Ever since the halcyon days of Toy Story and Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, Pixar have been under massive self-imposed pressure to succeed, and unfortunately their films have been on the decline. Others may feel that The Incredibles scaled the heights of what animation could achieve, but its appeal is hit and miss, and certainly Cars and now Ratatouille continue this trend. Perhaps it is the increasing frequency of their releases, or maybe audiences are becoming more demanding, but either way Pixar must hope its planned 2010 release Toy Story 3 will redeem them.
Or not. The massive box office success of all their releases may encourage an element of – dare I say it? – laziness, although ticket sales have been on the slide since the outrageous reception audiences gave Finding Nemo. Perhaps Brad Bird and colleagues are happy enough pumping out average fare every year or so, rather than masterpieces less often?
In Ratatouille, Bird has created the first Pixar film to be truly set in the world of humans – Toy Story and its sequel showed animated people but they were never the focus, and the Parr family of The Incredibles all have superhuman characteristics that mean Pixar didn’t have to stick to human-like figures. Remy the hero is a rat, sure, but he interacts so closely with his fellow chefs in Gusteau’s Restaurant we can really see how far things have come in terms of putting realistic animated human forms on screen. Linguini and Collette are real characters, and there are whole scenes featuring only Remy’s human co-stars. This is a significant change in focus for a Pixar film, and it is only partially successful in this regard.
The main problem with Ratatouille isn’t its depiction of humans, however, but its failure to inspire any sense of urgency or concern. Remy gets to work, we feel like we want him to succeed, but there is never a doubt that he won’t. It’s hard to get behind him, as one just knows he’ll win over the humans and live happily ever after – this is Disney/Pixar after all – and who needs a cheersquad when success is assured? At least Nemo faced real danger and Woody was almost lost forever – Remy has knives thrown at him and must bow to pressure to supply food to his brother rodents, but maybe the time has come to change the formula so that the audience doesn’t just expect everything will work out.
Its problems aside there are a few moments of fun to be had, although the audience at my screening contained several bored children and even more bored parents. Hopefully Pixar will sort out the kinks before returning to the franchise that made their name with Toy Story 3.Rating: