised too many questions in my little ones’ minds. I don’t mind being asked, “Mom? Where do babies come from?” as we’ve had the conversation hundreds of times and I have my answer ready: “Marriage.” I don’t like that a children’s movie, whose job it is to entertain for two mindless hours, provokes the question at all.

And there’s just too much steamy, awkward kissing and talk of naughty behavior for my tastes. We don’t need to know that one of the minor characters was fired from a previous job for getting it on with the boss’ daughter. And the scene where dorky, Napoleon Dynamite-like Linguini accidentally kisses his female mentor while she holds a can of mace at the ready is just . . . stupid.

Another thought: the antagonist really doesn't do much antagonizing. Which makes sense, I suppose. How scary and opposing is a food critic, really, even if he has a condescending British accent and an undertaker look. Anton Ego is fun to watch (they really get the mouth down on this guy; I could watch the scenes involving this character over and over just to enjoy the animation), but he’s almost pointless, an afterthought. It is as if the scriptwriters remembered a bit too late that all good movies have villains and got to the Supply-A-Bad-Guy shop before the quality shipment came in.

Thus, if I were you, I wouldn’t waste your Netflicks space on this one. Wait for it to come out on TV and watch it with the above-10 set when the little ones take their naps. Trust me on this: I know of what I speak.


Rebekah said...

Lame. I had hoped this would be good since we are getting pretty tired of watching the same three-ish movies that our reviewers have approved. Thanks for sitting through it for us.

Me said...

"is about seeking after your own interests"

You have really got to lighten up, and grow-up. Your poor kids will never live up to your expectations.

Nebraska small towns make beer drinkers and premarital sexual beings out of the best of them.

Gauntlets said...

Hey, me! I was wondering what had become of you.

"Nebraska small towns make beer drinkers and premarital sexual beings out of the best of them."

Don't I know it.

"Your poor kids will never live up to your expectations."

Actually, it is one of my most desperate prayers that they don't, and it is because I hope to deter them from my expectations that I screen their movies and read them only the best literature. I cannot tell you how afraid I am for their sakes, for not only do they have a feeble mother but they are growing up in these evil days.

Finally, and most sincerely, whatever it was that I did to upset you, I'm sorry. Come be my facebook friend again and we can talk it out.

April Marie said...

I felt the exact same way about this movie! I had to suffer through it 4 times with the kids I was a nannied for this summer. Luckly I didn't get any questions of that sort. Your children are very astute and perceptive though, unlike many I have been around. We should just boycott Disney. They really make me want to have a conniption of Chernobyl proportions.

Kelly said...

I thought the very same things when I saw this movie. Though there aren't any little ones running around my house, I think I would have been hesitant to show it if there were.

We also picked up another movie at the same time we rented "Rat...". It is called "Sweet Land" and very much worth the time it takes to watch it. I can't say that it would enthrall the kids, but they could certainly be in the room while it is on as there isn't anything objectionable for them to see. It's even got Lutherans! If you're interested the movie's website is www.sweetlandmovie.com

Gauntlets said...

Kelly: Thanks for the recommendation! We'll add it to our list. :) I appreciate having movies for the kids that don't necessitate my trigger finger on the remote control.