Eitan Badouk-Epstein takes a look at one of more underrated Pixar films, Ratatouille, and poses the question: Is this movie responsible for a generation of foodies?
Chef’s Table, Buzzfeed’s Tasty channel, Vice’s Munchies, Man vs Food, Masterchef, Salt bae, even Wriggle; it seems everywhere we look, we're subjected to tantalising hyper-sexualised images of melting cheese being pulled off of a woodfired Neapolitan Pizza, while a Texan BBQ pitmaster stirs around a vat of smokey steaming pulled-pork and some lunatic tells you why avocado would go great inside a brownie.
But more than a decade ago, things were different - social media hadn’t reached peak powers of influence, the hashtag had no part in modern parlance and therefore #foodporn did not exist. In this meaningless abyss we were left to turn to this man for our televisual food sustenance:
However in 2007 this cycle was broken by a film that received 5 Oscar nominations and proved to audiences worldwide that not only does food not need to be tasted to be enjoyed, it doesn’t even need to be real. This film, of course, was Pixar’s animated romp Ratatouille, the against-the-odds tale of a rat named Remy, who decides to leave behind a life of gutter-dwelling vermin and move to Paris to become a critically-renowned chef. From a personal stand-point, Ratatouille proved a milestone in my understanding of the art of cooking, and that sentiment must certainly extend to fellow millennials who continue to ride such a daily wave of extreme food fantasy. Here are a few reasons why Ratatouille is such a seminal picture in the malleable minds of millennials:
“Anyone can cook.” (but not everyone)
So goes the adage of Auguste Gusteau, who posthumously guides our protagonist through the film towards culinary greatness. Ratatouille taught layman audiences the virtues of teamwork, calmness and sensual awareness in the kitchen and helped charge them to take a run at cooking. It also placed an extreme emphasis on the ability prejudice, as we see not just with Remy (a rat with no opposable thumbs to cook with) but also Colette, the only female chef in the kitchen, who says:
Haute cuisine is an antiquated hierarchy built upon rules written by stupid, old, men. Rules designed to make it impossible for women to enter this world. But still I'm here!
Ratatouille was a film that simultaneously inspired you to take control in the kitchen whilst thinking about the endemic of systematised chauvinism. Paradoxically the film showed us that great pride should be taken in understanding one’s own strengths - with the untalented and nigh-on dyspraxic kitchen porter Linguini initiating his own cooking journey, which only culminates in his admittance that he is not the true chef at the restaurant, and that he is indeed better off at roller-skate waitering (roller-skaitering) than having any part in the preparation of high end cuisine. To quote Ratatouille’s food critic Anton Ego “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere”.
Synaesthesia and Food Criticism
Synaesthesia is the word for when one sensation takes place of another (also a word that convinces me of the validity of my BA in Classics), and it’s a device that the Pixar team used devastatingly to push the flavours and feels of fine dining through the eyes and ears of the viewers. Cool jazz and bossa music plays while ambient coloured dots and lines swoosh around as Remy eats cheese and strawberries that he’s stolen from an old woman’s pantry. Watch closely and you get the sense that three sharp lines twanging around represent the slight acidity of strawberries whilst thumping dots comes to mean the flavour impact of a hearty piece of comte.
Slightly slowed down facial expressions and swooning eyes signpost in detail what each person is feeling when they taste the rat’s food. Look below and you can see antagonist Skinner’s facial expression as he angrily glides from unimpressed to overawed and then back into a jealous rage after tasting Remy’s unauthorised soup alterations.
Ratatouille was also a film that placed a lovely understanding on what it means to be a critic and the nature of criticism itself. Throughout the build up to the final meal, the film predisposes us to think of boss-level food critic Anton Ego as a supervillain with a heart made of soot. His typewriter designed to look like a skull and his office a coffin.
Peter O’Toole’s voicework is so good it makes the case for there to be a best voiceover Oscar. However the villain trope is subverted in one of modern animated cinemas most emotionally charged moments, Anton Ego tastes the titular Ratatouille and is sent on a journey to his early childhood, where his mother lifted his spirits by cooking the same dish. This allows us to realise that at heart, all criticism stems from a yearning to taste or try something the way we did when we were young.
The Right Ingredients
Just as some of the best meals don’t rely on flashy ingredients, Ratatouille is a film that doesn’t bank on star power. Ten years ago I was unaware that the voice of Remy the rat was none other than Patton Oswalt, and now he’s probably one of my all time favourite stand ups. One only needs to watch his pitch perfect routine comparing different religions to different cakes to know how much this guy loves food.
And if we consider that one of the two main characters, Alfredo Linguini, is someone who should really be voiced by some Hollywood up-and-comer rather than Pixar’s own art director, Lou Romano, than it really proves the heart and authenticity that they put into this film. On a separate note, I bet you didn’t know that Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) played the villain Skinner?
Ratatouille unabashedly upheld the emotional significance of food and the view that food can transcend all barriers, be it sexuality, religion and species. I feel words cannot do justice to the imagery that the Pixar wizards conjured up in Ratatouille, so instead I leave you with a series of mouthwatering #foodporn gifs from the landmark movie. Thank you.