May 22, 2015

Alternative to What: "Ratatouille" (2007)

Welcome to Alternative to What: a weekly column that tries to find a great alternative to driving to the multiplexes. Based on releases of that week, the selections will either be thematically related or feature recurring cast and crew. The goal is to help you better understand the diversity of cinema and hopefully find you some favorites while saving a few bucks. At worse, this column will save you money. Expect each installment to come out on Fridays, unless specified. 

Ratatouille (2008)
- Alternative To -
Tomorrowland (2015)

When it comes to reliable names in animation and action, there have been few family-friendly names as known as Brad Bird. Over the course of a storied career, he has made some of the funnest and liveliest films that refuse to pander to audiences. With his latest Tomorrowland, he returns to the live action realm to present a tale based on one of Disneyland's most popular attractions. With mixed reviews already in place, it is odd to see him return to the Disney brand with a tale that is abstract enough to be about something beyond Tomorrowland. It could just be a crazy sci-fi film. Who knows.
Before you write Bird off, consider what else he has done for Disney. During what was known as Pixar's prime, Bird was in charge of making several of the most beloved entries. Among them was one of the more unlikeliest of stories: Ratatouille. Choosing to focus on a food-loving rat, the story became an ode to Parisian culture while putting a twist on the "looks can be deceiving" plot that accompanies countless children's films. In between, there's plenty of humor and beautiful animation that captures the studio at the height of their craft. Even the action sequences have an unmatched fluidity to them that makes simple details feel more lively.
As mentioned, there's the main rat, played by Patton Oswalt. While he lives among rodents who wish not to be involved with delicatessens, he seeks to make a difference. In France, he does just that in comical manners while also taking down critics. The film may not be as beloved as Bird's other Pixar gem The Incredibles, but it definitely delivers more heart and ingenuity where it counts. For starters, it makes the subject of a chef rat seem less repulsive than it should. From there, it is the magic that Pixar was known for sprinkling into every film until it became unanimously adored.

Ratatouille isn't necessarily one of Pixar's most remembered movies. It doesn't have as much flash or stand alone moments as its other entries. However, it does have quite the inventive plot and a great turn by Oswalt. The scenes of rats cooking food alone symbolize great growth in the way that Pixar tells a story and brings small details such as this to life. It may initially look repulsive, but it becomes something more heartwarming, especially as the climax lingers on the idea of acceptance. It is a moral about passion and following dreams in ways that aren't preachy. It is also one of the few films focused around food to not be engulfed by food imagery for the sake of stimulation. It is only a means to a bigger end. In a way, it is sort of beautiful as a result.
Bird is a director whose legacy has a lot of great animated features. While we wait for his next one to pop up, we'll take Tomorrowland. For all we know, it could be good and maybe on par to be a franchise starter like Pirates of the Caribbean was. Maybe it won't. Either way, he has proven time and again that he can turn any material, no matter how banal it sounds, and bring it to life with heart and energy. Ratatouille proved that along with his familiar action beats, he could make them take on deeper and more sympathetic meanings. It was maturity in the strangest of places. As a result, it delivered quite an appetizing movie. Now to see if Tomorrowland is a great second course.

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