Wednesday, October 17, 2007
RATATOUILLE (2007) - Brad Bird
Ever since Jeffrey Katzenberg parted ways with Disney and set up Dreamworks with Spielberg and David Geffen, the two studios have fought an unofficial war over the art form they dominate, CGI animated movies. Earlier this year, Dreamworks released the truly appalling Shrek The Third, a bland, uninspired third part in the previously great Shrek saga. Disney, meanwhile, have had the services of Pixar studios as their super weapon in the war. Pixar are pretty much industry leaders at this stage, creating animated features (and shorts) that have blazed a trail for all other studios to follow. This year, they released their latest offering, Ratatouille, directed by animation god, Brad Bird.
Ratatouille follows the tried and tested Pixar formula of taking a protagonist, removing him or her from their comfortable, recognisable world, and plonking them right in the middle of somewhere they don’t belong. This time, if you haven’t guessed, the protagonist (or for the more pedantic of you, one half of the two protagonists) is a rat. A rat by the name of Remy, who dreams of becoming a chef. He’s gifted with a talent for flavours and smells, and after being evicted (rather violently) from his home, and separated from his ratty brethren, finds himself in Paris with nowhere to go, and no one to turn to. His imagination conjures an image of his hero, chef Auguste Gusteau, who leads him to Gusteau’s restaurant, which has declined in fortune since the death of it’s famous chef. Here, Remy finds himself in the company of Linguini, a garbage boy who dreams of being a chef, but is lacking the talent. The two form an alliance which will give Linguini the job he’s always wanted, but will allow Remy become the chef he could never dream of being otherwise.
Okay, there’s two ways I’m going to deal with this movie. Firstly, I’ll get the unpleasantness out of the way. There is one weakness to the film, and that’s the story. Now before some of you have aneurisms, let me say that there’s nothing particularly wrong with the story. It’s just that it’s not exactly new ground for Pixar movies. As mentioned before, it uses the formula that has proven to be successful for Pixar movies in the past. They take a character, take it out of his or her environment and place them somewhere unfamiliar. I guess this is the basis of all drama, a character’s world is disrupted and he or she must struggle to regain the equilibrium. But Pixar films do it so obviously that sometimes, SOMETIMES, it feels like the stories are just vehicles to show of technical skill. However, it’s a minor complaint. And while I’ve preferred some of Pixar’s other films story-wise, Ratatouille is perfectly fine and inoffensive.
So that’s the (very minor) badness out of the way. And now onto the part I’ve been looking forward to. Quite simply, Ratatouille looks astonishing. I must have spent the first twenty minutes of the film with my jaw on the floor. We all know Pixar are good. With each film, if nothing else, they prove that they are the industry leaders when it comes to CGI animation. The character designs, animation, cinematography, production design and texturing in this film are all stunning. It’s quite difficult to find a film that is so expertly and flawlessly made. Animation is incredibly overlooked as an art form. It’s seen as film’s little brother and as such suffers from being viewed as a medium for children. It’s something animation filmmakers have struggled to overcome. In most cases, far more work goes into animation than live action. I’m somewhat biased in this, as I’m an animator myself, but the point still stands.
Brad Bird’s direction is just about perfect. He’s one of those rare filmmakers who is somewhat unnoticed, but his contribution to the art form is immense. Taking a look at his CV, it’s clear to see that Bird has the Midas touch. He worked on the Simpson in it’s golden era (the series began a rapid decline after Bird finished up work on it in ’97). He directed the incredibly underrated Iron Giant, and at Pixar directed the wonderful Incredibles. He’s struck gold again with Ratatouille, not only directing a magnificent looking film, but also directing the brilliant cast of actors, delivering great voice performances. Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Janeane Garofalo and Will Arnett lead the cast. But special mention must be made of Peter O’Toole. The legendary actor provides the voice for ‘villain,’ food critic Anton Ego and his acting is perfect. It’s great to see (or hear) the actor still has it (haven’t seen Venus).
After the rubbish Shrek The Third, it’s great to see a brilliantly made animated film. I watched it with a certain amount of jealousy, seeing a piece of animation so perfectly put together, and working in the same industry. But at the same time, it’s a joy to see animation made so well. Films of this quality need to be made in an industry so obsessed with films that are made to make a quick buck. This is what film was created for. This is art.