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Despite occasionally going for the easy laugh (gun-toting grandma) or easy platitude ("Food always comes to those who love to cook."), this is a hardworking, wittily detailed, smoothly tooled family film. And funny. (Anton Ego's flashback to his childhood had me gasping for air.) Bird's theme, the suppression and expression of natural gifts in a world that resents genius, is a worthy one, and it's articulated without a hint of sanctimony, so the message goes down easy.

Question for SDG. I enjoyed your review, but this section seemed a tad "off" to me:

"Then again, hypocrisy is rampant in feel-good Hollywood films. Beautiful people addicted to life in the fast lane crank out generic flicks about characters discovering the joys of the simple, quiet life. Filmmakers pulling down millions per picture make movies about characters who turn their backs on fame and fortune to find true happiness. Stars on second or third marriages make comedies in which the protagonists learn that nothing is more important than family. Call it the tribute that vice pays to virtue, but it

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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Estimated first-weekend gross: $47,227,000. That's the lowest Pixar opening since A Bug's Life (1998; $33.3 million). (2006's Cars, $60.1 million, had had the lowest opening since 1999's Toy Story 2, $57.4 million.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Easy platitude: "Food always comes to those who love to cook"

Not sure this is as simple as it seems. When the film is looked at in light of its metaphor where food represents "art" or perhaps to be more broad, "beauty" this "platitude" is an aesthetic philosophy. There is a temptation for all artists to steal, copy, or imitate (note Christian music for the last 40 years). But those who love great art, or those who love beauty will find that it just "comes" to them, without having to "find a market" or "capitalize on market trends."

Art/beauty always comes to those who love to create. - it's a half step from "Criticize by creating."

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Monday Mouse Watch : Disney says it's far too early to write off "Ratatouille"

Jim Hill talks with Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Walt Disney Studios. Who says that the real test for this new Pixar production comes in the coming week. When we see how well tickets sell for Brad Bird's latest over the extended Fourth of July holiday . . .

"Ratatouille" just barely manag[ed] to sell more tickets on a per-screen basis than "Toy Story" did back when that John Lasseter film was first released to theaters in November of 1995. And then when you factor in what a dollar was worth back in 1995 versus what a dollar is worth today ... You quickly realize that "Ratatouille" actually is Pixar's worst earner to date. . . .

Jim Hill Media, July 2

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I spoke with several folks who saw this movie over the weekend. Each person showered the film with high praise.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Now that I'm back from Cornerstone, I'm hoping to catch it this week.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Shockingly, it seems less than half as many Canadians went to see Ratatouille as Americans, on a per-capita basis; we have about 9.7% of the combined American-Canadian population, and the film has so far made about 4.6% of its money here. Then again, Meet the Robinsons opened with 4.8% before rising to 5.8%. And Surf's Up topped out at about 5.9% before falling off the weekly top-ten charts. So these are not unprecedented figures for CGI cartoons. (For comparison's sake, looking at the other CGI cartoons that have been in the weekly top-ten lists this year: Arthur and the Invisibles -- part live-action, directed by a Frenchman -- hit 11.0%; Shrek the Third -- pseudo-British angle -- hit 8.6%; TMNT hit 7.8%; and Happy Feet hit 7.3%.)

Oh, and Ratatouille was #2 in Canada this weekend, with $2.18 million. The #1 movie was Live Free or Die Hard, with $2.43 million for the weekend and a $3.45 million cume since Wednesday.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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To whom could you be referring? I think I understand the sentiment, but I'd like to know if you had any names in mind.

Yeah, I did have a few films and names in mind when I wrote that. Since I did write it, I suppose I should be prepared to give specifics, and I guess I could if I had to, but if I can get away with doing so I would rather not go after particular individuals. I seem to recall the point being made by others in specific reviews of specific films, and certainly I've experience cognitive dissonance watching a film celebrating family togetherness or eschewing riches for the simple life from filmmakers whose own lives I perceive to be greatly at odds with that message. Somehow, though, I feel it's one thing to gesture toward a principle and another to judge particular individuals. I guess what I wrote is already a form of judgment, but in principle it allows me to be tentative about particular cases while maintaining confidence that the general principle applies in at least some of the cases I'm thinking of.

Something I wouldn't mind doing would be citing particular movies that I think pay lip service to family and the simple life and so forth when in fact I think the film itself is on a deeper level hostile to the values it ostensibly extols. Even though that's a more subjective judgment, as a critic I am happier going after particular films than particular filmmakers.

Shockingly, it seems less than half as many Canadians went to see Ratatouille as Americans, on a per-capita basis; we have about 9.7% of the combined American-Canadian population, and the film has so far made about 4.6% of its money here. Then again, Meet the Robinsons opened with 4.8% before rising to 5.8%. And Surf's Up topped out at about 5.9% before falling off the weekly top-ten charts. So these are not unprecedented figures for CGI cartoons. (For comparison's sake, looking at the other CGI cartoons that have been in the weekly top-ten lists this year: Arthur and the Invisibles -- part live-action, directed by a Frenchman -- hit 11.0%; Shrek the Third -- pseudo-British angle -- hit 8.6%; TMNT hit 7.8%; and Happy Feet hit 7.3%.)

Oh, and Ratatouille was #2 in Canada this weekend, with $2.18 million. The #1 movie was Live Free or Die Hard, with $2.43 million for the weekend and a $3.45 million cume since Wednesday.

In the words of Sam the Eagle, it's times like this I'm proud to be an American. :D

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Something I wouldn't mind doing would be citing particular movies that I think pay lip service to family and the simple life and so forth when in fact I think the film itself is on a deeper level hostile to the values it ostensibly extols. Even though that's a more subjective judgment, as a critic I am happier going after particular films than particular filmmakers.

I agree with you here. It's very tempting for reviewers to drag filmmakers' personal lives to the fore, especially when they are so well publicized (e.g. Mel Gibson, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski). But I don't think I have to try very hard to convince you that great, "sincere" films have been turned out by people whose lifestyles appear to be in direct conflict with their art. In fact, one could even argue (speciously, perhaps) that the busy, the rich, and the broken are in a good position to make movies about the quiet, the simple, and the peaceful, because they secretly long for such things.

Thanks for responding, SDG.

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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I agree with you here. It's very tempting for reviewers to drag filmmakers' personal lives to the fore, especially when they are so well publicized (e.g. Mel Gibson, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski). But I don't think I have to try very hard to convince you that great, "sincere" films have been turned out by people whose lifestyles appear to be in direct conflict with their art. In fact, one could even argue (speciously, perhaps) that the busy, the rich, and the broken are in a good position to make movies about the quiet, the simple, and the peaceful, because they secretly long for such things.

I absolutely agree that this can be the case, and I have made this argument myself. In this connection I think the three names you cite were shrewdly chosen, and I could add others to the list. Those would not be the sort of films and filmmakers I was talking about.

At the same time I suspect we could think of other celebrities whom we might reasonably suspect either harbor no such secret longing, or at any rate whose films about contrary values express no such secret longing, but are lazy pandering, unexamined hypocrisy or (in the case of an actor working for a paycheck) just sheer juxtaposition of incompatibles. Of course in particular cases it might be possible that what looks like an example of the latter might actually be an example of the former, which is a good reason in general for not making public judgments about particular celebrities. But I don't have any real doubt that the phenomenon is real, and we could probably name a few names that would persuasively fit the description, if there were any need to do so.

BTW, I'm glad you enjoyed my review.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Following the tangent on artists and their personal lives, would Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew fit the paradigm of an artist making a film that conflicts with his lifestyle? This shifts the question to one about the meaning and substance of faith, and probably should be addressed in a separate thread. But I've always wondered how a homosexual Marxist (I hope that's considered accurate; I'm not trying to be inflammatory) could turn out a pretty strict retelling of the the book of Matthew. Yes, I'm aware that many see the film as a Marxist presentation of the Christianity, but I still find it head-spinning at times. I love the movie, and have the deepest admiration for its maker, although it's, uh, the source material, I'm sure, that drives much of my reaction. That material married to the verite style, of course. Beautiful film.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Rod Dreher's not impressed, but he thinks he knows why so many critics are:

It is hard, though, to know what to make of a kid's movie whose climax includes a critic offering some (true) thoughts on the nature of the art and criticism. I know exactly why film critics (and I'm an ex-one of those) loved the movie, even though it explicitly chastises them: "Ratatouille" is both in theme and execution a celebration of the virtue of artistic excellence and vision. It's less clear why this will appeal to children.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Following the tangent on artists and their personal lives, would Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew fit the paradigm of an artist making a film that conflicts with his lifestyle? This shifts the question to one about the meaning and substance of faith, and probably should be addressed in a separate thread.

Some thoughts in a separate thread.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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So... because his kids didn't say a word, it's not a good movie for kids?

I don't think it will be hard to find kids who *do* enjoy it.

And anyway, doesn't it say more about our expectations of the movie than it does about the movie itself? Did Brad Bird come out and say, "Y'know... for kids!" No. He was talking about storytelling.

Read Kate DiCamillo's award winning "childrens' books." They're not designed to make kids hysterical and start begging for toys. They're designed to appeal to kids' intelligence, and to cultivate in them an appreciation of finer things and deeper thoughts.

Isn't this part of the reason we love Miyazaki?

I kept thinking during the film, "I'm enjoying this, but this really isn't such a great kid movie." My boys, 7 and 3, both said afterward that they'd liked it, but I think it's more telling that neither one has said a word about the film since we walked out of the theater yesterday afternoon. It wasn't remotely like that with "Cars" last summer -- which to me is by far the inferior of the two films.

So, maybe he *is* impressed, because he's saying that his kids were much more excited about a "far inferior" film. It doesn't sound to me like he's bashing it. He's just saying it doesn't stir his kids into a frenzy.

This movie really is one for connoisseurs, on several levels.

Sounds like he *was* impressed after all.

When I was nine or ten, I saw Watership Down. There's a film that would sink like a stone compared to Cars or Flushed Away in today's marketplace. But as a kid, I was enthralled by the seriousness of its storytelling, and its refusal to turn "cute" or to pander.

If I had kids, I'd be taking them to Ratatouille more than once, and steering far clear of Surf's Up.

When he says this...

One thing I love about Brad Bird's movies is that they tend not to pander to kids -- and God bless Pixar for staying away from stuffing the film with smart-mouthing characters and double-entendres -- and at their best, invite young audiences to stretch. But this seemed like too much of a stretch.

... he shows that he assesses Brad Bird's films by their level of success in engaging the kids. He is misunderstanding Brad Bird.

I doubt very much that my boys grasped the essential plot point that Linguini, the doofus neophyte, is the unwitting scion of the late, lamented great chef Gusteau, whose grasping successor Skinner is cheapening the family name by marketing Gusteau's frozen junk food. The movie succeeds at making some good points about artistic integrity, and the virtue of excellence (something Bird did as well in "The Incredibles"), but all this is surely going way over the heads of young audiences in a way that -- unlike in "The Incredibles" -- no doubt left them mystified.

Why not go after Fantasia, while you're at it, Rod? Or Princess Mononoke?

The Linguini character is an especially weak link. Remy, the rat, is the real hero, of course, but there's nothing likeable about Linguini. He's just a goofy blank. The movie lacks emotional resonance, I think, because Linguini is such a nothingburger, and his love interest, a chef called Colette, has no particular personality either.

Okay, I actually agree with him about Linguini. Linguini really is a blank, memorable only for his flailing about under Remy's control. But Colette? No particular personality? I rather liked her.

I know exactly why film critics (and I'm an ex-one of those) loved the movie, even though it explicitly chastises them: "Ratatouille" is both in theme and execution a celebration of the virtue of artistic excellence and vision. It's less clear why this will appeal to children.

Well, that's ONE of the reasons I loved it. But no, Mr. Dreher, you do not know exactly why film critics loved the movie. Getting a little presumptuous, aren't we?

To me, the most interesting aspect of the plot was the conflict between Remy and his father on the question of vocation.

So again, he finds it enthralling, interesting, "a real treat," and seems genuinely thrilled by all that it made himthink about. And yet, no... Brad Bird has stretched too far because there's something that his kids can't absorb in their first viewing? Why not have rich all-ages storytelling that kids will grow to appreciate more and more as they get older, like so many classics?

If I recall correctly, Mary Poppins was richly layered, full of observations about its time and place, stuff that flew right over my head when I was a kid. Was that a failing?

This reminds me of Roger Ebert downgrading The Fellowship of the Ring because it wasn't all about a bunch of cute, curious hobbits, but focused on more grownup issues. Quit criticizing the movie you wanted it to be, Roger, and see what it is. Quit complaining about how it's not faithful to the kiddie storybook you've manufactured from thin air, and go check out the book that it's actually based on.

I guess most of the things that diminish the film in Dreher's mind are exactly what exalt it in my mind.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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FWIW, I went to see the sneak with ten kids 12 and under, plus two older kids, like, 13 and 14, and a total of three adults. (Yes, there were 15 of us, from a total of three families.)

For the two kids under five (Anna is just four, Joseph is about two), it was slow going in the middle (Anna did perk up for the last act). Jamie, who is six, had fun, as did everyone else. The older kids in particular loved it.

FWIW, Studio Briefings quotes a Disney exec saying the picture is "for anybody from six to 96." Sounds about right to me. (In my review I noted that "kids under five might find the middle act slow going").

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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I picked up a Remy PEZ dispenser today. My wife has a birthday coming up and it will make a nice finishing touch to her present. They also had Skinner and Linguini dispensers.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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"Not impressed" was my hasty characterization of Rod's opinion. Better to quote him:

I hate to say it, but the movie, while a real treat, isn't all that.

So, I think it's fair to say that he does find much to like, but doesn't think it rates the high praise it's received across the board.

Earlier, Rod claimed Apocalypto was in no way as bad as "all that," to use his current jargon, because some of the reviews of Apocalypto were so intensely negative.

Maybe we can conclude that Rod brings too much review baggage to the films he sees.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Rod Dreher wrote:

: God bless Pixar for staying away from stuffing the film with smart-mouthing characters and double-entendres . . .

Guess he missed the small-penis bit. (I.e., the scene where Linguini tries to tell his secret to Colette, and he says "I have a small..." and it's clear from Colette's reaction that she is NOT expecting the next words to be "...rat hiding in my hat and controlling all my movements.")

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Rod Dreher wrote:

: God bless Pixar for staying away from stuffing the film with smart-mouthing characters and double-entendres . . .

Guess he missed the small-penis bit. (I.e., the scene where Linguini tries to tell his secret to Colette, and he says "I have a small..." and it's clear from Colette's reaction that she is NOT expecting the next words to be "...rat hiding in my hat and controlling all my movements.")

What's so wrong with double-entendres? A good double entendre can be quite wonderful, as even casual readings of Shakespeare can attest.

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I've got nothing against double entendres. I just think that if Rod or anyone else is going to praise a film for not having any, it would help if the film didn't actually have any. (And FWIW, I'm not sure I would have wanted this particular double entendre in a kids' film anyway. But then again, I'm not sure Ratatouille is really a "kids film" at heart, even if it does happen to be all-CGI.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I've got nothing against double entendres. I just think that if Rod or anyone else is going to praise a film for not having any, it would help if the film didn't actually have any. (And FWIW, I'm not sure I would have wanted this particular double entendre in a kids' film anyway. But then again, I'm not sure Ratatouille is really a "kids film" at heart, even if it does happen to be all-CGI.)

Yeah, that question was more directed at Rod than you. It is interesting, I completely missed that double-entendre when I watched it, although my wife mentioned it to me afterward and quoted the scene and thought it quite funny... "you've got a rash?". Then I remembered the line.

Incidentally, my 6yo didn't like the film. We always rate movies afterwards from 1 to 10 and he gave it a "zero". Of course he gave Fantastic Four a "10". The older girls liked it though and I've already overheard them this week quoting Remi or some other scene in the movie, so I take that as a good sign.

My experience is that children don't normally understand art...even though oddly it is they who spend so much time creating it. This movie and it's themes aren't really for kids, so much as for art aficionados. So it doesn't surprise me that it isn't doing so well at the box office. Most people just don't get it, like Emile's futile efforts at experiencing Remi's sensory appreciation for various tastes (what a great scene).

It reminded me of my futile efforts at trying to get friends to listen to and appreciate some album by DA or Terry Taylor. They just look at you and nod and say "that's nice", but they don't get it.

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Oh, no, wait, wait, wait.

We've all missed the point.

The REAL Christian message of Ratatouille is this:

1) It has a reference to godliness, as in "Cleanliness is next to..."

2) Someone mentions heaven. Once.

3) I couldn't say it better than it's already been said:

The real Christian theology comes in the fact that the movie makes it clear anyone can be a chef, although not everyone can be a great chef. Thus, like the divine meritocracy instituted by the Declaration of Independence, the movie strongly suggests all people are created equal by God, who grants everyone the right to pursue personal happiness while pursuing individual service to God's divine authority. Whether the humanist pundits who believe in biological and economic determinism pick up on the radical nature of this premise is anyone's guess, but it is nice to see a movie taking the side of free enterprise and freedom to be who you want to be.

Who's pointing all this out?

Yep. You guessed it.

Ratatouille's just capitalist propaganda in disguise. Stick those Freedom Fries in your pipe and smoke 'em.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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One wonders how he could stand seeing such pure AmeriChristian values in a film set in Old Europe in general and in awful France in particular.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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The real Christian theology comes in the fact that the movie makes it clear anyone can be a chef, although not everyone can be a great chef. Thus, like the divine meritocracy instituted by the Declaration of Independence, the movie strongly suggests all people are created equal by God, who grants everyone the right to pursue personal happiness while pursuing individual service to God's divine authority. Whether the humanist pundits who believe in biological and economic determinism pick up on the radical nature of this premise is anyone's guess, but it is nice to see a movie taking the side of free enterprise and freedom to be who you want to be.

I have to disagree. Ratatouille is a blatant ATTACK on the biblical precept of human exceptionalism, mocking the stature of human beings created in the image and likeness of the Creator by attributing creativity itself, as well as freedom, individuality and morality, to lower animals! The CLEAR message is that human beings are no more than RATS! In the "kitchen of Pixar's imagination," a human being like Skinner is the real "vermin," while not just Remy but his whole family are lovable heroes! I'd say in the case of the Pixar filmmakers, with their animal-rights propaganda, their message is self-fulfilling and they have indeed lowered themselves to the level of rats!

That, of course, is why this film is under-performing at the box office. You cannot mock biblical precepts and rake in the ticket-buying dollars of godly Americans. The people of this great nation are too smart for that.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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