Rachel's Blog: Ratatouille review and Pixar's gender problem.

Sat, 08 Sep 2007

I really want to like Ratatouille. I like everything about the idea. Fuzzy little rat. In Paris. Fine dining. Kitchen antics. A Pixar film.

But sadly it is not as good as I wished it would be. Pixar have had such success with their previous films — The Incredibles, Cars, Toy Story, Finding Nemo — each of which I can happily watch over and over (and have done). They've spent so long perfecting the art of telling a great story while at the same time making a thing of beauty that it's a crushing blow when it doesn't quite work.

The story of the rat who wants to cook is lovely, but it has been burdened in Ratatouille with unnecessary plot and heavy exposition. There are numerous (human) characters in the film (and I'll try to keep this spoiler-lite) but their plot lines don't ever quite mesh. Each gets scenes of exposition which left Abbey wriggling in her seat where she was spellbound seconds earlier. Exposition which can only be told and not shown, such as a DNA test, a bequest, a legal wrangling.

The second distracting thing was the character design. Particularly the noses. I understand that it's set in France but come on. It wasn't just that they were large, they were ugly. And not only on the people. The rats, who had had so much effort put into their eyes (beautiful and expressive) had some of the most hideous combinations of shapes and curves for the rest of their faces. I understand they're not supposed to be all cute and mousy, but it turned me off characters I was supposed to be sympathizing with.

Not unique to Ratatouille, but an issue with Pixar movies in general, is the habit they have of defaulting every main character to male. This has been building up for a while, obviously, but it's really beginning to stick out.

Nemo, Marlin, Woody, Buzz, Remy, Linguini, McQueen, Flik, Sulley, Mike. All male. All main characters.

It's particularly noticeable in Toy Story, but almost all Pixar characters are male. Female roles are left as love interest (Sally in Cars), sidekick (Dory in Finding Nemo) or comic relief (every other female character - see Mrs Potato Head, Lizzie (Cars), Dory again). Pixar is not alone in this trend - female roles in Hollywood generally suck, but these are animations! These are sometimes animations about inanimate objects! Why are cars and piggy banks suddenly gendered anyway?*

But back to Ratatouille. There are no female rats in this film. (There must have been some once - the rat colony is huge.) There is one woman in the kitchen (love interest) and a very minor mention of a female food critic. That's it. So on top of a poor story and lulls in the plot, wincing at the design (but not at the animation itself - gorgeous!) it put me in a bad mood.

Rataouille is fun. It is pretty with all the fur and water an animation fan could want. The kitchen scenes are fabulous. But I want it to be better.

Pixar at the IMDb

*I recognise that the gender imbalance is not such a problem in The Incredibles, but it is largely Mr Incredible's story, not Elastigirl's.