Ratatouille. Dir. Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava. Disney Pixar. 2007.

Ratatouille. Dir. Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava. Disney Pixar. 2007.

Ratatouille. Dir. Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava. Disney Pixar. 2007. 150 150 Catherine Berry

When Remy the rat (Patton Oswalt) discovers his heightened sense of taste and smell, he develops a passion for cooking: sneaking into a human kitchen and watching cookery programmes. However, when his family is lost he travels into Paris and finds a gourmet kitchen, Gusteau’s. With the help of Linguini (Lou Romano), a hapless garbage boy who cannot cook, they become a cooking team, with Remy pulling on Linguini’s hair to control his movements. Chef Skinner (Ian Holme), who replaced Gusteau (Brad Garrett) when he died, becomes increasingly paranoid of rats and so attempts to uncover Remy and get Linguini fired. The film comes to a head when Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole), a famously mean critic, comes to visit the restaurant. What Remy cooks Ego brings memories flooding back to a more innocent time, and although the restaurant gets closed down, Remy, Linguini and Colette (Janeane Garofalo) – the only female chef and later Linguini’s girlfriend –open a new bistro called “Ratatouille”.

Linguini holding Remy in the palm of his hand against the backdrop of Paris

The film’s genre of an animated family film is shown with its comedy, its heartfelt story and with the archetypal talking animal, an extremely popular technique in films appealing to children, as ‘When we are young we accept [animals] as equals or even, because of their special glamour and mystery, as superiors’.[1]  Despite it mainly being aimed at children, with its typical slapstick violence and visual gags, Ratatouille can also very much appeal to adults who may not be as won-over by these techniques, who can appreciate both the beautiful animation and the jokes that their children will not quite understand: such as the tales of the other chefs told by Collette: ‘Larousse ran gun for the Resistance.’ ‘Which Resistance?’ ‘He won’t say. Apparently they didn’t win’[2]. The film also includes jokes for film buffs, like an animated Brief Encounter being shown on Linguini’s television. However, Pixar definitely took a risk with Ratatouille: rats are not an animal traditionally viewed as loveable, or deserving of any sympathy (a collective noun for a group of rats can be a “colony”, as is used in the film, but it can also be a “plague”), and although the trusting nature of children probably meant they did not recoil at the shots of the colony scurrying away, adult viewers may be harder to win over. Traditional connotations notwithstanding, Pixar manage to create a creature that is likeable, and whom we want to root for.

As the title suggests, the main animals we see in the film are rats and humans. Because the film shows them living together and a relationship between the two, it provides some interesting observations on how we as humans, view these creatures. Whenever Remy is exposed to a large group of humans, they react, somewhat understandably, by screaming and trying to kill him. However, we as viewers are not used to seeing this situation from the rat’s point of view: where all he sees are stamping high-heeled shoes, all he hears are comments like ‘disgusting creatures’[3];  and Remy’s pain is clearly shown, thus we see the humans as the “bad” and the rat as the “good”.

The film does not present all of the rats as good and the humans as bad though: Remy is seen as an outsider to the other rats, he has bright blue fur in a sea of black, grey, and brown; and his heightened senses means that none of the other rats understand his desire for good food. In this way, Remy is seen as better than the other rats; he has been raised above them because of his “human” like desire to create: ‘I know I’m supposed to hate humans, but there’s something about them. They don’t just survive, they discover, they create’.[4] Remy is shown to be unique within the colony, his sensibilities that set him apart from the others rat mean he fits into the Hollywood trope of a sensitive outsider – an human example of this is the nervous William Thacker (Hugh Grant) in Notting Hill (Dir. Roger Michell, 1999), whose sensitivity and intelligence sets him apart from other men and thus attracts him to film-star Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) – and therefore endears him to the audience. However, this also creates the idea that something is only valuable if it is “human”, and animals being animals is not as valuable.  Of course, within the film the rats we see are not actually rats: ‘it is evident that the animals in this kind of art are not animals in the strict sense.’[5] The rats are stylised versions of rats, and the humans, especially Skinner the chef, are stylised versions of humans. This gives us a bit of leeway in that we do not have to take the story literally: after all, animated films are never taken literally because we know animals cannot talk and rats cannot control humans by pulling their hair. Consequently this allows us to push aside the ‘Madagascar Problem[6]’-like dilemma that is created, the problem being that our empathy for Remy is battling with our more rational thoughts of not wanting rats in our kitchens and streets, and enables us to view the film as more of a metaphor about social mobility than a tale of rats and humans. However, it is difficult to push aside this problem entirely: the film’s support of Remy is so relentless it is hard to completely rid ourselves of it. As a solution to this problem, the film offers the audience the ending of the film, which, like Madagascar (Dir. Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, Dreamworks, 2005), presents a somewhat unsatisfactory compromise: the new guests of the restaurant are blissfully ignorant of the rat in the kitchen, but their opinions of rats have not changed. It seems a temporary solution because the ignorance of the people is unlikely to last forever, but it does fit in with the more realistic allegory of social mobility which will be explored in further depth later: the idea of the underdog carrying on with his dream whilst surviving and working the system.

In some ways, the film is an ideal allegory: Remy can represent the working classes or perhaps another oppressed group that is not just seen as unsuitable for a profession, but completely incomprehensible. However, he defies society’s expectations and proves many people wrong. Anton Ego’s message in his final review is ‘Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere’[7]. As well as this, Collette also defies convention by being the only female chef in the restaurant: she describes herself as the toughest person in the kitchen and shows that it is not only men that can thrive in the world of cooking. This interpretation does not come without its problems, however. As I have already mentioned, in order to succeed, Remy has had to “humanize”, and in that sense loses a bit of his identity as a rat: he lives with Linguini instead of his colony, and walks on two legs instead of four. As Priscilla Ferguson observes: ‘The choked-up smiley ending that features rodent-human coexistence […] is only possible because the rat pack humanizes’[8], and this suggests that with a sociological view, the message is to change who you are to “fit in” with the more civilized group. As well as this, earlier on in the film, Linguini takes on more of the automatic movements that are associated with “lower animals”, and thus becomes more animal-like: not having the agency to control his actions. It is also telling that the humans cannot understand the rats, and yet the rats can understand the humans. This way of doing things is understandable: humans cannot understand rats, and if the rats could not understand the human characters then the story would be very hard to tell. Despite this, it does seem to suggest that the humans are superior, and they are the only ones whose voices can (or should?) be heard.

The overarching idea presented in Ratatouille is that of a harmonious relationship between humans and animals. Although Linguini takes Remy into his home and although the rat does help Linguini out, their relationship is always mutual: Remy comes back to Linguini after he runs away, and both get something out of their cooking relationship. Therefore, there is never really an instance in which Linguini is treating Remy like a pet, as he never keeps him in a cage, and at the end of the film accepts Remy when he decides to go his own way. I do not believe this is how the film’s creators wish us to view pets that we may keep; but I do think it is saying that living creatures deserve their own agency; after all, it is all of the rats, not just the intelligent and discerning Remy, who have happy endings, although Remy’s story is the only one with the conclusion.

The representation of animals in the film is generally a positive one towards animals who do not normally receive many kind words. Without taking away what it means to be that particular animal, Ratatouille shows us a side to rats that we almost certainly wouldn’t consider, and the anthropomorphic aspects that make the rats seem more “human”, like Remy holding his paws together like hands, create an endearing effect and puts the characters into terms that us humans can understand. As well as this, the rats all having different character traits, such as Emil being greedy, mean that we view them not just as one colony of rats but at the very least as having different personality traits we can recognize as being present in humans. The audience, of course, know that rats do not have a secret desire for cooking, however the film certainly does make one think about how fairly we treat creatures that we do not know much about.

Ratatouille is similar in style to other Pixar films, all of which are animated, are for families and have a general message to be good to each other. However, another animal film we can draw parallels with is Animal Farm, directed by John Halas and Joy Batchelor,(1954). The idea of animals reaching up to humans to “better” themselves is present in both films: the infamous ‘four legs good, two legs better’[9] rule reminded me of Remy walking on two paws rather than four. Of course, there is less of a compromise in the ending of Animal Farm, and much more of a binary of “right and wrong”, which probably comes from it definitely being an allegory, however both Remy and the pigs go through a process of “humanizing” themselves to get what they desire, and lose some of what they previously were because of this.

[1] John P. Sisk, ‘The Animated Cartoon’, Prairie Schooner, Vol. 27, No.3, (Fall 1953), https://www.jstor.org/stable/40624571 [accessed 20/11/2013], p. 243.

[2] Ratatouille. Dir. Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava. Disney Pixar, 2007.

[3] Ratatouille. Dir. Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava. Disney Pixar, 2007.

[4] Ratatouille. Dir. Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava. Disney Pixar, 2007.

[5] Sisk, ‘The Animated Cartoon’, p. 244.

[6] Paul Wells, The Animated Bestiary: Animals, Cartoons, and Culture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008), p. 19.

[7] Ratatouille, Dir. Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava. Disney Pixar, 2007.

[8] Priscilla Ferguson, ‘Sociology at the Stove’, Contexts, Vol. 7, No. 1, (Winter 2008), https://www.jstor.org/stable/41801164 [accessed 20/11/2013], p. 60.

[9] Animal Farm. Dir. Halas and Batchelor, 1954.

Further reading:

Empire Online Film Review, https://www.empireonline.com/reviews/reviewcomplete.asp?FID=134258, [accessed 23/11/2013]

Zimmerman, Steve, ‘Food In Films, A Star Is Born’, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 9, No. 2, (Spring 2009), https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2009.9.2.25 [accessed 23/11/2013].


Ferguson, Priscilla, ‘Sociology at the Stove’, Contexts, Vol. 7, No. 1, (Winter 2008), https://www.jstor.org/stable/41801164 [accessed 20/11/2013].

Sisk, John P.,‘The Animated Cartoon’, Prairie Schooner, Vol. 27, No.3, (Fall 1953), https://www.jstor.org/stable/40624571 [accessed 20/11/2013].

Wells, Paul, The Animated Bestiary: Animals, Cartoons, and Culture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008).


Animal Farm, dir. Halas and Batchelor, 1954.

Ratatouille, dir. Brad Bird and Jan Pinklava. Disney Pixar, 2007.