It's rare that I'm champing at the bit to see a movie on opening weekend, but for "Ratatouille," the Pixar feature-length cartoon about a culinarily-inclined rat, I gladly queued up Saturday night.
My love for the cartoon and the art of make-believe has continued well into adulthood (Anyone love "The Triplets of Belleville" as much as I did?) but a cartoon about cooking -- well, that's about as good as life gets. The trailer practically had me licking my chops.
A tale of Remy the Parisian rat who's got a passion for cooking, the film delivers lifelike culinary detail that equals (or maybe surpasses) that of real-life food-centric movies such as "Big Night," "Eat Drink Man Woman" and "Like Water for Chocolate."
If you like watching cooking shows, you'll love the attention to technique in Auguste Gusteau's kitchen -- the lemon zesting with a microplane, the tossing of leeks and the crushing of chervil leaves into a soup pot, the requisite flip of the wrist and shaking of a sautÃ© pan, the use of copper pots. The Pixar team captures kitchen nuance as well, from the nervous checking of tickets on the line to the private conversation that Linguini the garbage boy has with Remy in the walk-in refrigerator, sometimes the only place in the kitchen to escape, as other cooks will attest.
But. There is a but. As much as I loved the culinary cinema verite, I about lost my cookies with the group shots. The same pristine walk-in with its lifelike, mouth-watering shelves of fruit and cheese is invaded by an army of Remy's extended family and friends. And in case you forgot, like I sometimes did, Remy is a rat.
Another challenging scene takes place at the beginning, when Remy and his brother Emile are in pursuit of saffron to add to his mushroom (a chanterelle, by chance?) and gooey cheese combo. When the old woman, whose kitchen Remy et al are scouring, discovers the intruders, she pulls out a shot gun and goes on an anti-rodent rampage. She aims at Emile, who's swinging on the chandelier, and suddenly, the entire ceiling comes crashing down - and so does "the colony" of rats. Rats are everywhere, and that's when I slid under my seat.
And yet, and yet...the ghost of chef Auguste Gusteau (voiced by Brad Garrett) offers culinary inspiration for cooks of all kinds. Throughout the film, Gusteau emphasizes the idea that when we cook, we create and we offer a gift to others, versus the stealing of food that rats (and gluttons) are known for.
The title of his legendary cookbook is "Anyone Can Cook," is a philosophy that resonates for me and coincidentally, the working title of a manuscript I started writing about five years ago.
So... did you see it? And what did you think? Delicious, repulsive or a little bit of both?
By the way, later this month, this summer's second food-centric movie hits the big screen. "No Reservations," the remake of my beloved "Mostly Martha," stars Catherine Zeta-Jones as a neurotic chef whose life suddenly changes when she must take care of her niece, played by Abigail Breslin, of "Little Miss Sunshine" fame.
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