Saturday, September 01, 2007

Pixar's "Ratatouille" is such a charming tale. Set in la belle Paris, how could it go wrong? It's about good food and messing about in the kitchen, a la the plethora of audience-friendly cable cooking shows, the likes of Oliver, Bourdain, and the travelogues of Samantha Brown. If that isn't a license to print money, I don't know what is.

Oh, and Chef Remy is a rat. Not the Cagney "you dirty... rat" type, but the actual makes [Victorian] women jump on chairs and scream rattus rattus variety. While his genius becomes so well-loved by the top food critics in Paris, his genus is widely despised, reviled and persecuted by nearly every human being who catches sight of him.

So, basically he's a mutant rat with some very special abilities. His uncomfortable friendship and partnership with the new garbage boy, Linguini, revives the name of the once-famous 5-star rated "Gusteau's" -- and brings it back into the attention of the much-feared food critic, Anton Ego, whose scathing review of many years ago had brought the restaurant's name down in the first place.

In the complicated relationship between rat and garbage boy, success lies somewhere between their strength of self-belief and identifying their personal talents which work well together in times of crisis. Like foreign talent, both are viewed with disdain, suspicion, jealousy and hate. Head Chef Skinner -- who has his own plans for Gusteau's -- particularly fears the new staff member, concerned that he will eventually be eclipsed and replaced (sound familiar?), and is unable to switch from his tried-and-tested ways to accept the newcomers' unorthodox but effective new practices.

Both facing the prejudice of their colleagues, and creating a dish to satisfy their culinary nemesis, Monseur Ego, require their ingenuity, creativity, talent and a touch of audacity, and is indeed a sight to behold, particularly as Gusteau's kitchen has to resolve a dramatic personnel meltdown in order to do so. Too bad for the locals, then, who cannot see the reality that in these days of unprecedented talent mobility, "Anyone Can Cook", and the next great thing may not necessarily be home-grown. It's going to take an attitude shift like chef Collette's, who adapts quickly to the unfolding circumstances and adds her local talent to create the new gastronomic haven that emerges.

Is the movie funny? 'Funny' has to do with the juxtaposition of opposites, in unlikely situations, causing unexpected results. Rat. Boy. Gourmet kitchen. Pressure-cooker kitchen environment. Paris. Lots of dichotomies too, as Remy and Linguini have to wear more than one hat each as they learn to adapt to their new home. Yup, the mix looks to be just right. Let it simmer to boil, serve warm. Good stuff.

Whatever. Linguini may live in a rathole, but at least it's a rathole in Paris.

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