Sunday, July 22, 2007

The art of fine animation and exquisite dining

Like most kids I grew up on cartoons. But as I grew up, my touch with the wonderful world of animation weakened. 1994's Lion King was a pleasant surprize which returned me back to my early child hood days when I used to love watching Kimba the White Lion (note: back then I didn't bother thinking that Kimba and Simba were different, I thought they were the same.) After the success of that film, many more animation films hit mainstream Hollywood, notably the slick Pixar films. After enjoying the initial offerings such as Toy Story, the animation films became another cliche just like action films or teen romance films. I found the Hollywood animation films were all style with no substance -- a lot of the films were packed with references to pop culture and clever sounding dialogues but they were hollow & just empty chatter. And it seemed if Hollywood had its way, every single creature on the planet would have been in animation films talking about the universe and grooving to the latest musical trend.

But it was not all doom and gloom. The intelligent Waking Life released in 2001 showed that there are indeed some topics which could benefit from animation. Two years later, another smart animation film was released courtesy of France -- Les Triplettes de Belleville. And surprizingly in 2004, Hollywood released The Incredibles which was a wonderful film that proved that maybe, just maybe, slick animation films can exist. But after that, we returned to more pointless animation films. And when a few months ago, I first saw the trailer of Ratatouille, I threw my hands up in despair -- Hollywood was now getting a rat to talk and cook. But two things changed my anticipation about this film:

1) The blog Reel Fanatic had been enthusiastically talking about the film for a few months. Only through Keith's blog did I realize that Brad Bird who was behind The Iron Giant and The Incredibles also created Ratatouille.

2) The wonderful New York Times article about how a real chef, Thomas Kellar, was used to cook for the film really swung me the other way.

And the verdict for the film?

Ratatouille (2007, Directed by Brad Bird): Rating 10/10

The highest rating I can give for a film! This is an absolutely wonderful film that fully uses the power of animation to craft a heart-warming tender story. Even though the concept of a rat cooking fine food can only be done with animation, this film gives us plenty of other scenes which regular film just can't capture. The beautiful shots of the food, all the way from its cooking and preparation to serving can't be perfectly captured by regular features, digital or not. Because if a feature film only focuses on a food's plating and look, it won't be able to capture the assembly line madness that exists in a kitchen. And on the other hand, if a film shows us long shots about the chaos in the kitchen, then it won't be able to properly get close-ups of the food. Sure a tv show like Hell's Kitchen attempts to capture the kitchen's madness and fine cooking preparations but it never manages to give us the true beauty that food really deserves. In that sense, Ratatouille is able to use animation to adjust the lighting, zoom-ups, long shots, etc to make the food look as mouth-watering as it should.

The story shows that at the end of the day, the best food is that home cooked meal a person has -- the highest compliment we can give to a restaurant is that the dish tastes like mom used to make it. The film shows the difference between stuffing oneself with junk versus carefully choosing what we put in our mouths. Interestingly, I can extend that comparison to Hollywood's animation films as well. Most animation films are assembly line commercial fare with a generic bland taste suited to cater all age groups. But Ratatouille is a carefully prepared delight with exquisite tastes that should still satisfy all palates.


Pacze Moj said...

The way you describe the film almost makes it seem like an insidious attack on fast food and obesity!


PS: I've really enjoyed your Copa America and Eastern Europe features. Ashamed to say I haven't seen a lot of the films, and therefore can't comment as much as I'd like, but I think it's neat to blend film criticism with geography and football!

PPS: I had an idea for making a "cinemap" (big, blank, wallpaper-sized map of the world, with each country from which I've seen a film coloured in) several weeks ago, and started on it, only to realize how little international cinema I've actually seen (or at least how limited the countries of origin have been).

I think your cinemap would be filled up quite nicely.


Sachin G. said...

Pacze, you are not going to believe this but for the last month I have been thinking about a "cinemap" myself. I thought, I should get a Eastern Europe map first and populate all the countries and then find a way to expand the countries around the world on my blog.

Also, I thought that once I was finished with this Eastern European series, I should start a series on as many countries as I could find.

Would love to see your map and exchange notes. I have to admit I have been very fortunate in the last 2-3 years to have covered a lot of films from various nations. But still lots to cover, which is the charm about this :)

Heidi B said...

I LOVED Ratatouille. A foodie movie in animation form....can't get any better than that.