04 December 2007
Ratatouille: DVD Special Features
Given the intensity of today's DVD Special Features, it's no surprise that we never get to them all. And to be honest, as enlightening as the Director's Commentary may be, most people rarely take the time to sit through it (if you're like me, you run out of steam after the deleted scenes and the outtakes/blooper reel).
However, since Ratatouille is one of my new favorites, as a special service, I've transcribed a portion of the Director's Commentary from the Limited Issue Collector's Edition of Ratatouille that I thought you'd find particularly enlightening. Enjoy!
Scene: Remy Cooks the Soup
Time: 00:23:32 - 00:34:46
Commentary by: Brad Bird (Director, Writer) and John Lasseter (Executive Producer)
Bird: This might be my favorite scene. It really epitomizes one of the driving forces behind the story, and that is the transcendent nature of art. How one can just get swept up in the divine process of creation, whether it be cooking, painting, or animating. Here Remy delays his escape, literally putting his life on the line, in order to satisfy his artistic impulse. It's really quite beautiful.
Lasseter: I couldn't agree more. As artists, we all know that risk is an essential component to all great art. Without risk, there is no reward.
Bird: And this project in and of itself was a huge risk. I mean, the idea of creating an entire movie around a rat in the kitchen... and cooking no less! You don't know how many people thought we were totally nuts. Though to be honest, we weren't exactly treading new ground here. Rodents have been at the heart of children's entertainment for generations.
Lasseter: And because of the Disney connection, people always assume that Remy was a descendent of Mickey Mouse...
Bird: Yeah, that's the first thing people always ask me. But, to be honest, while I was putting the script together, I didn't consider Mickey to be a good role model for the Remy character. For me, as great as Mickey was, he was always a creation… never the creator. He was the product of Walt Disney's imagination, but the character himself lacked imagination… I always found him to be kind of bland... the likeable straight man in a world of fantastically complex characters. To find a suitable ancestor for Remy, I had to draw upon a character who felt the same creative impulse. I found just the guy in another beloved rodent: Leo Lionni’s Frederick.
Lasseter: When Brad told me this, I nearly fell out of my chair, because Frederick was one of my childhood favorites. You all know the story, a band of mice prepares for the harsh winter, but one of them, Frederick, collects words and colors instead of food. At first, everyone thinks he's lazy, but as the cold months drag on and they run out of food, Frederick's artistic vision inspires them and allows them to survive for the duration of the winter. Inspiration and imagination warms the body and soul and the power of art triumphs over circumstance.
Bird: Right.... so as you can see, Remy and Frederick have a lot in common. They really are cut from the same cloth. They both start out as outcasts because of their artistic tendencies. They both want to elevate themselves from the mundane through their art. However, I was always a little bothered by Frederick because I kept thinking, couldn't he have collected words and colors while lending a hand? I mean, there had to be some kind of balance between indulging in your art and the basic necessity of gathering food. I couldn't shake the feeling that despite his triumph at the end, Frederick was still kind of a freeloader.
Lasseter: Brad, I never thought I'd say this, but you're starting to sound like a Republican.
Bird: Stop it. You know what I mean. Yes, art is important, but so is sustaining one's livelihood. I mean, dude, hadn't Frederick ever heard of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?!
Lasseter: You're digressing. Let's get back on track, or we'll have to cut this from the final DVD.
Bird: Right. So, in order to reconcile the basic need for food with the transcendent desire to create, I had the brilliant idea to make food his art! It was quite an elegant solution, if I do say so myself.
Lasseter: Plus, with the current pop culture obsession with the culinary arts, food made the movie very marketable. I mean just look at the popularity of the Food Network, Top Chef, Iron Chef, Swedish Chef, etc. This was an idea that came at the perfect time. But that's the producer in me talking.
Bird: Yeah, the producer in you also forced me to put in that ill-conceived romance between Linguini and Collete. That one still stings... I mean, who in their right mind would believe that the tough-as-nails Collete would ever fall in love with the hapless Linguini? Suspension of disbelief can only take the audience so far.
Lasseter: Yeah, yeah, I didn't hear you complaining when Ratatouille was sitting at the top of the box office and the checks were rolling in. I know the movie industry and I know our audience. People want some love sprinkled into every story... it's like hot sauce, a little bit sprinkled on anything makes it better. People like a little spice.
Bird: What about cereal? Do you put hot sauce on your cereal?! I didn't think so. Not everything needs to be "spiced" up. Anyway, back to my point, if you take Frederick and compare it to Ratatouille, you'll start to see more parallels. The scene where Remy helps his cousin Emile visualize taste pays homage to the scene where he Frederick helps his friends visualize the colors of spring. And instead of a harsh winter, I chose to embody the impending threat of death in the chilly and crypt-like character of the food critic, Anton Ego.
Lasseter: And as all of us in the entertainment business know, a critic's chilly reception is much deadlier than even the coldest winter.
Bird: Yeah, luckily, we haven't had to deal with much of that because we only make awesome movies.
Lasseter: Yeah, we rock. High Five!
[Bird and Lasseter "high five".]
Bird: And just like Frederick's art triumphs over winter, Remy's passion and talent melts the heart of Anton Ego and rescues the critic from his perpetual winter of discontent. And in both the book and the film, the skeptical peers find inspiration in the wake of their talented friend/son. Oh, and even the name Linguini is a tribute to the great children's author... I wonder if the audience caught that. Lin-gui-ni, Li-o-nni...
Lasseter: I didn't even catch that until now!
Bird: I know, cool isn't it? High five!
[Bird and Lasseter "high five" again.]
Bird: Ooo! Ooo! This next scene is great too! It's where Linguini and Remy first communicate down by the river. There are just so many layers of complexity embedded in their interaction. To really increase the tension, I incorporated aspects of Freud's Theories of Externalization as well as a Jungian Conception of Synchronicity...
Lasseter: Oh wait--did you hear that?
Bird: Hear what?
Lasseter: That sound... I think... I think it's the sound of our audience falling asleep.
Bird: Or maybe... it's the sound of me feeding you a knuckle sandwich!
Lasseter: Bring it on, Birdman!
Bird: You asked for it... one knuckle sandwich coming up! I hope you're hungry!
---end of transcript---