The first time I saw Ratatouille (2007) it was during my time as an Assistant Youth Minister. I was on a bus traveling from Florida up to Hidden Lake Camp in Dahlonega, Georgia, for that wonderful week of trying to keep middle school teens in line amongst the pristine setting of the Southern Appalachians. At the time I did not think much of it, mostly because I was barely paying attention to it. That summer the parish I worked at had a seminarian, and he helped us with some of our youth ministry functions. He also was a published writer and fond of movies. Sitting next to each other on the ride north, our conversation naturally turned to film. Somehow our conversation got around to Red Letter Media’s famous Plinkett Review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, with which he was unfamiliar. Thus while the little overheard monitors played Ratatouille, I showed him that little savaging of the Star Wars prequels. Poor guy later dislocated his shoulder that week. Middle schoolers. As for me, I wish I had paid more attention to this more recent Disney classic.
Even if you are unfamiliar with this story, given Ratatouille‘s title it may not be surprising to you that it is a story about a rat. But not just any rodent (and not Mickey Mouse either), but an extraordinary creature named Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) with an overdeveloped palate and sense of smell, and the ability to read. When his extensive colony of rats is suddenly discovered by the elderly woman whose house they also occupy, he gets separated from them during the escape and ends up at the once renowned Paris restaurant Gusteau’s (voiced by Brad Garrett). Gusteau apparently died of shame when the infamous reviewer Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O’Toole) savaged his food in a column. Remy arrives at a restaurant now run by Gusteau’s money hungry former sous chef, Skinner (voiced by Ian Holm), and on the day when the hapless Linguini (voiced by Lou Romano) begins working as a kitchen boy. Remy sneaks into the kitchen not only because he is hungry, but because he had been watching Gusteau on television at the old lady’s house and was interested in being a cook. When he sees Linguini haphazardly adding ingredients to a soup, Remy intervenes and saves the dish from disaster. Unfortunately, he is also caught in the process and Linguini is told to take the rat out and kill it. However, it appears to Linguini that Remy is basically sentient, and he also connects Remy’s help to how well the soup turned out, and so they strike up a friendship. Everyone believes, though, that it was Linguini who was responsible for the soup. Thus Remy and Linguini form a partnership whereby, through tugs and pulls on various parts of Linguini’s scalp, Remy basically becomes a chef while hiding under Linguini’s toque. This increases Linguini’s popularity, but brings on Skinner’s ire. Skinner desires to trade on Gusteau’s name with a line of mass produced frozen meals, and Gusteau’s culinary empire is supposed to be his. But Linguini’s arrival poses a threat, particularly when it is revealed that he is Gusteau’s son and that everything should go to him. At the same time, Remy’s colony finally locates him, and now Remy feels obliged to help feed them, which means stealing from the kitchen. Everything comes to a head when Ego makes his appearance once more at Gusteau’s, summoned there once more by the restaurant’s reemergence. Skinner, who had lost out on his fortune and had discovered the secret between Linguini and Remy, decided to call the health inspector to take a look at Gusteau’s kitchen. And because the whole staff understandably walks out when Linguini reveals Remy’s existence, Remy enlists the help of the colony to run the kitchen. Thus when the inspector walks in, he is greeted by a room full of rats preparing food. I laughed the hardest at this point. Still, they manage to tie up the inspector and create the title dish to a level of perfection that seems to touch Ego’s soul. So moved is Ego by this food that when the inspector is forced to shut down Gusteau’s because of the perceived infestation, and having been clued in to Linguini’s secret, he helps invest in a new bistro for the pair. In a new kitchen, Remy cooks happily ever after.
Given what I usually say about Disney’s animated films, you might be surprised to know that I actually enjoyed Ratatouille. One of the best things that it has going for it is that it is not a stinkin’ musical (I say through gritted teeth). Though a cartoon, I also enjoyed the Parisian setting. There were a few premises you have to buy, though, which stretch incredulity quite a bit. Rats cannot read. Sorry. Also, if you pull your hair in a certain place, it will not make your body move in a certain way, other than what you are already moving in looking like a dope for pulling your own hair. If you are by yourself, try it some time. I just did and nothing happened. Outside of these things, it is quite an enjoyable movie.
I was also please to see a few Catholic references in Ratatouille. In one scene, Linguini and Colette (voiced by Janeane Garofalo) are on a date and they pass by Notre Dame Cathedral in its pre-fire glory. If you stretch this to Christianity broadly, there is the saying uttered of “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” which is based on a loose interpretation of Scripture. Also, Linguini’s deceased mother believed in Heaven, so that is good too. What I like best is Gusteau’s famous line, “Anyone can cook.” In the Liturgy of the Hours today one of the Psalms contains the line about how there is no distinction with God. It is actually dealing with the differences between the rich and the poor, but for our purposes we will call it between those who can cook and they who supposedly cannot. While throughout the film Linguini is basically lost in the kitchen without Remy, it is to the little Rat that this Gusteau’s words apply best. Remy sees in Gusteau’s kitchen and his friendship with Linguini an opportunity to make this phrase a reality. He wants to use the talents with which God blessed him to prepare delicious sustenance for others. Anytime you have such a passion for something as does Remy, it basically becomes a ministry, and God really does redeem the work of our hands when you see it as such.
I wholeheartedly recommend Ratatouille to any and all audiences, regardless of age. Still, it is somewhat surprising to see the elderly woman at the beginning blasting away at rats with a shot gun. There is also a bit of wine drinking that goes on because, I guess, France. I would not be shocked if Disney ever gets around to doing a live-action remake of this film that they will tone down some of those elements. But truly, it is a heartwarming story and immensely satisfying.