July 01, 2007

Welcome ‘Offense of the New’… While Invoking the Old - Ratatouille reviewed


All great recipes, whether the provincial peasant dish ratatouille (a vegetable stew), or the greatest and newest dish by Charlie Trotter, draw from the ordinary. Such is the romance of eating. It is the combining of the known to create something previously unknown. Salt, tomatoes, sugar, and butter are not unusual, but, in the hands of a master chef, they are ingredients for art.

Such is the movie Ratatouille. Its history is the simple, oft-told childhood tale of the elves and the shoemaker. A shoemaker is down on his luck, with one piece of leather left, and, to his great delight, a fine pair of shoes are miraculously made with that leather when he awakes. Can he make those shoes again? Who was the mysterious maker of these fantastic shoes?

Ratatouille takes us to a similar difficulty: Linguini, a hapless mid-20s guy who has failed at every job. At the great Gusteau's Restaurant, he becomes a garbage boy. He causes an accident with a pot of soup, and, in trying to fix the problem, makes the soup offensive to even the most plebeian of taste buds. Remy, a rat with culinary sensitivities, secretly adds the ingredients necessary to save the soup.

Instead of being fired, Linguini is promoted to cook. Without Remy's help, he cannot cook. With Remy's help, he shows, as the late Chef Gusteau claimed, anyone can cook. Even the garbage boy.

Remy's story, though, is the tension between his passion for cooking, and his large family. They are satisfied eating garbage, living on the run, and avoiding kitchens, as that's where the greatest dangers prevails. Reminiscent of Richard Bach's fable "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," Remy wants more than to be what rats have always been. He wants to taste, to smell, to combine two flavors into a new ecstatic sensation. Torn between these two loves, he tries to balance their expectations with his dreams.

As Remy's influence through Linguini in the kitchen grows, so does the renewal of Gusteau's Restaurant. It had fallen into the hands of Skinner, the ambitious and evil sous chef, when Gusteau passed away, and he was making it into a tourist locale, and branding frozen burritos with Gusteau's imprimatur. Now, Linguini as the new Gusteau, its reputation was flourishing.

Anton Ego, a food critic who despises Gusteau's, is forced to reconsider the restaurant after he thought he had written its death knell years back. With fearful awe, his declaration to return to Gusteau's causes trembling among the cooks and staff.

  • Can Ego's pretentious palate be satiated?

  • Will the conflict with Linguini and Colette, his lover and cook, force bad decisions in the kitchen?

  • Can a restaurant survive if people learn a rat has been running the show?

In all, Ratatouille's a remarkable movie that relies on storytelling, not on celebrity voicings, special effects, pop-culture references or cheap humor. It tells an old story a new way, bringing a fresh flavor into a familiar meal, and is soon to be a staple in family DVD collections. See it in the theater, and enjoy the magnificent animation on a large screen while you can.


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