Disney did it again! Rats are unquestioningly detestable, which makes them the perfect Remy for Ratatouille (rat.a.TOO.ee), an animated film on having a vision, on change, on discovering the good that’s within us. I can’t help but notice that RATS spelled backwards is STAR. Remy is not just a rat with an identity crisis: he has a gift of taste . . . a gift of (dare I say it) discernment! He has a thing for cleanliness; he can identify which food has rat poison. And he tells his dad, “Why don’t we go for the food that’s definitely not poisoned? That’s food which is not in the garbage, food that’s in the kitchen!”
I love how Remy’s story goes. He dislikes eating from the garbage bin like a rat. He has exceptionally sensitive olfactory nerves enabling him to identify the right ingredients. He likes to cook his food right. He’s been through a major mishap because of this, too, resulting in an incident that separated him from his family and friends. But he meets the spirit of Chef Gusteau (Remy’s revered chef and author of the cookbook Anyone Can Cook) who tells him: “If you focus too much on what you left behind, you’ll never see what lies ahead.” Inside the cold, damp sewer, he was so alone and feeling sorry for himself that he didn’t realize right away that the city of Paris was just above him. And Paris is just about the most perfect place not only for dreamers but, more importantly, for dreamers who want to make their dreams a reality. And there he gets to see Chef Gusteau’s gourmet kitchen and teams up with Linguini, the kitchen’s garbage boy (who was a revelation on his own, but that merits another blog entry), in order for Remy to do what he loved to do—to cook. Their unlikely and extraordinary team revived the hotel’s waning reputation, inviting speculations from other characters.
At some point, Remy is reunited with his family, while Linguini finds romance. But the story doesn’t end yet. Remy’s dad tells him to detach himself from human connection. At the end of the day, Remy is told, he is still a rat to the rest of the world, and rats are to be treated as pests. “The world we live in belongs to the enemy. We must live carefully. We look out for our own kind, Remy. When all is said and done, we’re all we’ve got.” His dad further says, “This is just the way things are. You can’t change nature.” Now I adore Remy’s response: “Dad, I don’t believe it. You’re telling me that the future is, can only be, more of this? Change is nature, the part that we can influence. And it starts when we decide.”
But like most of us, Remy was susceptible to lies, too. There were times that he almost gave up, telling himself, I’m just a rat. We also tell ourselves this, too. Well, in our case, we say that we’re just human, just average, and therefore, up to no good. We may consider feeding on the garbage that’s around us. But we always have Chef Gusteau and his cookbook telling us that anyone can cook, and that the chef in us “is only as free as we allow ourselves to be free.” We only have to make a decision to stop sneaking in garbage that nobody even wants. If we have a vision that change is possible, and if we believe strongly in that vision, then ANYONE CAN CHANGE. Even Remy says that he’s tired of taking, that he wants to make things—to make a contribution. And in the end, his major contribution was change. He prepared a simple peasant meal called Ratatouille for Paris’s most fearsome food critic Anton Ego. An unlikely meal from an unlikely source revived the good memories of the critic’s life, long-dormant underneath the coldness brought about by having a profession thriving in negative criticisms. Remy’s gift transformed everybody’s life for the better. Go watch Ratatouille, and walk out of the cinema feeling like a better person.
My Ultimate Favorite: Anton Ego’s Review
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 to our judgment. We thrive on 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 more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.