September 6th, 2007 Film, Film Reviews, Personalities, Xpress

Insider gossip from Hollywood had Ratatouille pegged as the one Disney executives wanted to fail. Since last year’s purchase of Pixar by the Mouse House, bigwigs John Lasseter and Apple maestro Steve Jobs have held the creative reigns — something the old Disney guard don’t like.

Pixar only needed one flop for Disney President Bob Iger to realise they weren’t King Midas and he’d reign them in, giving the old school animators and creatives some autonomy back.

Unfortunately for them, Pixar movies are like pizza — even when they’re not the best they’re still great. Those hand-wringing 2D animators are going to have to occupy Disney headquarters, lock the new superstars out of the building and hurriedly make and release their own movie to get their old glory back — now there’s an idea for a Pixar film.

The actual process is a lot less exciting. The way Pixar animator Gini Santos describes it, it’s mostly a bunch of meetings.

"We’re assigned a shot by the director and then we do whatever research we need for the shot and the characters," she says. "We start in the morning with dailies when we get together in the screening room and show the director where we’re at. In the afternoon we have walk throughs when the director and each animator go step by step through each shot."

But surely working for the world’s best animation studio must be more than that — what about impromptu games of nerf soccer or World of Warcraft? What’s the real secret?

"They have very grounded principles of story and character is what’s key," Santos reckons. "Anything else you do in the computer comes second to that. The technology really does help us do whatever we can imagine but the artistic integrity is what drives it — not the computers but the artists who run these computers."

Santos does sound chuffed when she describes role playing the characters, videotaping themselves and building real-world characteristics, movement and mannerisms into their films — maybe one reason why despite the animated design elements, Pixar movies ironically look so real.

Ratatouille isn’t Pixar’s strongest film, but you can still see every drop of creative sweat shed to make it as perfect as possible. The locales of a Paris restaurant kitchen, its surrounds and the characters who work in it are all faultlessly executed stylistically as well as technically, so all that’s left to talk about is the story.

Remy lives in the French countryside and really wants to be a chef. He idolises Gusteau, owner and chef of a famous Paris restaurant who maintains that anyone can cook, a philosophy that gives Remy hope.

When he finds himself in Paris right in front of Gusteau’s after being separated from his family, Remy realises his big chance is staring him in the face and decides to let nothing stop him in his dream — not even the fact that he’s a rat.

Forming an unlikely secret alliance with the gawky new garbage boy Linguini, Remy gets his shot in the kitchen of Gusteau’s despite the forces arrayed against him, from creepy head chef Skinner (Holm) to vampiric food critic Ego (O’Toole).

The story and themes are more multi-faceted than most Pixar films and thankfully comprise more than just the tired ‘follow your dreams’ message. The story isn’t as simple as that of Monsters Inc or Toy Story so Ratatouille isn’t as iconic, so it’s for Pixar fans only. Fortunately for them (and unfortunately for the newly-demoted ink-and-painters), most of us are.

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