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Ratatouille

07/03/07 12:00AM By Philip Baruth
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(HOST) For various reasons, it's unusual for Commentator Philip Baruth to take his daughters out to a movie. But recently they saw Pixar's Ratatouille, and it was more or less a life-changing experience.

(BARUTH) So last night I took two of my daughters out to see Pixar's new feature Ratatouille. If you haven't heard about the film already, here's the plot in a nutshell: a rat named Remy - a rat with the soul and the nose of a gifted chef - teams up with a thumb-fingered dishwasher to revive the fortunes of Paris's most famous restaurant.

It turns out that my ten-year-old Olivia has been dying to see Ratatouille for weeks, and Gwendolyn, my eight-year-old seems pretty excited too.

Which is highly unusual.

Why? Well, the last film Gwendolyn and I saw together was Emma Thompson in Nanny McPhee, a charming little tale that opened on a group of children behaving in an incredibly gruesome way. No joke: we had to leave five minutes into the film, and Gwendolyn has adamantly refused to go to the movies ever since.

So this looks like a brilliant opportunity: Olivia gets to see a movie she's had her heart set on, Gwendolyn gets to work through her Nanny McPhee issues, and I get to see a film the New York Times called "a nearly flawless piece of popular art."

Pass the popcorn, baby!

And the Times wasn't kidding. Ratatouille is that rare children's film that speaks to adults not in a wink-wink sort of way, but methodically, from beginning to end.

After half an hour, I can see that Olivia is loving it too. She's hugging her knees, eyes shining. And that's when I look over at Gwendolyn and see that she's not loving it. Or at least she's painfully divided in her mind: the first half hour of the film sees Remy menaced with a shotgun and nearly drowned several times.

All of that taken together is proving too much for Gwendolyn. I lean down and ask her if she's okay, and her voice is small: "No," she whispers. "I want to leave."

And that's when I see what a horrible box I'm in: if we leave, not only am I out the thirty dollars I paid for tickets and popcorn, but Olivia will never forgive me.

So I do the only thing I can think of: I take Gwendolyn out into the lobby. And there I repeat all of the things I've said over the last two years: that the hero never dies in these films and that the thrills and chills are part of what makes the ending so joyous.

Gwendolyn's heard it all before, but she's a trooper: she says she'll give it one more try. Still, I know we're only one gratuitously violent moment away from disaster.

But of course, having used violence to set up the plot, Ratatouille does almost entirely without it in the resolution. Suddenly you're no longer worried about shotguns and meat cleavers, but whether a peasant dish like ratatouille itself will enrage or enchant the harshest food critic in France.

Which is to say that before she even realizes it, Gwendolyn has joined Oliva and me and the rest of the audience in that place films rarely take us: complete identification, not with an athlete or a model, but with an artist of the first order.

When we come out, it's long past the girls' bedtime, but they talk all the way to the car about what sort of artists they might want to be.

And if you haven't seen the moon sitting in the night sky over Williston lately, I'm here to tell you: c'est magnifique!

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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