Pixar’s Ratatouille is a movie that seems to get better each time I see it, and I think that is because as time goes on, I understand more about the various sides of my identity – as a writer, as a critic, and most importantly, as a member of my family, my greater community, and the world.
Ratatouille speaks to all these identities that are at work inside me.
To the writer, the film says, “Create! Struggle! Know that everyone is not going to understand your drive, but work anyway. Highlight the beauty that you see in the world and work to share it with others. Create for love, not for money, and let your love be for your loved ones, not for yourself. Your art-making is for your audience, that they might become better rats – I mean – better human beings.”
To the critic in me, the film says, “Don’t destroy. Build up. Your job is to point to what is wonderful in the world. If anything is good, excellent, praiseworthy, think on such things and tell others about them. Always keep in mind your first love and don’t become so full of yourself that you have no room to be amazed, enlightened, transformed, and to invite others to experience that same transformation.”
To the citizen in me, the film says, “Be open to experiencing something new. Try things. Taste things. Allow the artists and critics who have devoted their lives to discovering beauty to share what they discover with you. Sure, artists are odd, but what is odd, because it is different, has the potential to be enlivening in a way that the monotony of daily life is not. Support artists. Be daring. Welcome more beauty into your life.”
That’s an awful lot for a movie about a rat chef to say.
That being said, I also think Ratatouille is Pixar’s most narrowly focused film. The Toy Story saga speaks to the trials of friendship and growing up. Monster’s Inc. and Finding Nemo speak to the burden of parenting. The Incredibles is about the fading idea of the nuclear family. Wall-E is about falling in love. Up is about getting old and grieving what’s lost. Brave is about mothers and daughters making their way in a man’s world.
Ratatouille is about the coming of age of an artist, a much less universal theme, and I think this narrower focus speaks to the relative unpopularity of this film, Pixar’s least highest grossing film next to Cars 2. Had the movie focused more on Remi and his family and less on the other subplots involving Linguini, Skinner, and Ego, it would have become a film about how an audience can learn to appreciate good artistry. Everyone in the theater is Remi’s family. Not everyone is Remi. To paraphrase the film, anyone can cook, but not everyone. However, everyone eats, and we could all learn to eat better.
But I can hardly, in good conscience, criticize Ratatouille for being about something that is doesn’t intend to be about. It accomplishes its purpose of animating the coming of age of an artist wonderfully, and I’m glad Pixar gave us this film. I’m glad they had the courage to give us not what is easily marketable or conventionally palatable, but instead what is nuanced, exquisite, delicious, and fulfilling in a way that most cinematic fare is not.