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Ratatouille - John C. Kirk

Nov. 15th, 2007

01:30 am - Ratatouille

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Tonight I went off to watch Ratatouille at the cinema, which I really enjoyed. The short film at the start ("Lifted") is very funny; it's really just slapstick humour rather than anything more sophisticated, but since one of my favourite films is Weekend at Bernie's that's fine by me. The main film is a bit more thoughtful: there are funny scenes, but there are also a lot of things I found quite moving, and a good story to hold it together.

This is one of those odd films where the trailer doesn't have that much in common with the finished film; in fact, lots of the scenes from the trailer didn't appear at all. However, I don't see that as a problem, since the film wound up being better than I'd expected, and it avoided the trap of giving away all the best bits in advance.

Speaking of trailers, they showed an advert for the computer game based on the film, and I sometimes get the impression that a film has been specifically written to include scenes that will work well in the game. E.g. "Here's Spider-Man being pulled along behind a truck, and he has to dodge all the objects that are being thrown at him." I think that may have influenced a couple of bits in the film, but they were kept to a minimum. In fact, if they are used in the game then it has the potential to be quite gory: "Sorry, you missed that jump and your rat character is now spread out over 3 square metres of tarmac..."

One of the trailers before the film was for Bee Movie, which didn't look particularly good. Apparently this features a male bee who can talk to humans and is unhappy about us "stealing" honey. When I saw him about to sting someone, my first thought was "Male bees don't have stings!" My second thought was that they don't normally wear jumpers and build wind tunnels in science labs either, so I probably shouldn't expect gritty realism. (There's an article about this in The New York Times: The Real Life of Bees.) It's a tricky balancing act: you generally need to anthropomorphise the characters to some extent, but some things just stand out as being jarringly wrong, e.g. cats that can breathe underwater.

I had a similar problem with the world building aspects when I watched "Flushed Away", since the rodents in that film wandered around wearing clothes. By contrast, I think that this film does a much better job: it's similar to Finding Nemo, by doing things that just stretch the boundaries of what's plausible rather than flat-out breaking them.

Although the film is set in France, all of the characters speak English (with various accents). That's fine by me, since my French is a bit rusty, and I assume that it's effectively been dubbed for my benefit. However, it did seem a bit odd when things were written in English; I don't think there's any easy way to avoid that, and it's not a major problem, but it did catch my attention.

Paul O'Brien reviewed this film last month, and I think he makes some good points, describing it as "a celebration of elitism", following on from the philosophy that "If everyone's special then nobody is" in The Incredibles. Like him, I have no problem with that: it's the semantic distinction between "anyone can do this" (i.e. there's at least one person who can do X) and "everyone can do this". He also has a video of Lifted embedded there, although I think that benefits from being seen on a bigger screen.

The basic idea of the film is that Remy (the lead rat) is a food connoisseur, so he's not content to eat garbage like the other rats. Personally, I've never been much of a "foodie", and I don't think I'll ever eat in a Michelin starred restaurant. However, this film actually did a lot to stir my own enthusiasm; I almost felt guilty for eating Minstrels when the rat was savouring fruit and cheese, then admiring fresh bread. Similarly, I can admire the sheer joy and enthusiasm that he showed while cooking, as opposed to my general approach of "bung something in the oven for 20 minutes".

I'm not planning to turn into a master chef, but I have had an idea for a series of LJ posts about cookery (following up on this post): I can take pre-made food, and then compare that to the preparation involved in making the same thing from scratch, e.g. for pancake mix or "Quorn bangers and mash". (Mind you, I don't want to infringe anyone's copyright by repeating their recipes without permission.)

One thing that surprised me about this film is that the expected "end point" actually came about half-way through. I think that was a good choice, since it let them explore the consequences of certain actions in more depth, rather than taking the easy way out of a simple happy ending. Ultimately, I'd say that it was satisfying.

On a more serious note, Sarah from SprogPages (an animal rescue group) has expressed concern that this film will lead to an increase in people buying pet rats and then abandoning them; hopefully that won't turn out to be the case. Speaking of which, I'm heading over there tomorrow evening to adopt some Roborovski dwarf hamsters, so it will be nice to have some company here.