Monday, July 02, 2007

The Sweet Spot

Stef and I took the kids to see Ratatouille this weekend. Now before I talk about the movie I have a confession to make. I'm a Brad Bird fanboy. His first movie, The Iron Giant, was wonderful, but after it had a less than stellar box office performance I suspected his career in animation was over. I was thrilled when Pixar put him in charge of The Incredibles, which seemed to pay off since the film was commercially successful. I was again thrilled to see that Brad Bird was writing and directing Ratatouille. Sure, I would have wanted to see it irregardless, as I have loved every Pixar movie I've seen (disclaimer: I haven't seen Cars yet), but the fact that they brought Brad Bird back made me actually excited to see it. Okay, enough fanboy action.

The movie itself is great. It has wonderfully exaggerated character design, great voice acting, a compelling plot and a lovely ending. Where it really shines though is in the portrayal of mental state, from the initial visualizations of flavor, to the state of being lost in doing what you love, to being taken back to your childhood by a particular experience. It is also very funny; I found myself laughing out loud far more often than I do in a typical movie.

Side note: I react more to movies and TV since having kids than I ever did before. When I watch things with them I want to share the experience of finding something funny or tragic. I want them to share how they are feeling too, and I don't think sitting stone-faced through a movie really encourages that. I want them to see that I enjoy things and that it's okay for them to enjoy things too. Don't look for too much meaning there.

Okay, back to Ratatouille. Another of it's strong points was the physical comedy. We are accustomed to seeing animated characters in unlikely physical situations and not thinking a thing of it, so I was very impressed at how the physical comedy seemed a little crazy yet still realistic. A good example is Linguini (human main character) wrestling his bicycle in through the front door of his apartment. He has a terrible time of it, but it seems plausible. It could have been done all wrong, like the typical "fighting with the chaise lounge" scene so common in cartoons. Instead, it is beautifully animated with just the right balance of realism to invoke my own memories of wrestling bikes through unlikely places, making the scene all the funnier.

I was somewhat sad when I learned that Disney's last 2D animated film would be "Home on the Range." Not that Home on the Range was bad, but I like 2D animation, and felt that something would be lost in 3D. Pixar has always managed to capture the character of 2D animation, and Ratatouille (or Rapatooey or Rapatooney as my kids would call it) has really shown Pixar as the successor to the animation crown, if I'm not being too pretentious. Pixar movies aren't great for their technical accomplishment; they are just plain great, and Ratatouille demonstrates just how great they can be.

EDIT: Oh, yeah... the title. Something about this film just hit the sweet spot with me, but I can't really say why. I can identify so many things that I liked about it, yet I am unable to identify what makes it great.... more than just the sum of a number of enjoyable elements. I'll suppose I'll have to be content with calling it great with no plausible rationale.

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