What can an animated film about a rat named Remy who has a passion for cooking teach you about life? As it turns out, plenty. Ratatouille, directed by Brad Bird, has a special place in my heart because it taught me a fundamental truth about my profession.
Toward the end of the film, the acerbic food critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O’Toole) says: 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 probably 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 defence of the new. I remember these words each Friday as I set out to rate the new releases. But this lovely, underrated film has lots to offer non-critics also. The story has wit, sweetness and originality. The visuals are joyous – here’s another film to make you fall in love with Paris. And the lessons the film imparts on the celebration of the artist, the pursuit of excellence, the importance of passion, are timeless.
There are many lovely scenes in this film but for me, the most magical one is when Ego tastes Remy’s Ratatouille and is instantly transported back to his childhood, when he sat at the kitchen table and had his mother’s version of the same dish. In a few seconds, Bird says reams about taste, food, memory and experience. Eventually Ego concludes that while not everyone can become a great artist, ‘a great artist can come from anywhere.’ So can life lessons. Revisit Ratatouille today.