Saturday, June 30, 2007

Another Pixar Triumph

There is little that I can say about Ratatouille that hasn’t been said already. From the most popular of media outlets to the multitude of Disney related blogs and online communities, praise for this latest endeavor from Pixar is very close to unanimous. And deservedly so.

It is a triumph of technique, design, story and character and a film that transcends the very genre that its makers have essentially been defining and redefining for the past fifteen years. While few in Hollywood would likely ever rank Ratatouille writer-director Brad Bird among such luminaries as Scorsese, Spielberg or Eastwood, he manages a filmmaking process that is ever much more complex and produces results that are equally as entertaining and captivating.

Let’s face it—Pixar does not settle for the conventional. And nothing can be more unconventional than the story of Remy, a country rat with a passion for food and cooking, who inadvertently finds himself at the center of Paris culinary culture. While there are countless reasons to cheer this film, Remy stands out distinctly. He is an amazing triumph of character animation. When sharing the screen with his fellow rats, his personality his brought to life through the excellent voice acting of Patton Oswalt. But it is the nuances of his silent interactions with his human counterpart Linguini that provide a performance that is a triumph of humor and heart. For Remy, a simple shrug of the shoulders or the slow blink of an eye conveys an essence of character that you will never find in a Shrek film or among a group of dancing penguins.

While Monday morning will bring a new round of box office tallies, of which Ratatouille will undoubtedly be a focal point, this film will never need validation rooted in financial accounting. Pundits and Wall Street analysts will potentially drone on and on again on the merits of the Disney-Pixar merger, rehashing suppositions that have long grown stale and hold little relevance. For Ratatouille revisits the same passion for filmmaking and levels of artistic achievement that Walt Disney himself brought to productions such as Snow White, Pinocchio and Fantasia over a half a century ago. To discuss such an achievement strictly in the context of short-term number crunching and marketing campaign challenges, demonstrates a short-sightedness barely worthy of debate. Sometimes it is the intangible investments that in the long run pay the highest dividends.


FoxxFur said...

Just saw this - this is the best thing Disney's released since Sleeping Beauty. I'm not kidding. It's that good. It dwarfs the best achievements of Disney's "second golden age".

Brad Bird's ability to create great films which happen to be animated continues to astound me. The cinematic syntax of the film is very complex and most assuredly not Pixar - all of the moments and plot points which would turn into huge moments of comedy or scope in a traditional Pixar film are totally undercut. Bird's use of ellipsis is never better. The film is grounded in realism, and the "villians" are genuine characters which pose realistic threats with logical conclusions.

The humor is among the most subtle in any Pixar film. There are no outrageously funny slapstick moments. No pee-in-the-snow jokes. No characters are annoying. It's not even a buddy movie. It's a film about cooking, the timetable of cooking, the results of cooking, and the fallout of being good at something. What the film had to say about the artistic process and criticism and honesty is very touching to me. What a contrast to Cars!

I saw it with a kinda-full late night theatre with a good number of kids, and everyone was attentive throughout despite the lack of things which we associate as being intended for children: there is no gross out humor, no silly characters making faces with annoying accents, there isn't even an attempt to sell characters as being "merchandiseable". It's a film for adults. And it's brilliant. Better than my wildest dreams.

That Pirates III is going to make more money than this masterful little film is one of the great injustices in the world. Brad Bird and John Lasseter and Bob Iger and anybody who cares about cinema should be damn proud.

Danny Dare said...

What an enjoyable review - thank you! I'm based in England, and we unfortunately have to wait a good while longer to see Ratatouille over here than you guys "over the pond" (we're only just into Shrek the Third here now - another great all-CGI movie). Still, I'm looking forward to seeing Ratatouille even more now after reading your appraisal of it. It promises to continue to be a wonderful year for movies, perhaps the best ever.

All the very best,

Pete (a Pixar-loving Geek).

Anonymous said...

This film will take its place next to Walt's best, and deservedly so. Walt's spirit is alive and well; Iger's purchase of Pixar not only saved Disney but will guarantee its success for the next century. The NY Times review makes a wondefully subtle point regarding the parallel between saving Remy's restaurant from "fast food knockoffs" and what the Pixar folks have done with Disney's direct-to-video wing. Clever.

Anonymous said...

Cars is an excellent film and will also stand the test of time, both at the box office and off the toy shelf, as stated before on this site. All 3 Pirates are also clever, well-done films and are are part of the entire Disney package. Disney's regained power (with Pixar) is its ability to reach across the spectrum to many audiences--some niche audeinces for specific films and some films for all audiences. It's all good, and it's all necessary if Disney is to survive and thrive.