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I loved the film. It's a film with many subtle charms that will continue to be enjoyable with multiple viewings. How refreshing it is to see an animated film that has both fun animation and a strong story, and it doesn't treat kids like idiots by just giving them cheap jokes and a bunch of cute stuff. I think kids are smarter than people often give them credit for.

I was impressed was that Brad Bird was brought in to "fix" the script, and this is what he came up with. The guy really is a genius.

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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.

That is the funniest thing I have read in a long time. Well done!

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Greg. Please tell me that this was all a game of deadpan chicken and I'm the first one to blink, and that of course I am wrong to be seriously thinking that you may have been seriously thinking that I might have been seriously thinking what no one in his right mind would seriously think. (Because you know I loved the film, right, and I would almost never love a film if I seriously thought it equated human beings with rats, unless of course it was really, really good.)

(Having said that, I would dissent somewhat from your characterization. I wouldn't call Ratatouille "allegory." It's an anthropomorphic animal story, and in that sense could be said to be "about" human nature, but still that's a ways yet from allegory, at least as I use the word.)

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Please tell me that this was all a game of deadpan chicken and I'm the first one to blink

Well, I was blinking when I was typing that, so I might lay claim to blinking first.

However... I was seriously considering the possibility that someone had highjacked your user ID (stranger things have happened!)... or that some rodent was under your hat pulling your hair. (That a leg was being pulled, instead, did rank up there with the top three options.)

I wouldn't call Ratatouille "allegory."

Does Jeffrey know that? :lol:

Greg Wright

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I would almost never love a film if I seriously thought it equated human beings with rats, unless of course it was really, really good.

Which is why "Willard" and "Ben" have consistently topped SDG's list of the best films ever made.

"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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Drat. The Weekly Standard review, currently with subscriber-only access, reminds me of the problems I had with this movie, but which I brushed aside in my early revelry for the film.

Why did they have to go and spoil my good time? :)

After this triumphant debut, Ratatouille has to contrive a way to keep Remy cooking. And here's where its story begins both to kick in and to fray at the seams. Remy makes a new human friend in Linguini the janitor, the lowest of the low in the kitchen. Linguini needs Remy to cook for him,

otherwise he'll lose his job. Suddenly and conveniently, Remy discovers he can control Linguini's physical movements by pulling this way and that on Linguini's hair.

"This is strangely involuntary," Linguini says. Remy can hide under Linguini's toque and move the man's arms and legs as though Linguini were a puppet.

This crucial plot point is just . . . weird. Remember--no magic is involved and no explanation for this mystical talent is proffered. Meanwhile, every other element in Ratatouille strives for hyperrealism. The depiction of the restaurant kitchen is meticulously accurate, and the visual rendition of the City of Light is so precise you are lulled into thinking a rat and a man are having a private moment at night along the banks of the Seine right where Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron danced in An American in Paris.

Endowing a rat not only with the talent to cook but also with the ability to turn a human being into a marionette is one inexplicable endowment too far for this movie. ...

With Remy stuck in Linguini's toque, the movie loses the indelible charm of the rat's (and Bird's) delightful inventiveness in the soup scene, when Remy has not only to think up good ingredients but also figure out how to dump a carton of cr

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"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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Meanwhile, every other element in Ratatouille strives for hyperrealism.

Eh?

So the reviewer doesn't mind that a rat can read cookbooks, walk on its hind legs, and talk to the ghost of a dead chef, but the hair-pulling is just too much.

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Meanwhile, every other element in Ratatouille strives for hyperrealism.

Eh?

So the reviewer doesn't mind that a rat can read cookbooks, walk on its hind legs, and talk to the ghost of a dead chef, but the hair-pulling is just too much.

I'm squarely with you on this one, Mr. Mando. Right from the get-go, Ratatouille demands the willing suspension of disbelief; if the hair-pulling breaks the spell, it's only because the viewer hadn't realized until then that he or she was under one.

Personally, I think it's brilliant -- all part of the larger metaphorical meaning of the movie. I mean, really: think of Dances with Wolves, Waterworld, and The Postman. Didn't there have to be real director hidden somewhere under Costner's cap his first time out? The second and third dishes he concocted sure didn't live up to that first award-winning bowl of soup!

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Greg Wright wrote:

: Right from the get-go, Ratatouille demands the willing suspension of disbelief; if the hair-pulling breaks the spell, it's only because the viewer hadn't realized until then that he or she was under one.

But the spell would still be broken. And that leads us to ask how it is that spells are made in the first place. Hence my comments above about films laying out all the rules in the first act. The hair-pulling thing in Ratatouille comes late-enough in the story -- as hinted, I think, in the Weekly Standard's use of the phrase "After this triumphant debut..." -- that it might violate this rule, laying out new rules after we already thought we knew what the rules were. But it's really, really borderline.

: I mean, really: think of Dances with Wolves, Waterworld, and The Postman. Didn't there have to be real director hidden somewhere under Costner's cap his first time out? The second and third dishes he concocted sure didn't live up to that first award-winning bowl of soup!

Costner may have kicked Kevin Reynolds out of the editing room, but Waterworld was directed by someone other than Costner. And while The Postman was, indeed, a stupendously unbelievably amateurish piece of trash, Costner's most recent directorial effort, Open Range, was actually quite good.

"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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But the spell would still be broken. And that leads us to ask how it is that spells are made in the first place. Hence my comments above about films laying out all the rules in the first act. The hair-pulling thing in Ratatouille comes late-enough in the story -- as hinted, I think, in the Weekly Standard's use of the phrase "After this triumphant debut..." -- that it might violate this rule, laying out new rules after we already thought we knew what the rules were. But it's really, really borderline.

At least we get the montage that shows us it's a learning process for both Remy and Linguini. In fact, a few tweaks

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Aside from All of Me and Men in Black, has anyone cited Being John Malkovich?
This is stretching, but does Chicago count... the marionette sequence?

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But the spell would still be broken. And that leads us to ask how it is that spells are made in the first place.

No argument from me there. And I like the fact that Ratatouille is structured in a way that deliberately stimulates conversations about that. It's self conscious about its artistry (and spell-casting) in a very refreshing way.

Hence my comments above about films laying out all the rules in the first act. The hair-pulling thing in Ratatouille comes late-enough in the story -- as hinted, I think, in the Weekly Standard's use of the phrase "After this triumphant debut..." -- that it might violate this rule, laying out new rules after we already thought we knew what the rules were. But it's really, really borderline.

I don't find it borderline at all. Until the basic conflict has been established, you're structurally still in exposition -- the "first act," as you put it. Heck, we don't even know about the issue of Linguini's parentage at this point! From there, we finally move into the "rising action."

Now, admittedly, that means Rat's "first act" runs long by the clock; but that's only by comparison to other animated films. I, for one, applaud Ratatouille for being more challenging fare. (I admit it may lose an awful lot of viewers for being overly complicated, rather than opting for the modern Spielbergian propensity for condensed, shorthand, hyper-efficient exposition).

A really excellent comparison would be with Perfume -- very similar concepts and structures. And Perfume's exposition also takes up fully half of the film.

I think the basic issue is that a lot of people just don't like the hair thing; but structurally and artistically, I don't think it "violates" or "bends" any "rules" of narrative or genre.

Costner's most recent directorial effort, Open Range, was actually quite good.

Ehh... I was not so impressed. It's most distinctive contribution was in sound design. But it did demonstrate that Costner had learned something... In all likelihood, Costner relied heavily on his cinematographer and editor for DWW; but where where they on The Postman? (iMDB now lists Costner as the [uncredited] director of Waterworld, btw. Dunno if that's because Reynolds had his name taken off, or because of DGA action.)

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I don't think there's a right or wrong side to this debate. It's just about how many challenges a storyteller wants to pose to the audience's suspension of disbelief. And how much the audience is willing to accept.

For what it's worth, my own personal experience of this story:

If a story just GOES for it and assumes that animals can talk to people... that's a device I'm quite accustomed to, and it doesn't bother me. That's especially true if the story doesn't question or explain itself much... like Looney Toons or Winnie-the-Pooh.

But if ONLY ONE of the animals communicates with people and understands them? That makes me immediately ask the storyteller WHY? Why only one? What's special about Remy? The movie doesn't give us any indication. That may not "break the spell" for me, but it gives it a pretty good whack with a sledgehammer.

And then, to ask me to believe a whole new belief-suspension device... the thing with the hair-pulling... which is clever but still quite a stretch... that put me over the line too. It's almost as bad as the amulet in The Secret of NIMH. It's an unlikely, impossible-in-the-real-world thing the mechanics of which boggle the mind. Now we've got a mouse who can cook (unexplainably), who can understand what people say (unexplainably), and read English ( I remember thinking, "Oh, man... really? Are you kidding? He's gonna control him the whole time with his hair?"* I eventually, begrudgingly decided to go with it because of the comic possibilities in introduced, but for the record, that did smash the spell right to the breaking point.

And yet, I still loved the film for the things that did work for me.

I still give it four stars, but these are the reasons that I rate it below Finding Nemo and Toy Story 2.

*No, I didn't see that in the preview, so I didn't realize that was coming.

Chattaway wrote:

Costner's most recent directorial effort, Open Range, was actually quite good.

I agree, FWIW. Its conclusion is fumbled pretty badly. But I loved Duvall, liked Costner, though Jeter did well in his (alas) bow-out, and the shootout is one of the best-choreographed I've seen.

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But if ONLY ONE of the animals can talk to the people? That makes me immediately ask the story WHY? Why only one? What's special about Remy? The movie doesn't give us any indication. That may not "break the spell" for me, but it gives it a pretty good whack with a sledgehammer.

Er, but ...

Remy CAN'T talk to Linguini. That's why he has to pull his hair!

It's almost as bad as the amulet in The Secret of NIMH.

Nah. That was completely unnecessary and betrayed the whole premise of the story as well as straying from the book. In Ratatouille the hair-pulling solves a real problem and furthers the story.

It's an unlikely, impossible-in-the-real-world thing the mechanics of which boggle the mind.

Again, note that both Remy and Linguini have to learn the process, and we do see Linguini start to break away from Remy's control as he gains confidence. That suggests that Linguini's participation isn't entirely involuntary, although I note again that more could / should have been made of this.

I still give it four stars, but these are the reasons that I rate it below Finding Nemo and Toy Story 2.

Because the fish and toys don't pull anybody's hair? They can still read English and talk to each other.

Note that the first Toy Story film DOES break the spell ... the vivisected toys come to life and scare the bad kid, don't they? I guess nothing like that happens in the second film.

I agree, FWIW. Its conclusion is fumbled pretty badly. But I loved Duvall, liked Costner, though Jeter did well in his (alas) bow-out, and the shootout is one of the best-choreographed I've seen.

Wow, I didn't even realize Michael Jeter had died.

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Or am I wrong? Can they all understand the humans?

I think you're wrong. It seemed to me, for instance, that Emile understood as well as Remy what the TV was saying about Gusteau in the old lady's house. What makes Remy special is his interest in things "beyond his ken," as it were, not his ability to understand what humans are saying.

I don't think there's a right or wrong side to this debate. It's just about how many challenges a storyteller wants to pose to the audience's suspension of disbelief. And how much the audience is willing to accept.

Quite right. But I agree with Martin that Rat "broke the spell" for you and Peter, in particular, in ways not dissimilar to films you liked better -- and that you have tried to argue the point on the basis of critical theory rather than on the basis of "I just didn't like this one as well." The latter I have no problem with. The former seems like an uneven application of critical theory.

And I do understand, by the way, that you don't dislike the film!

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I think you're wrong. It seemed to me, for instance, that Emile understood as well as Remy what the TV was saying about Gusteau in the old lady's house. What makes Remy special is his interest in things "beyond his ken," as it were, not his ability to understand what humans are saying.

Remy indicates the rat-poison box in a way that suggests the other rats understand what it contains. Remy's dad is able to show him the exterminator's shop. Neither instance proves conclusively that the other rats can read, but they're suggestive.

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Chattaway wrote:
Costner's most recent directorial effort, Open Range, was actually quite good.

I agree, FWIW. Its conclusion is fumbled pretty badly. But I loved Duvall, liked Costner, though Jeter did well in his (alas) bow-out, and the shootout is one of the best-choreographed I've seen.

Ahh, man. I don't remember the entire conclusion that well, but "You the one killed our friend?" and the subsequent response was absolutely brilliant in its defiance of expectations!

To try to contribute to the actual thread at hand, I also was put off by the hair pulling. I kept thinking "Yeah, but that doesn't happen when you pull someone's hair." But of course I never thought "But rats can't cook." Go figure. There seems to be something there. I'll let you academics figure out what it is though...

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For some reason I keep thinking of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan during this discussion.

In that film, we discover -- for the first time -- that Khan's planet was wiped out. That Kirk has an ex-girlfriend and a son. That the ex-girlfriend and son are involved in a science project that entails the destruction and remodelling of entire planets. And that this science project requires a voyage to... Khan's planet. Which is how he escapes, to wreak his vengeance on Kirk.

Oh, and buried in the midst of all this is the fact that the Enterprise is now just a training vessel, and ADMIRAL Kirk just HAPPENS to be onboard, the day that Khan breaks free.

Somehow the introduction of all these elements doesn't bother me. They are all introduced right up-front, in the first half-hour or so, and the rest of the film allows these elements to play themselves out in a pretty natural fashion. The film does not demand that we accept NEW major story elements after we have already settled into these ones.

Ratatouille, by delaying any HINT of the hair-pulling thing until well into the film, does things differently. And as a result, I don't quite "buy" it as easily as I might want to.

-

And why is it that, at the end of ST2:TWOK, the Enterprise's engine can only be fixed under certain conditions that JUST HAPPEN to allow for BOTH the death of Spock AND the escape of the Enterprise? Why does this not seem merely arbitrary to me? Why do I "buy" this in a way that I never quite "buy" the way that Kirk and Data are left behind (in ST5:TFF and ST:N, respectively) simply because of an arbitrary number of functioning transporters?

Again, I think it is because the first act has set everything up. The film has prepared us, right from the beginning, for the fact that this is going to be a story about facing death and facing no-win scenarios. Spock's death may not be an inevitable, necessary outcome, given where all the PLOT elements were at, say, the beginning of the third act -- but his death does provide the THEMATIC pay-off that the entire movie has been building towards. It "feels right" for the story to go that way.

Not sure how THAT ties into Ratatouille, though. :)

"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
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Nice example with Wrath of Khan, Peter. Seriously. But while that works so well for you and I, it doesn't work at all for my wife. Does that mean that Jenn would be right in saying that the film itself is somehow at fault? No. She'd be right, though, in shaking her head in disbelief that I like it so much!

It's just that it works for you and I because we have an investment in, perhaps, William Shatner or Ricardo Montalban or Moby Dick or something that Jenn, who is just as much a Star Trek fan, just doesn't buy into. So it still all comes off as cheap tricks, even though those elements are "all introduced right up-front, in the first half-hour or so, and the rest of the film allows these elements to play themselves out in a pretty natural fashion." Jenn would reply, "Pretty natural for you, maybe."

So when you say, "The film does not demand that we accept NEW major story elements after we have already settled into these ones... Ratatouille, by delaying any HINT of the hair-pulling thing until well into the film, does things differently. And as a result, I don't quite 'buy' it as easily as I might want to," I still respond: the problem is just that you don't like one-hour first acts / prolonged exposition (particularly from animated films, I'd have to guess, based on your taste in dramas). And there's nothing wrong with that; but structurally, there's nothing wrong with Ratatouille, either. As Jeffrey pointed out, Bird has just made some odd choices that aren't calculated to be Spielbergian in their audience-pleasing designs and execution. Is that so bad?

I mean, geez: we're into our fourth screen of great talk bout faith and art and criticism because of Ratatouille. What a success!

(And by the way, for those who don't know... I really agree with Peter and Jeffrey about 90 per cent of the time; I just don't find writing about my agreements as worthwhile as sharing my disagreements. I'm sure that P & J get tired of me "picking on them," and I do apologize for that appearance. But if I were to invite someone to lecture and teach writers on my staff about film criticism for the Christian market, these guys would be at the top of my list -- and have been. So there! Put that in your user ratings pipe and smoke it!)

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Greg Wright

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Just thought I'd drop in from my traveling abroad to add a comment to the discussion on this film-- which I loved and look forward to seeing again: I suspect, whatever we may say about premises and dramatic structure, marionnette hair-pulling would almost universally be a difficult idea even if it were addressed earlier. We've seen anthropomorphic animals again and again throughout the history of storytelling, going back as far as anything, so we're accustomed to it; it's a classical story-telling trope. Personally, I think, even if a film threw the talking-animal bit right in the middle as a surprise, I'd still be inclined to accept it, as long as it went somewhere interesting. The hair-pulling bit just doesn't have that intuitive sense to it that a lot of fantastic conceits do.

Put simply? It's just downright weird, in a way that I don't think imagining animals that think like humans is.

That said, I saw it in the trailers, so at some level it was part of the premise going in, and it didn't bother me all that much; perhaps that was intentional.

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N.K., I think you're right. It's an easy fairy-tale conceit to see animals communicating with humans in a cartoon. But I've never seen an human being being controlled like a marionette through hair-pulling, whether in fantasy land or otherwise. It seems like one of those storytelling devices that was contrived in order to solve a problem with the story. And sometimes, those devices can work well. But apparently this one didn't work well enough to convince everybody... and quite few who *like* fairy tales and children's stories and regularly suspend disbelief willingly have commented on this aspect, so it's obviously not the most convincing idea. (And in a story that already asks us to buy the human/animal interaction, the appearance of a human ghost to a rat, rats who can read, rats who can cook, etc., it probably wasn't a good idea to rewrite the rules of how the human body works.)

I do this all the time in my own stories. I'll take a gamble with the plot, and then I'll be reading out loud to Anne and I'll stop and say, "You know, even as the storyteller I'm still not completely sold on this idea. It doesn't feel like an organic development. It feels more like something I concocted to solve a problem and tried to make acceptable, but it kinda comes out of nowhere." And then I go back and rewrite. In fact, I just did that with the book I'm working on. The characters found something with miraculous healing powers, but even though it was a fantasy, it just didn't feel like it fit into the world of that story. So I stripped it out. If I'd written Ratatouille, I would have doubled back and found some other way for Remy to work with Linguini.

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Anyone remember Ben and Me?

I recall the Robert Lawson book (which I read numerous times) better than the Disney film, which I saw only once. In the book, Amos the mouse CAN talk to Ben Franklin, and travels inside Franklin's wool cap, warning him to look out for potholes and such. Can't remember if that particular element was picked up in the film, but the film does carry on with the conceit that Amos can talk to Ben.

Would Ratatouille be easier to swallow if it had gone in that direction?

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