On Ratatouille and the Origin & Power of ArtPosted: December 16, 2013
As I’m sure you’re aware by now, Peter O’Toole passed away this past weekend at the age of 81, which is obviously a huge loss to the film world, even though O’Toole had already retired from acting. Among the many remembrances I read, the one that immediately struck a chord for me was this tweet from Patton Oswalt:
When I did RATATOUILLE, the animators were SALIVATING at the prospect of rendering Peter O’Toole’s read of “POP-u-lar.” #RIPPeterOToole
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) December 15, 2013
And on that note, my girlfriend and I resolved to rewatch Brad Bird’s brilliant Ratatouille. I’m unashamed to admit I was teary-eyed by the end of it as usual, thanks in no small part to Anton Ego’s climactic flashback and monologue, performed brilliantly by Mr. O’Toole. Like any good climax should, that sequence displays the core of the movie, one that moves me the way few other movies do these days.
For those who haven’t seen Ratatouille (why are you even still here? Go watch it now!) it follows a young rat named Remy (Patton Oswalt) who aspires to be a gourmet chef with the help of a garbage boy who serves as his puppet for cooking. The aforementioned Anton Ego is the premier food critic in Paris, who comes to judge the restaurant. Ego is fully prepared to trash the food, only to be stunned and moved by the dish Remy prepares, which reminds him (in a silent but sweet flashback) of his mother’s cooking and comfort after a bad day. His shock is only deepened when he’s shown that a rat is responsible for the meal. And then Ego writes the following review:
“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.”
Cue tears and goosebumps. Because this summarizes what the whole movie preaches: that anyone is capable of art, but it requires a great deal of ambition, hope and risk in order to make it happen. And the results can be something so moving and so emotional that they can change a person’s perspective on everything. Throughout the movie, Remy is constantly taking risks, with his food and his life, in order to produce the art that he loves so much. And in the end, he accomplishes exactly what any good artist should aspire to: he touches other people, and makes them feel something personal.
It’s pretty obvious, I think, what moves me so much about this story. Being a long-aspiring artist myself, it’s been frustrating to have produced so little, for all my passion and excitement. And yet, in watching the struggles and ultimate triumph of Remy, and seeing the effect that his work has on Anton Ego, I am reminded that the storyteller in me is still there. And that in time, I’ll make my own mark, just as Remy does. Or, as Remy’s idol Chef Gusteau says:
You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true – anyone can cook… but only the fearless can be great.