Ten years ago today, a movie about a rat chef was released in US theatres. Very quickly, audiences fell in love with it, it made a ton of money, and eventually it won the Oscar for Best Animated Film. Brad Bird’s Ratatouille remains a unique, animated marvel, but its true greatness can boiled down to 20 seconds.
This is the moment that made Ratatouille true perfection. Image: Disney
I’m talking, of course, of the moment near the end of the film when food critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O’Toole) eats the ratatouille made by Remy the rat (voiced by Patton Oswalt). It’s the crux of the entire story. Once the other chefs have accepted that a rat can really cook, they put his cuisine up against the famously mean food critic. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Let’s get ready to rumble.
The result? Not only does Remy’s ratatouille impress Ego, it knocks him on his arse. And to visually represent that, Brad Bird completely changes the movie. Ego takes a bite and the camera drastically zooms in and out of Ego’s head at the same time. Out of nowhere, now we’re with him in his childhood. Mum has made the young boy his favourite food, ratatouille, which he tastes and loves. The camera then zooms back out to the present-day restaurant. Ego is shocked. He drops his pen in dramatic slow motion, and devours the rat’s ratatouille with a childlike glee.
The intense emotional connection that viewers have to this scene comes from a few things. First is the anticipation. You get not one, not two, but three shots of Ego raising the food up to his mouth. Next is Bird’s “camera” work. The super fast dolly zoom, if you can call it that, is like a slap in the face. It’s a drastic change from the fluid feel of the rest of the movie — a screaming sign to the audience to pay attention. In fact, the simultaneous reverse zoom and focus happen so fast, it’s almost disorienting. The effect feels like something that’s impossible in live-action. You almost want to give the shot its own new term in the language of film. An Ego shot, maybe.
Anyway, once that’s over and you’re in Ego’s flashback, the lighting is the key. It’s soft, warm and oozes nostalgia. The light tells us this is a happy place for young Anton Ego and it makes us happy too. And once we snap back to the restaurant, the editing takes over. We’re frozen on the stunned critic for what feels like an eternity. Then his pen drops in slow motion, another technique that’s different from the rest of the movie. Collectively, we’re on the edge of our seat waiting for confirmation of our greatest hope: That Ego loves Remy’s food and we’re on track for a happy ending.
All that happens in seconds. And like the snap of a finger, the movie goes from great, to magnificent.
To me, this is not just the moment when Ratatouille becomes a special movie. It’s a moment of self-awareness for Pixar itself. Its films are designed to transport us not just out of our lives, but out of the theatre itself. We’re supposed to be reminded of simpler times, and the memories and emotions that make us who we are. Our childhoods, our happiest moments, our saddest moments — Pixar movies tap into all of that. And this one tiny scene, starring a tiny rat and a tiny bite of food, conveys it all instantly. Any movie, not just an animated one, would kill for a scene half as powerful.
Honestly, all of Ratatouille is great. The idea is so crazy and original. The story and characters are funny, surprising and exciting. It does everything you want a movie to do. But, 10 years after its release, that restaurant scene remains a perfect moment that truly elevates the film to another level.
So, happy anniversary Ratatouille. Thanks for being so awesome.