This summer is sure to draw you to the theater to find out why Spidey turns to the Dark Side, how Captain Jack comes back from the dead, and to see Harry’s first kiss. With all the sequels, you might you just get a hankering for something tasty and original. Leave those leftovers behind and go out for some gourmet in Pixar Animation’s 8th feature film Ratatouille.
Ratatouille is not only unique among the ordinals this year, but also unique among other Pixar films. Forget cute toys, silly bugs, cuddly monsters, adorable fish, and super heroes. Rats are where it’s at! Directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles, 2005 Best Animated Feature), the story follows Remy the Rat (voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt) from his home in the French countryside to the foodie heaven of Paris.
Speaking from Pixar’s small edit room, Bird explains, “It’s a story about a rat who has extraordinary senses of taste and smell and he’s drawn into cooking. He’s not satisfied making a suitable rat-living off the compost heap.”
Through an unfortunate accident, Remy and his family are forced to leave the quaint country and are washed down river to Paris where Remy gets separated, but fortuitously ends up at his favorite chef Auguste Gusteau’s restaurant. There he meets a young garbage boy named Linguini who recognizes Remy’s cooking abilities and they soon form a heart-warming partnership. But a rat is death to a kitchen and a kitchen is death to a rat and so keeping Remy out of sight while Linguini cooks to his instruction is cause for much hilarity.
Bird continues, “Everything is laid out very carefully to begin here and gradually take you down this path, it’s very hard to drop people in the middle of this. But we are excited about making the unbelievable believable and viable. We all recognize that the idea was wonderfully absurd and ripe for animation. How to get the audience to come along one step at a time has been a challenge, but also a delight, because it’s a particularly physical comedy.”
The animation and attention to detail on Ratatouille is what you’d expect and more from Pixar. A tank of rats sat in the animation hallway for more than a year for research on how the little creatures moved their feet and paws, what happens with their tail as they run and how their noses and ears work.
“This is my first rat,” says Oswalt. He’s never voiced any other animals and he never even thought about it because Pixar “puts so much humanity into their characters that you don’t feel like you’re playing an animal.” He recalls, “I went into a pet store and I was looking at rats in a cage and how they relate to their food and each other. Then I started thinking the key to the character is his obsession and passion with food. He’s trying to rise above his ratness in a way. I started reading a lot of great food writers and critics about stuff they were passionate about and angry about. They were a great resource for ‘here’s how a foodie thinks.'”
Unknown to Bird, Oswalt was a self-proclaimed foodie before he was ever approached for the role. He has followed celebrity chefs for years. “I’d love to see Thomas Keller’s take on the food of Oaxaca,” says Oswalt. So, he was able to particularly identify with his rat alter-ego when Remy becomes distressed over bad cooking on Linguini’s part. “I don’t get angry because things are bad. I get angry because things that are good are being done badly. Things that I love are in the wrong hands or someone is ruining it.”
But how do you convey the notion of food on screen? Pixar animators took a crash course on cooking and gourmet consultants were on hand to tell them about food, textures, and how kitchens are arranged. The same sub-surface light scattering technique that was used on skin in The Incredibles was used on fruits and vegetables to give them a hyperrealism. More than that, the characters talk about food and how it tastes and feels. There is also the use of music and abstract imagery to show what a certain taste is like.
But how will it compare to previous Pixar flicks? Bird recalls, “I was lucky enough to work with a lot of the old Disney masters when I was a kid and one of the things they always pushed was that they always considered themselves students. This studio also has the frame of mind that we are all students and we are always trying to top what we did before.”
And with that, he becomes visibly excited when he whispers “Peter O’Toole is the grim eater food critic!” Obviously icing on the cake for award-winning Bird, and for us as well. Ratatouille is sure to spice up our regular movie fare on June 29.