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Archive | 12:01 am

Mr. Blog Goes to the Movies: Ratatouille

2 Apr

April 2, 2011

from July 29, 2007

Disney’s Ratatouille is an animated film about disease carrying vermin that prepare some of the finest food in France. Which is about right.

What is ratatouille, the food? I don’t know. My grandmother used to love ratatouille. It looked like a mess with tomatoes and I wouldn’t touch it. She also loved heavenly hash ice cream and I don’t even know if they make it anymore. I was convinced that heavenly hash was the stuff they scraped out of the bottoms of the vats of other ice cream flavors. Maybe one day it had pecans. Another day it was mostly strawberry. It was just a scam to sell their leftover ice cream. Grandma also made us eat her meatballs. Whenever the family got together for a holiday dinner she would, no matter what else she made, make us meatballs. They were, I think, some sort of Swedish meatballs. They were small gray things in a thin gray sauce. I assume it was beef, but it didn’t look appetizing like, say, a Kobe steak. If gray has a taste, this was it. I don’t want to give the impression that grandma was a bad cook, but it was what it was. When he was very young my brother, in a fit of love, or politeness, or maybe out of a mental disorder brought on by gastric distress from gray meatballs, declared, right at the dinner table in full earshot of all his horrified relatives, that he loved the meatballs. You could have heard a pin drop. We hated them! Grandma beamed. And from that day forward we were forced to forever eat her meatballs. What usually happened was that Dave would eat most of the meatballs and everyone else would make some excuse like “I filled up on rice,” or “I had meatballs for lunch” or “I ate three when you were in the kitchen.” I’d force down one or two because as the years went by, although the meatballs didn’t get better, I built up a tolerance for them, like you would if you took a small amount of arsenic every day. The meatball recipe died with my grandmother, immediately making her death look like a suspicious homicide.

So Disney made a film out of what was to me a weird and obscure food, and a rat,  and put Patton Oswalt in the starring role. It is a dream match because Patton Oswalt is a weird and obscure actor who, coincidentally, looks like a rat, thus making him a perfect, PETA-friendly choice for this film. It was also a cost-saving move for Disney: they didn’t have to animate him. That’s him on the screen!

Disney has an affinity for rodents. Mickey Mouse has been long been a hero to laboratory test mice everywhere. Poor little furry fellers. Every day they scamper around their cages, just waiting for their casting agents to call, maybe they got the gig in Disneyland, but no. Those anti-animal scientists scoop them out and perform their evil and unethical experiments on them, like trying to cure cancer or find an AIDS vaccine, and all the while their casting agents can’t get them on the phone because all the animal rights activists are clogging the lines to yell about animal cruelty. Cruelty? They’re the ones keeping those little guys out of Hollywood!

Rats are not nearly as cute as mice, but Disney sort of glossed over all the bad stuff, like carrying the bubonic plague and wiping out half of Europe, in order to make this movie. (In all fairness, I should point out that Disney had nothing whatsoever to do with this film. It is a Pixar release. But I like to make fun of Disney and so I’ll keep on incorrectly calling it a Disney film. Trust me- this way I can do a joke about Walt Disney’s frozen head a little later on.)

Patton Oswalt plays a rat named Frenchie Bordot, or maybe Robespierre J. Rat, I think. I didn’t quite catch it, I was munching on popcorn and trying not to think of all the rats who were really running around the theater and might have been traipsing through the popcorn popper. Unlike every other single rat in existence, Frenchie Bordot didn’t like to eat trash. He didn’t run around in tenements. He was even fussier than that rat in Charlotte’s Web, voiced by Paul “Center Square” Lynde. Frenchie Bordot had fallen in love with a television chef hawking his own brand of steak knives on an infomercial and would only eat food smothered in fatty French sauces.

The chef died and appeared as a ghost only Frenchie could see. It was kind of like the Ghost and Mrs. Muir if the ghost was an obese guy with a cholesterol count of 1650 and Mrs. Muir was a member of the genus rattus.  Frenchie would scamper into the home of a very unclean woman and eat her food, watch the chef on her television, and, disgustingly, lick her face just for laughs. The woman eventually realized that it was a rat kissing her and not her lover from World War One finally come back and she took out a handy shotgun and killed Frenchie. Well, it was a close thing. After Frenchie had a near-death experience and didn’t go toward the light, the ghost of Chef Tony brought him back to fulfil his destiny- living in the sewers of Paris as a Phantom of the Opera impersonator.

For a while it was a great life. Frenchie Bordot wore a cape and played the piano below the Paris opera house. He laughed maniacally and scampered up the aisles in his mask, scaring the patrons until the management brought in a cat and Frenchie fled. Tired and hungry, the ghost of Chef Tony led Frenchie to the restaurant he used to own, now run by a tiny little Hitler-type.

Short Hitler was planning to stick Chef Tony’s face on everything and market the hell out him. (Clearly, this was a Disney metaphor.) Chef Tony fish sticks. Chef Tony curry balls. Chef Tony finger-lickin’ good not copyright infringed fried chicken. Even Chef Tony laxative was ready to run, so to speak. The little nasty guy was about to become filthy rich. Or maybe just filthier. He already looked a little greasy.

Well, out of the blue came cliché plot device number 79: Chef Tony’s illegitimate son who was the real heir to the Chef Tony fortune. It turned out that Chef Tony had gone to a culinary convention in Detroit some years ago. He got drunk one night with some Omaha Steak salesmen and woke up to find himself in bed with a German sous chef named Olga. Since France and Germany haven’t gotten along so well since WWII, Chef Tony, being a patriot, split, leaving only a ten-spot on the nightstand. He had no idea he had a son. All that he knew he got out of the one night stand was a strange rash, but a son he had indeed.

Of course, the son had no idea he was Chef Tony’s son. He thought Walter Cronkite was his father and, trying to impress Dad, blundered into the kitchen one night with the intention of getting a job and uncovering the unfair labor practices of hiring illegal Mexican immigrants in the kitchen. In fact, the only people who knew about his real paternity were: A- short greasy Hitler, B- the rat who could somehow read English despite being a French mouse, and C- the whole audience, who figured out the whole plot and saw the resolution coming a mile away about fifteen minutes back.

Chef Tony Jr. totally screwed up everything. He wrung out his mop in the soup. He mixed up carrots and sausages. He sneezed in the hollandaise sauce. Worst of all, he served red wine with fish. (Hey, this is France, they take that stuff seriously!) Frenchie Bordot watched all of this in disgust. Egged on by the ghost of his dead gay crush, Frenchie jumped on Junior’s head and tried to kill him by gnawing his brain out. Strangely, this didn’t work. Rather, it seemed that Frenchie had gnawed his way through a few synapses and made the son easily susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. Frenchie learned that if he tugged on the son’s hair just the right way, he could make him do whatever he wanted. In one hilarious scene, Frenchie Bordot made the son drop his pants and moon a group of British tourists.

Soon, Frenchie and Junior had become an unbeatable culinary team. Together, they served a new kind of soup flambé that turned the food world on its ear. Within minutes, word spread and every rich snob wanted reservations. Paris Hilton had reserved a table for two but was arrested just before she ordered hors devours.

While the little greasy Hitler guy worried that the son would discover “who’s your daddy?”, the restaurant had attracted the attention of the most influential food critic in France, played by Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars fame. Tall, bony, cloaked in pure evil (and a black cloak), the Emperor was determined to use his Dark Side journalism to ruin the restaurant and make Chef Tony his new Dark Lord of the French Cuisine Sith. This was perfect casting.

Sort of lost in the shuffle was the tough as nails lesbian assistant chef whom Tony Junior fell in love with. Despite the fact that she did little but belittle and hurt him, (or maybe because of that) Tony Junior was wowed by her. She responded by pulling some of the clever pranks that professional chefs often do in the kitchen, like throwing a meat clever at him, spiking his Beef Bolognese with ex-lax and, just for laughs, locking him overnight in the meat-locker with Walt Disney’s frozen head.

Well, the lines of dramatic tension were perfectly set. Would Frenchie Bordot become a famous chef, with Tony Junior as his puppet? Would little tiny greasy short Hitler steal the restaurant from Chef Tony Junior? Would Tony Junior find love with the lesbian? Would Frenchie Bordot find real love with the ghost of the dead Chef Tony? Would Emperor Palpatine turn Tony Junior to the Dark Side and open up that rotating Death Star Café he’s been planning? And what about Frenchie Bordot’s family, whom I haven’t mentioned yet but were a big part of the movie all along?

Shockingly, everything happened just as you might have expected it. Chef Tony Junior and Frenchie Bordot fell in love and ran away to Canada, where it is legal to marry a rodent. Olga, Chef Tony’s one night stand, returned and fell in love with the lesbian, being a little bit of a lesbian herself. Little tiny etc etc Hitler got the restaurant, but died in the kitchen when he ironically fell into an oven. Emperor Palpatine did not manage to convert Chef Tony Junior to the Dark Side, but he found a new apprentice when Chef Gordon Ramsey from FOX TV’s Hells’ Kitchen joined him. Together they opened the rotating Death Star Café, but it was closed shortly thereafter when rebellion health inspectors found evidence of Tatooine sand weevils in the salad.

So there you have it. Ratatouille exceeded my expectations, which were quite low to begin with. It really opened my eyes to the fascinating world of food all around me. For example, were the rats running around that Taco Bell they closed in the city really vermin, or were they also genius chefs? Is it possible that the board of health is wrong and I don’t have to wash my hands after going to the bathroom and before handling food? Could it be that Patton Oswalt is going to get an Oscar for his tender and touching portrayal? The answers are all no.

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