“On this Rat I Shall Build My Restaurant”

Pixar just has a way of nailing movies. They simply understand how to mix the power of story, great characters, humor, and heart – with very few mis-steps. Granted, one definition of a great movie is how well it stands under repeated viewing (and as the father of toddlers at the time, I’ve seen Finding Nemo 500 times if once – and loved it every time). Which brings me to Ratatouille.

Brad Bird’s (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant) Ratatouille is an animation marvel (as I watched the Blu-Ray on a high def television and could count each hair on the rats). Two stories collide, both revolving around a great chef. The first being that of Remy (Patton Oswalt), a rat with a gifted sense of smell, refined palate, and a talent for cooking, trying to escape the expectations (and limitations) of family. The other a tale of Linguini (Lou Romano), “nephew” of legendary chef, Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett), who must be hired and is given the job of garbage boy. The two meet in the restaurant, establish communication, and pretty soon a cooking tandem is born.

And the movie can be seen as a powerful examination of the church.

“I think it’s apparent that I need to re-think my life a little bit.” –Remy

Gusteau dies at the hands of his chief critic, Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole), but leaves behind a simple gospel, in the form of his book, Anyone Can Cook. In his place, his spirit arrives to disciple Remy as he goes about his spiritual journey. Remy has a gift, but he doesn’t know how to use it. His desire to become a great cook leaves him unappreciated by his family.

“Great cooking is not for the faint of heart. You must be strong. Imaginative. You must try things that may not work. You must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from.” –Gusteau

Gusteau’s message essentially demands that his followers drop everything and follow him. He is a fisher of men (or rats), taking those most of society over looks, like garbage boys (artists, and pirates), leading them to his great restaurant. Everyone has their part to play in the kitchen, has their role to play, from the sous chef to the saucier. One has to find their place and apply their gifts to further the greater mission of the restaurant since, as Linguini puts it, “Neither of us can do this alone.”

“It’s your restaurant. Do something.” –Remy

Sometimes we feel like the chef has abandoned us in the kitchen, the vision caster leaving us to our imperfect ways. Sometimes we stray, often creating new problems as we seek our own ways of going about the mission. For example, as Colette puts it, we may develop a system “built upon antiquated hierarchy build upon rules written by stupid old men. Rules designated to make it impossible for women to enter this world.” Or the restaurant may find itself selling its soul in the name of money and size, inventing new ways to sell out, franchising itself out to the point where its chief message is unrecognizable.

There are many other insights (“It’s his job to be unexpected. Our job to follow the recipe.” Colette reminds) and warnings (as Django, Remy’s dad says “The world belongs to the enemy.”). However, I was struck by the “every knee shall bow” soliloquy of Anton Ego:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves for our judgment. We thrive on our negative criticism which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when being a critic truly risks something and that is in the discovery of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends … only now do I truly understand what [Gusteau] meant. Not any one become a great artist but a great artist can come from anywhere.

“I’m tired of taking. I want to make things. I want to add something to this world.” –Remy

We are in a golden age of animation, with each year finding us looking forward to the latest (Pixar) release. These movies, Ratatouille especially, have achieved a level of humanity missing from most of our biggest blockbusters. The characters convey their emotions with a physical expressiveness that is a wonder to behold. Like The Incredibles, Ratatouille could easily be spun into a franchise (or a television series) and not skip a beat.

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