Analysis / Film

A short History of Pixar through Ratatouille (2007)

RatatouilleCreativity is always rooted in reality; no matter how unique a piece of work might seem, it is always inspired by something its creator has personally experienced. Animation is no exception. Indeed the story of Remy the rat from the animated feature film Ratatouille (2007) often parallels the history of it’s creator; Pixar Studio. This essay will establish this parallel by picking out specific scenes from the film and linking them to the history of Pixar Studio.

Directed by Brad Bird, Ratatouille is the first Pixar film released after the studio’s acquisition by Disney (WatchMojo). Appropriately, it is also one of the most autobiographical film made by the studio. In turn it is often described by critics as an animated film that is unlike any which came before it (Booker).

ratatouille_2007_4Ratatouille tells the story of Remy the rat and his aspiration to become a chef. (Brad Bird) The humble origin of Remy as an outsider can be read as a metaphor for the origin of Pixar studio. Founded in 1979 by George Lucas, what became Pixar was originally called The Lucasfilm Computer Division. It consisted mainly of computer scientists who dreamt of making computer generated films (Paik and Iwerks). Much like Remy who’s earlier life is unknown to his customers, the first 15 years of Pixar’s life before the release of Toy Story is also not very well known.

Despite the interest in animation, the main task assigned to the Computer Division was the development of a machine that can import film footage for editing before reprinting the finished product back onto film (Paik and Iwerks). This can relate to how Remy’s gift of smell earned him the task as poison checker.

Additionally, much like Remy, who had a passion for cooking but needed humans to let him cook (Brad Bird); Pixar also had a passion for animation but needed people to let them animate. This support originally came in the form of Lucasfilm, followed by Steve Jobs who bought the Computer Division in 1986 and changed it’s name to Pixar Studio, and eventually the acquisition by Disney in 2006 (Price).

The character Gusteau could be seen as a reference to Walt Disney. Walt was famous for his “obsession with ‘plussing’ (improving on) every project”(Paik and Iwerks), but since his death, the company has rigidly followed what Disney had established. This is referenced in Ratatouille when Colette told Linguini that Gusteau’s philosophy was “always add something new”, before insisting on following the recipe. She justifies this by saying it was only Gusteau’s job to add something new (Brad Bird).

Ratatouille-Skinner-551Similarly, Skinner can be seen as the representation of the cynical managements at Disney after Walt’s death. Before Disney’s acquisition of Pixar, Disney was already responsible for the distribution of Pixar films. Skinner’s doubt regarding Linguini’s soup clearly mirrors the opinion of Michael Eisner, former CEO of Walt Disney, who believed Pixar’s success was mere good luck.

In an attempt to get Pixar to renew contract with Disney, Eisner threatened to create Toy Story 3, which Pixar declined to do. Regarding this, Steve Jobs said “When you see what the company did putting out Cinderella II, you shudder at what would have happened.”(Isaacson) This parallels the scene in Ratatouille when Skinner captured Remy and demanded Remy to create a new line of frozen food in exchange for his life (Brad Bird).

The ending of Ratatouille can also be viewed as a statement on the relationship between Pixar and Disney at the time the film was made. The ending seems like a happy one at first, but upon careful inspection we note that most of the costumers were still unaware that their chef was a rat. Additionally, though the rats and the humans now dined in the same restaurant, they were still segregated with the rats in the attic. (Booker) This grimly echoes the beginning of the film when the rats lived “peacefully” inside an old lady’s attic, until the ceiling came down and the rats were forced to leave. However, hopefulness is expressed. This perhaps indicates Pixar’s expectation towards the new management at Disney, but strong tension still underlines the scene.

In conclusion, Pixar is often praised for it’s ability to tell stories which “reveal the hidden life of a world whose outlines are familiar to us” (Paik, Lasseter and Bird). In this case, through the film Ratatouille, Pixar has revealed to us the story of the studio itself. It is a story of trials and tribulation, a story of tears and joy, but above all else, it is a story about hopes and dreams that can come true regardless of the dream’s origin.

Bibliography

Booker, K. Disney, Pixar, and the Hidden Messages of Children’s Films. PRAEGER FREDERICK A, 2010. Print.

Ratatouille. 2007. Lewis, Brad.

Isaacson, W. Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.

Paik, K., J. Lasseter, and B. Bird. Art of Ratatouille. Chronicle Books, 2007. Print.

Paik, K.M., and L. Iwerks. To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios. Virgin Books Limited, 2007. Print.

Price, D.A. The Pixar Touch. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2009. Print.

WatchMojo.The History of Pixar Animation Studio. Video. Youtube2011. Online Video Clip.

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2 thoughts on “A short History of Pixar through Ratatouille (2007)

  1. I just saw “Ratatouille” tonight.

    It’s a first class movie. Several thoughts come to mind…

    -The character performances are so good, I think there’s no sort of movie they couldn’t make. I’ve heard Pixar’s John Carter of Mars is going to be live action? No! I want them to do it all animated.

    -“Cars” definitely _was_ a lower-value softball they threw to finish out that original Disney-gets-half-of-everything-plus-sequel-rights contract they were in at the time. I remember all the clucking last summer about how Pixar had lost its way.

    -There were a few moments when they seemed to lose that stylized reality they had established and things looked merely “real”.

    -There was one scene in the latter part of the film where I thought “I can’t believe they are doing this tired movie cliché” but they pulled out of it at the last second and made it something new.

    -The 2D-ish end credits were great. Stick it out to the very end to see the mo-cap disclaimer!

    -With this, Brad Bird is certainly one of the animation gods now.

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