I got to see the fabulous new Pixar movie Ratatouille earlier this week, and have to report that A.O. Scott’s strikingly effusive review is pretty much justified. But it also makes it even harder to credit director Brad Bird’s denials that he was influenced by the philosophy of Ayn Rand, something many reviewers inferred from his previous hit The Incredibles.
Spoiler Warning – I’m going to talk about thematic stuff mostly, as opposed to big plot points, but if you don’t want to risk having anything given away, you may want to stop here.
Ratatouille is essentially an animated version of The Fountainhead, except that cooking replaces architecture, Ellsworth Toohey eventually has a Grinchian change of heart, and Howard Roark is a rodent. Remy, a culinary savant who happens to be a rat, delivers mini-sermons to his furry brethren on the importance of having high standards rather than being satisfied with garbage, and denounces his clan’s parasitic existence, which he contrasts with the human impulse to create and innovate.
Interestingly, you’re set up to expect something very different. Remy’s hero—and imaginary mentor, who appears periodically as a Yoda-esque glowing phantom to dispense advice—is the celebrated late chef Auguste Gusteau, author of a popular cookbook titled Anyone Can Cook. That philosophy is denounced with delicious contempt by snooty food critic Anton Ego (voiced with dour, sardonic perfection by Peter O’Toole). But this populist-sounding maxim turns out to have two meanings very much opposed to the surface reading: First, that while anyone can follow a recipe, it takes a special creative flair to be a true chef, and second, that these culinary übermenschen can, Horatio Alger style, rise from anywhere, even order rodentia—at least when not being stymied by meddling government health inspectors. Ego, incidentally, ultimately recognizes the parasitic nature of his own vocation and becomes a small business investor.