I have never been a fan of animation films; somehow I find them “squeaky” in terms of the animation and the sound, and I have so far judiciously avoided them. A friend of mine insisted that we go for this movie, and so off we went, me with a mild sense of unease, but determined to endure the movie stoically.
However, the film turned out to be more than a pleasant surprise; it was about something that I absolutely adore - food. The last film I saw on food was Chocolat, which used food as a metaphor for sexuality, freedom, and community, and starred Johnny Depp and Juliet Binoche.
Ratatouille is the name of a rustic French dish made from eggplant, onions, and zucchini, and the film uses the dish as a symbol to send out a clarion call to return to a more romantic age, when maternal love, tenderness, and affection were what made a tasty dish, rather than sophisticated culinary skills. The film then expands this point by stating that food and cooking needs to be democratized and demystified as expressed in Gusteau’s (the Master Chef in the film) motto: “Anybody can Cook!”
Food, and the process of its preparation, is seen as an everyday, easily accessible method for realizing the creative potential inherent in all humans. The struggle that Remy (the lead character who is a rat) faces to become a chef symbolizes his creative aspirations, and underlines the point that one’s class and caste do not necessarily limit what one can become. Mastery of the mystery of food is the badge that allows Remy to move beyond his social background.
In turn Remy is considered a weirdo by his fellows for his interest in cooking food, rather than just scavenging on whatever is available. The film also takes potshots at frozen foods and fast foods, and the current fascination with them, primarily due to notions of “convenience” and “time and money saving”.
Being a Disney film, the rats are made to look as anthropomorphic and cute as possible. But for the viewer, the concept of food cooked by rats being delicious and better than human cooked food may be a bit too much for the palate. (Remember the rats in the kitchen, uggh!) Food for human beings is fundamentally concerned with purity; food is pure when it is cooked by members of our own social group and becomes impure and disgusting when it is cooked by the Other (people who do not belong to our social group.) The rats then embody this Otherness, which is very difficult to digest! (Pun after bad pun!)
Cooking food is also represented as an unconscious process, a process that does not really involve conscious thought, but something else that combines intuition, sensory delight, discipline, and a celebration of life and romance; it is something that you have, not something that necessarily can be acquired.
If you are a food lover, watch this film. If you are not, do still watch it. This film is a succulent dish with a light spicy flavour! Bon Appetit! And remember to take the family along - after all what is food without family!
This article is by guest author Anand S. Anand lives in Pune and is a Miscellaneous Culture Vulture. He is deeply interested in music, food, books, films, and intelligent women. He views himself as a Falstaffian figure, who does his best to indulge his appetites.
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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.
In the film, the lead character, a rat called Remy, wants to give up his “ratty” life and instead become a chef, as he adores food and wants to emulate a Master chef called Gusteau (a play on Gustatory – to do with taste). He just cannot eat rotten or junk food as his clansmen do; instead he wants to create food by playing around and combining different ingredients. This of course, is anathema to his father and clansmen. The film then proceeds to narrate his various trials and tribulations, as well as the strange alliances he needs to enter into to realize his dream.