“But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new: an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core.”
I wouldn’t say I don’t watch animated films. But I would definitely say I rarely watch animated films. And usually only because very persistent grandkids are prodding me (“Please may we watch Frozen just one more time, Grampy?”).
There’s one animated film though that I watch over and over and over again. I watched it again last night. And I’m watching it again today. It is, in fact, my favorite animated film, not to mention one of my favorite foodie films.
“You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true. Anyone can cook…but only the fearless can be great.”
The film is Ratatouille and you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this? It’s because a lot of grown-ups missed this film. They thought it was for kids. And, no wonder when it had the Disney stamp on it. But Ratatouille is absolutely, definitely for adults. I mean how many Disney flicks can you name where one of the main characters is an illegitimate son? How many kids even know what ratatouille is? How many can even pronounce it?
So why do I adore this film?
Well first because it is so brilliantly made. The people at Pixar are geniuses at animation. The detail amazes me. There are over a million hairs rendered in the rat’s coat. When he toasts a mushroom, I can smell it. When he bites into a strawberry, I can taste it. To create a realistic-looking compost pile, the artists researched the way actual produce decays. Apples, strawberries, bananas, mushrooms, oranges, broccoli, and lettuce were all left to rot and photographed. I consider the film a visual masterpiece.
The copper pots have the appropriate brass handles. The chefs’ pants have the appropriate houndstooth check. The orders are appropriately clipped to the serving station. The knives have the appropriate studs in their wooden handles. The cheeses have the appropriate labels. The strawberries are in the appropriate baskets.
Anthony Bourdain, who named it his favorite food-focused film, agrees. Bourdain said, “They got the food, the reactions to food, and tiny details to food really right, down to the barely noticeable pink burns on one of the character’s forearms. I really thought it captured a passionate love of food in a way that very few other films have.”
“You think cooking is a cute job, eh? Like Mommy in the kitchen? Well, Mommy never had to face the dinner rush when the orders come flooding in, and every dish is different and none are simple, and all of the different cooking times, but must arrive at the customer’s table at exactly the same time, hot and perfect! Every second counts, you cannot be Mommy!”
I like the authenticity of life in an upscale French restaurant. Having spent a few weeks in one a few decades ago, it is almost exactly as remembered. There’s the sous chef, the saucier, the chef de partie, and the important role I once performed, the guy who takes the garbage out.
The recipes are also authentic. The recipe for the ratatouille is Thomas Keller’s from The French Laundry in Napa, California. He served as consultant on the film and, yes, his take on ratatouille does require the vegetables to be sliced with a mandolin and baked in the oven. That’s him on the left in the opening photo for this blog post.
I like the choice of voices and how perfect they are for the cartoon characters they play. Brad Garrett, Lou Romano, Brian Dennehy, Ian Holm, Peter O’Toole, even Janeane Garofalo’s French accent is not bad.
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”
I obviously relate to one of the main characters being a restaurant critic even though his name is Anton Ego and he’s a bit of an asshole. It might even be said that he looks like me. And, by the end of Ratatouille, he even wears his beret exactly like I do.
“I know this sounds insane, but…well, the truth sounds insane sometimes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not. Uh, the, the truth. And the truth is, I have no talent at all. But this rat, he’s the one behind these recipes, he’s the cook. The real cook. He’s been hiding under my toque. He’s the reason I can cook the food that’s exciting everyone, the reason Ego is outside that door! I know it’s hard to believe, but hey, you believed I could cook, right? Look. This works. It’s crazy but it works. We can be the greatest restaurant in Paris and this rat, this brilliant little chef, can lead us there. What do you say?”
And, of course, I like the feelgood plot where the against-the-odds underdogs end up championing all. The story revolves around Remy, a rat with an extraordinary sense of taste and smell who dreams of becoming a French chef. He gets his opportunity when he is washed up under the Parisian restaurant Gusteau’s. Anything more and I might spoil the ending. But I can guess that you already can guess it.
So why am I writing about a film that came out in 2007? Well, these days, it’s rare that we get the opportunity to see an older movie on the big screen. I, in fact, have never seen Ratatouille in a theater even once. But I (and you) will soon get the chance. The 2018 edition of San Miguel’s annual Food In Film Festival is being held on February 22, 23 and 24 in the Bellas Artes Miguel Malo Auditorium. Ratatouille will be shown on February 23 at 5:00 pm.