Commentary 30 Jun 2007 09:34 am

I’m a Curmudgeon

- What can I say? I’m a curmudgeon. I didn’t totally love it.
Ratatouille (“rat-a-too-ee”), I mean. I had some predictable problems with the film.

Rats!

They fought the dogs and bit the cats. They ate the cheeses out of vats. Rats.

It’s hard to watch a movie, any movie that shows hundreds of realistic looking rats with realistic looking hair running across a restaurant kitchen. Or covering a small car. Or falling from a ceiling in a smallish house. It’s unpleasant. Is this the stuff of family film?

I wanted to give it four out of four stars, but I can’t – maybe three and a half. Pushing it. All those rats; they were just too realistic when you put a lot of them together. They got the look of wet fur just about perfect. The animation was almost realistic. (Some of it was actually nice character animation.)

The kids in the theater. I heard all three of them – it was a private screening – ask what was happening. They seemed to have a bit of trouble following it. Maybe kids aren’t supposed to enjoy every “family” film. I don’t know.

Then about 3/4 of the way through the film, there’s a real slowdown, and I had to look at my watch to see what time it was. Like every other Pixar film, it was five or ten minutes too long.

I’m sorry. I’m a curmudgeon. Maybe I should tell you what I liked about the film.
Let’s try to forget that we’re talking about RATS RUNNING AROUND KITCHENS!

The craft in constructing the film was top notch excellent. I mean some of the character animation was exactly that – excellent. Not all of it, but enough of it. All of it was, at least very good. Peter O’Toole gave them the one great voice in the film, and the animators responded brilliantly. His character seems a refugee from a Tim Burton film.

The Backgrounds were stylized and looked illustrated. In fact, they were often very attractive. I wish they were a bit more stylized, but that’s just my own personal bias kicking in. In CARS you had an attempt to imitate real, and I didn’t get the point.

Ratatouille had an intelligent approach to the audience. None of those media references animated features always throw at us to tell us how with it they are. (This has been part of the landscape ever since Aladdin, and Jeffrey Katzenberg seems to encourage it.) That’s an enormous plus – treating an animated film with some dignity.

So there you have it. The body of a really good film with a lot of RATS RUNNING AROUND KITCHENS! Sorry, I can’t get over it, and I don’t think I should.

The end credits featured 2D animated rats in kitchens, and there was more of a remove. These didn’t look like real rats, and I realized that probably would have been the way to save the day – 2D animation. Rats are just such a bad idea for lovable animated characters, and there’s such a penchant for animators – cg animators – to feature them these days.
Walt Disney never would have allowed it during his life. He had a MOUSE, and he stood him up, put him in shorts and treated him as if he were human. Even the mice in Cinderella wore clothes – for a reason. They were mice – these are RATS.

I debated keeping this opinion to myself, since I know you’re all going to hate me now, but what can I say. It’s what I felt while watching the film; it’s what I think a lot of adults are going to feel while watching it. I hope Pixar makes a ton of money with it, but in the end I don’t expect it to go through the roof – after the first weekend. I hope I’m wrong. I think Brad Bird is brilliant, but there were rats running around kitchens here.

- Some articles about the potential box office are worth viewing.
#1 here, #2 here. Of course, all predictions are already probably moot since the opening box office is already in (around $16.5 million for Friday) and predicted to be a close #1 against the new Die Hard film. Fun to speculate though.

21 Responses to “I’m a Curmudgeon”

  1. on 30 Jun 2007 at 12:00 pm 1.David Nethery said …

    Michael,

    As Emile says to Remy :

    “If you can just muscle your way past the gag reflex …”

  2. on 30 Jun 2007 at 12:51 pm 2.Bill Robinson said …

    I guess some people just think rats are gross. My sister always had them as pets growing up and I was never afraid of them. I love seeing them in the subway. I wouldn’t call it the best film ever made, but I definitely enjoyed it more than most animated films I’ve seen in a long time.

  3. on 30 Jun 2007 at 1:15 pm 3.Michael said …

    Maybe it’s part of the problem with living in NYC, Rats aren’t cute. They’re ok to watch on the subway tracks, but when you see a mass of them coming out of a bakery kiosk in a subway station, you get the same queasy feeling you get watching the rats invade the kitchens in Ratatouille.

  4. on 30 Jun 2007 at 7:39 pm 4.Oscar Grillo said …

    Instead wasting you life watching predictable and useless films, why don’t you see “L’Atalante” or “The Testament of Doctor Mabuse”?…Don’t bother to answer, I’ll never visit this blog again…Bye.

  5. on 30 Jun 2007 at 7:42 pm 5.Mac said …

    While I agree that there were a couple gross out scenes, specifically the ones with more than 4 rats on at once, overall I think it was a pretty excellent film. I laughed, I cried, I left happy and optimistic about the future of animation. While I would definitely like to see some more features done completely in 2D, seeing the trailer for “Enchanted” made me realize I’m also not looking for a hand drawn feature of that quality, although I did enjoy the credits sequence of “Ratatouille.” I don’t think it was perfect, and I don’t think it was the best animated film since Pinocchio, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and so did the full theater I saw it in.

  6. on 30 Jun 2007 at 8:13 pm 6.Billy Bob said …

    You’re a a cranky old man huh Mr. Sporn? I guess but you didn’t seem like a John K. type at least. Given that you are jaded, I’m interested in seeing the film given how beautiful it looks and that you said good things about it despite being a crank. Other critics have lauded it as a work of art, I’m skeptical of those reviews, In fact, I was skeptical from the outset. I immensely enjoyed Mr. Bird’s previous work, but this (the plot) sounded like it could be too treacly, pandering and sily for him to turn into something special like his previous films. Still, I have yet to be WOWED at all by any of the major blockbusters in terms of substance (surprised? I’m not) so if this film has any more meat then Pirates or those Marvel films then I shall give it a shot.

  7. on 30 Jun 2007 at 9:25 pm 7.Robert Schaad said …

    I’m waiting for Willard to weigh in before I see it. After that I’ll head on over to Taco Bell for the little plastic rat toys. Kidding!

  8. on 30 Jun 2007 at 9:33 pm 8.hans bacher said …

    for me the trailer was enough. realistic looking rats
    connected to food and within a kitchen environment
    is not really my thing. there are parts in the world where
    that is a sad reality and the people there don’t think
    it is funny.
    that’s part of the problem with that CG-realism –
    it worked before when everything was drawn and
    ideas and caricatures of animals or humans were
    used.

  9. on 30 Jun 2007 at 11:45 pm 9.David Nethery said …

    Well, I’m not going to argue with anyone who didn’t like it , but who really thinks Remy is a “realistic” rat? (click the link to view image)

    Remy

    http://drasticgraphics.com/images/ratatouille.jpg

    It’s like a muppet design. Actually the muppet Rizzo The Rat looks more like a real rat.

  10. on 01 Jul 2007 at 1:05 am 10.Fred Cline said …

    Hey Michael,
    When this film project was first announced my initial reaction was, “Who would greenlight an idea like that?” When it was announced that Brad Bird was stepping in to direct, my reaction was, “At least it will be watchable and there will be a great deal of creativity in the storytelling.” It just didn’t seem like Brad’s kind of project. I’m sure that, after Warner’s botched the marketing on “The Iron Giant”, Brad was wary of taking on a project that would challenge even Disney’s marketing machine. I will probably see it tomorrow, and I imagine that it will be like hearing Aretha Franklin sing “Mandy” – not really her thing, but you know she’ll do something incredible with it.

  11. on 01 Jul 2007 at 5:24 am 11.hackydog said …

    Brad Bird made this movie to prove he could do a terrifying version of Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’.

  12. on 01 Jul 2007 at 4:32 am 12.Michael said …

    Fred, Brad Bird did indeed do something incredible with the film. By all reports, it’s a much bigger story than he stepped into, but he kept the one “gag reflex,” as David pointed out. One has to swallow hard to accept the Long Shots of many rats invading a kitchen, an attic, a car etc.

    Brad Bird is incredible, though. He does bring a strong sense of who he is to the film. Exactly what animation needs a strong, intelligent personality.

    I’m sorry to have disappointed and upset Oscar so much by my comments. I have seen (several times) both of the films he’s mentioned. I’m not quite sure what else could have been so vile to him in my comments. I assume he doesn’t agree with my opinion. Il est ce qui est il.

  13. on 01 Jul 2007 at 10:29 am 13.Tim Rauch said …

    I’m sorry, I just don’t get the objection to a movie showing rats in a kitchen. Anyone see “One Rat Short” (from Charlex)? Those rats had extraordinary humanity despite being perhaps even more “realistic” than the Ratatouille rats, and I loved every minute of it. I haven’t seen this movie yet, but I plan to and it will be the first big budget animation I’ve actually paid for in years.

  14. on 02 Jul 2007 at 3:45 am 14.Jenny said …

    Well, I just about wrote a valentine to this one, for all the positive reasons you cite–and I DO get the objection.
    Actually, your entire post is a prime example of a big credo of mine: everyone reacts personally to film, and for that reason if an intelligent, thoughtful person just doesn’t dig a movie I happen to love, it never bugs me–well, it never bugs me if they can tell me why–and most people of experience can–as you have. I may totally disagree, but that’s me, and I think you give a perfectly valid reason for your feelings.

    I feel lucky that I didn’t have that revulsion spoil it for me (and btw having lived in NYC I do have some pretty gross stories with rats in my bag of reminiscences), but I can see that if one does it pretty much makes this film a turnoff. Different strokes and all that.
    I suspect Rat is that much more of a triumph as it was one of those flailing projects that Bird would otherwise never have tackled. Given that he was on it and rewrote it, I just knew there was no way it could be less than smart, whatever else it was. Reading your agreement on that score is the real thumbs up from you as far as I’m concerned.

    That said, I’ll add that there’s one shot that did just barely elicit that gross factor from me–actually, two: the sight of all those rats crammed together on the old lady’s ceiling, and the one low angle shot of a thousand rats pouring out of the walk in refrigerator. *shiver*
    I still loved it–and you, too, Michael. No one with sense’ll “hate” you over this!

  15. on 02 Jul 2007 at 1:36 pm 15.James said …

    The rattus rattus of southern California are not the larger, more menacing Norway rats of NYC. Maybe the Pixar locals don’t get the repulsion factor due to the resident rodents that populate their sunny surroundings. Walt Disney used the big, Norway rat as the apparent infant murderer in “Lady and the Tramp” for good reason.

  16. on 04 Jul 2007 at 9:22 pm 16.Stephen Worth said …

    Why would someone hate you just because they disagree with you? That isn’t sporting.

    For me, realistic anything in animation is a turnoff. It could be the world’s cutest photo-realistic baby panda bear and I’d still find other things to watch. Luxurious fur, glassy reflections on the eyes and perfect leathery textures on the shiny wet nose aren’t enough. I like cartoons with style and expressiveness- stuff that looks like an artist made it.

    That said, I haven’t seen the film. I probably won’t. I’ve managed to successfully avoid Shrek, Chicken Little and Shark Tale. I saw Incredibles at a For Your Consideration screening, and it was OK. But it wasn’t something I’d choose to watch.

    Chris Bailey came up with a great quote once… “I love cartoons, but I’m not so sure about animation.”

    See ya
    Steve

  17. on 05 Jul 2007 at 4:08 pm 17.R.Dress said …

    I liked the book better=)

  18. on 09 Jul 2007 at 2:58 pm 18.Dave Levy said …

    I’m late to the party on this discussion, but curiously absent from the debate is the horrible new Pixar short that leads into the feature. Pixar’s shorts have become an increasingly mixed bag and it’s of no surprise that they have not snagged the Oscar for the last two years. This short should not even be nominated.

  19. on 09 Jul 2007 at 3:47 pm 19.Michael said …

    Thanks for your thoughts on this Dave. I saw Ratatouille at a priate screening so was spared the short. However, I’d seen it half a dozen times at Oscar screenings. It’s the worst of Pixar, if you ask me. It reminds me of some bad shorts that were done in the early 70′s by students. A terrible idea executed poorly. If you drawing is a problem for you, do something about aliens. You can’t go wrong. Add in a lot of clichés, and you have this short. What a difference between short & feature!

  20. on 19 May 2012 at 3:42 am 20.Rick said …

    Okay, first of all, Ratatouille is Pixar’s best yet in my opinion. And who cares about the bad things about rats? I thought the movie was very good and had well developed characters as well. The whole idea with rats in this movie actually drove me in to it. I enjoyed the scenes and animation, as well as the RATS. So, Ratatouille is my favorite Pixar movie , ever since I watched it.

  21. on 19 May 2012 at 6:26 am 21.Michael said …

    Ratatouille is probably Pixar’s best film. It is certainly its most sophisticated. Brad Bird proved that his work on The Incredibles was not just a fluke. He was the best of their directors and brought the most intelligence to his films. Unfortunately, he left for greener pastures, bigger bucks and something more challenging. I can’t blame him, but I can miss him. So does Pixar. Nothing they’ve done since his departure would give any indication that they’ll get better. I suppose we can hope for The Brave.

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