Eat first, talk later? If only!
Yep, those fairies at the Magic Kingdom are at it again. They’re tryin’ to talk all us straight-thinkin’ folks from Middle America into respecting the rights of those low-down varmints who just happen to be a mite different from the rest of us, and get us to eat foreign at the same time. Don’t listen, America! Stick to your damn cheeseburgers and fries!
Actually, there’s nothing gay at all about Ratatouille, written and directed by Oscar-winner Brad Bird (The Incredibles), unless you think that sitting down to a dish of “sweetbreads” is intrinsically homo. What this flick is selling is compassion for an even more despised minority — Parisians! Ratatouille is undoubtedly the most pro-Parisian flick to come out of Hollywood since that shimmering Kelly-Minnelli concoction, An American in Paris.1 If you believe this film, every garret in Paris has a fabulous view of the Eiffel Tower and the whole city is always bathed in an ethereal glow.
Ratatouille maintains the very high standard set for animation by such films as Happy Feet, but otherwise does little more than recycle gags that Mickey and Donald were doing back in the Stone Age. Plus, it’s the talkingest cartoon ever! Hey, Brad! If you want to send a message, call Western Union!
Ratatouille is accompanied by Lifted, a cartoon short that, in a similar manner, recycles flying saucer gags from the fifties with about ten thousand times the animation horsepower available to Tex Avery and the Termite Terrace gang at Warner Brothers, but no more laughs.2
In addition to standing up for Parisians, Ratatouille also endorses rats and fat people, but draws the line at shorties with bad teeth and vaguely East European accents.
Despite all my negativity, I did enjoy “Colette” (voiced by Janeane Garofalo), a tough French chick with a heart of gold (they’re the best kind). With her Louise Brooks bob, her blouson noir, and her sickle, not to mention those tight, tight, killer buns, Colette is the perfect fantasy fuck you’ll never have.
“Sweetbreads” is the euphemistic culinary term for the thymus glands of a calf, once very classy in the U.S. — a snobbish family dines on them in O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness — but now rarely encountered except in French restaurants, where they’re called ris de veau. They’re largely lymphatic tissue, in case you’re interested. Americans have always been squeamish when it comes to organ meats — I think it’s a Protestant thing — but to this day the French are happy to chow down on a nice coeur de cheval (horse heart). Bon appetit!
Brad Bird has gotten a lot of buzz from critics for Ratatouille‘s takedown of “Anton Ego,” a snobbish and vitriolic food critic, a breed far more common in London and Paris than the U.S.3 Anton, brought to his knees by a dish of [PLOT SPOILER ALERT!] ratatouille, confesses that malicious criticism is “fun to write and fun to read.” Fun to read, sure, but creating it is hell! Snotty artists think they’re the only ones that count! As Pauline Kael, god rest her soul, once put it, “It is harder to be a great poetry critic than it is to be a great poet”! (Yeah, I am misquoting a little, but that’s the gist.) It’s hard being a critic! Damned hard!
Bird got similar buzz with a similar trick in The Incredibles, creating a hip, inside character for the critics to discover and explain — the designer Edna Mode. Because critics love to let you know how smart they are. Assholes!
So, no, I wasn’t blown away by Ratatouille, but the audience I saw it with was enthralled. So go if you like. Besides, it’s fun to hear little kids say “ratatouille.”
- Paris never looked so anal as in this incredibly well-scrubbed flick. Gene’s Paris was clean enough for Doris Day. Whatever you want to say about Paris, it ain’t anal. If you want anal, go to Zurich. Now that’s anal! [↩]
- What is the deal with classic cartoons? I adored cartoons as a kid — I would have worshipped them if I wasn’t so busy eating — but now when I try to recapture the past I’m usually disappointed. The Disney shorts from the thirties have beautiful color — especially the watercolor backgrounds — but they rarely make me laugh, except for some from the early thirties. Is there something special about pre-Code Disney? It’s hard to imagine how or why. The Warner Brothers shorts are particularly disappointing. The animation is only a few steps short of abysmal — Disney must have been beside himself to see such crap making money. The early Disney features still make their bones — when the boys start turning into donkeys on Pleasure Island in Pinocchio, it’s a man-into-beast episode worthy of Homer or Dante — but even as a kid I started losing interest in Disney with Lady and the Tramp, which was pretty much for girls, while Sleeping Beauty was just plain lousy. You lied to me, Walt! You lied to me! Magic Kingdom, my ass! [↩]
- Being a food critic is one of the sweetest rackets ever. Just throw in lots of “y” adjectives — “crusty, yeasty, creamy, buttery, lemony” — a couple of “pungents,” and an occasional “rémoulade,” and you’re home free! [↩]