Pixar's latest is occasionally inspired, but mostly trivial and pointless.
When you’re cooking, reveals chef Gusteau, "the only limit is your soul". The same applies to Pixar, whose films to date haven’t so much been touched as manhandled by genius. They’ve built a body of work unrivalled since the days of Walt Disney precisely because the depth of their soul, and the breadth of their imagination, have been limitless. And now they bring us… the Food Network? With a rat?
That rat is Remy, a whiskered gourmand torn between loyalty to his uncouth family and his dreams of becoming a chef under the tutelage of the great (late) Gusteau. Remy, you see, has a nose that can sniff out the finest ingredients, and he will put it to good use when he finds himself in the kitchen of Gusteau’s once-mighty, now faded restaurant in Paris. Here he hooks up with a forlorn floor mopper, Linguini, and together the two of them set about reviving the restaurant’s fortunes.
With Brad Bird directing, Ratatouille, inevitably, has its moments of wide-eyed wonder and thrilling action scenes (the opening shoot-out with a psycho granny is excellent), but is there anything quite so ubiquitous, and therefore quite so mundane, as cooking? Where previously Pixar have led us, gawping, into a magical wonderland beyond our imagination but connected, somehow, to our dreams, here they’re just another voice bleating on about decent scram.
This is Ready, Steady, Ratatouille, filled with half-decent ideas that rarely go anywhere beyond the tediously predictable. There is family drama – the same family drama as Nemo, only more cynical. There is romance – the same romance as Cars, and just as rote. And there is a further echo of that film in the xenophobia bubbling beneath its surface.
Americans hate the French. Paris is established in a montage of resentful clichés, and it’s revealing that, for all the film’s professed love of cooking, the chefs are mincing Frenchmen who will let you down at the first sign of trouble, while the rats are blue-collar Yanks who believe in family and guts. Take that, cheese eaters!
Pixar will tell you that story is king, but here the story is an emperor with no clothes. As Remy effectively body-snatches Linguini, Ratatouille goes out of its way to apologise for its ridiculous premise – the jerking marionette is constantly having to explain that he knows the whole thing is ridiculous, but if you just bear with him, it really is going somewhere, honest.
And eventually, right at the end, it does go somewhere. For 30 seconds, there is a flash of pure genius through the eyes of an evil food critic. In this one moment of inspiration Ratatouille tells you more about the magic of food than the rest of the film manages in two interminable hours.
That aside, all we’re left with is a film that exhorts us to 'be all you can be'. And you know who that sounds like? Disney. Not Pixar.
Occasionally inspired, but mostly trivial and pointless.
Um… It might get better second time round?