March 1, 2014
I'll never forget the experience of seeing Pixar Animation Studio's Ratatouille in an old-fashioned movie theater with my younger brother and younger sister in the summer of 2007. It was certainly one of the best film-going experiences I’ve had in the last few years. I say this not only because I have fond memories of taking my siblings to the movies, but also because it was the first time I really began to appreciate the medium of animation as an adult. (It was almost my junior year in college at the time.) More importantly, as I view the film in retrospect, I believe it captures, illustrates, and reminds viewers of a time when animated features were really something special: a time when animation wasn’t just a kid’s medium, but an entertainment and an art form for everyone.
The story centers on Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), who "has a highly developed sense of taste and smell," not to mention a knack for creative culinary skills. Despite the fact that he's a rat (that's right!), along with the cynicism and snobbery of his father and community, Remy is determined to make his mark in the world. "All we do is take," he argues with his father. "I'm tired of taking! I want to make things. I want to add something to this world."
Remy's inspiration is the late famous French chef Auguste Gusteau, who's self-titled restaurant was once the toast of Paris, France. His determination and his passion for good wholesome food left a great deal of satisfaction and inspiration to those around him, and his legacy inspires Remy to become what he has always dreamed of becoming. "You must never let anyone define your limits because of where you come from," says Gusteau. "Your only limit is your soul."
Ratatouille also seems to say a lot about Pixar, in terms of their philosophy of achieving the impossible—by diverse and unconventional means. While their first batch of feature films consisted of toys, bugs, monsters, fish, superheroes and cars, Ratatouille and the three Pixar projects that followed (involving an earth-bound robot, an old man in a floating house with balloons, and toys who get sent to a daycare center and plan a prison break) would essentially leave viewers wondering, "How are they going to make that work?" In fact, Walt Disney himself once quoted, "We love doing the impossible."
During one pivotal scene in Ratatouille, Remy's human friend Linguini defends his honor and character, despite what Remy is. "This works. It's crazy, but it works." Here is an illustration of going against conventional wisdom and embracing new ideas. While other studios would rather recycle old concepts and storylines of theirs (sometimes from other studios), the real artists are those who use what has perhaps never been seen or heard or done before, and do something daring and extraordinary with it.
Today, Pixar has, perhaps more than any other animation studio, been able to develop and sustain what Disney started. Not to master Disney, to be sure, but rather to learn from its craft and grow from there. For example, Disney believed that a great film consisted of a great story, appealing and believable characters, persistence in the use of technology, and dedicated people involved in making it happen. And with each new project, the envelope was pushed to great effect. Looking back at the classic films of what is considered to be the "Golden Age" of animation, beginning with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, and continuing on to Bambi in 1942, each project had its own set of challenges, such as the use of the multiplane camera, and experimenting with colors and character movements and so forth. Yet, each of these films became something authentic, something amazing, and something worthwhile, just as Gusteau's and Remy's culinary creations (and Pixar's diversity) became likewise.
The animators and filmmakers at Pixar have learned from and have mastered on their craft, they have managed to attract wide audiences (including universal accolades from numerous film critics), and they have kept story and characters their main priority.
Remy stands as an example for people who are passionate about what they do, and who challenge themselves to explore endless possibilities, no matter what adversities they face in life. And although many have believed Pixar has not been as successful in recent years since 2010 (Toy Story 3 became the highest-grossing animated film of all-time worldwide that year, while Cars 2 was a critically-disappointing though financially-successful sequel the following year), the studio that brought us a hopping lamp to begin with still proves that it can make any project work, and can carry on a tradition that says anything is possible.