Ratatouille ★★★★

In 1995, the world of cinema and its medium was completely altered, and inevitably elevated. When Toy Story hit theaters, the cinematic populous couldn’t believe what was before their very own eyes. Even more impressive was the fact that this revolutionary piece of filmmaking had been delivered by a very unlikely source. Thirteen years later, after numerously cementing its alpha status into the animation genre, Pixar released an outing worthy of combating, and in some cases dethroning, several of that year’s best. 

The “Pixar Moment”, a phrase coined by the respective studio for its heavyweight, knockout punch moments, is a scene, shot, or sequence of pure, undulated transcendence. Considering how large their canon has become, it’s a feat of true unbelievability that this moniker applies to almost all of their work. Yet, with each and every outing, Pixar proves time and time again that the animation medium can, and should, strive for more. Ratatouille’s grand climax, a perfect representation of the studio’s now famous “Pixar Moment”, and the source of its title, comes in the form of a meek, peasantry dish of common, household ingredients. The chef, an extraordinary combination of humility and lowliness, waits and watches the product of his mastery from afar as it’s ever so silently critiqued. For him, the outcome is long and drawn out, but what follows, simply proves the hands behind the dishes in the Pixar kitchen know a thing or two about beauty. 

It only takes a mouthful for Ego, to realize the significance of the food placed before him. The silence that follows that initial bite only heightens the gravity of the situation. Slowly, ever so slowly, Ego’s hand slackens, sending his pen and infamously scathing ink inside crashing to the ground. His gaunt, ghost-like face, as if drained, readily loses the last twinges of color. With a bow of recognition and a simple, “Thank you for the meal”, Ego turns abruptly, and leaves. 

“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 defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. 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 about fine cooking 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, 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.”

This monologue, contemplatively delivered by Paris’ finest, Anton Ego, not only saw the fruit of a new perspective, from snobbish elitism to a humble defense of subjective accomplishment, but drives home the universal core of Ratatouille. With a crescendoing score of joyous elation to set the mood, a character once befuddled in arrogance, now, running parallel alongside the film’s all encompassing theme, reaps the reward of unlikely genius. For films that depict romantic relationships between two robots, a fish’s odyssey through the ocean’s underbelly, and prehistoric dinosaur wanderings, Pixar fully appreciates the necessity of tying everything back to the universally understood nature of being human. Ratatouille, like the studio’s greats before and after, is no exception.

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