Ratatouille and Fine Nourishment

The hunger artist strives to ever greater feats of starvation. In the end, he is consumed by his own performance having invested his all in his art and yet having failed to provoke contemplation in the mind of his audience. This process is also demonstrated in the images, techniques, narrative, and subtexts of Pixar’s 2007 animated feature film, Ratatouille (dir. Brad Bird). In the film the great chef, Gusteau, has died following a mischievous, negative review that cost his restaurant a star and deprived him of the critical lifeblood that nourished him as an artist. Gusteau’s ghost, an apparition of the protagonist’s imagination, remains to pass on his culinary techniques and his egalitarian philosophy that anyone can cook. In the meantime Gusteau’s second in command, Skinner, plots to appropriate the prestigious Gusteau label as a lucrative marketing strategy for a line of frozen hot-dogs and similar kinds of fast food. The juxtaposition of this villainy with the protagonist’s genuine talent and the politics of the kitchen intensify his struggle for acceptance, highlight the often fraught relationships between elite art and popular culture and lament the fact that animated movies are relegated by the film industry to the status of fast food that can be attractively packaged for children.

The film makers achieve their argument by invoking one art, cuisine, as metaphor for their own elitism. First, I outline this metaphor then offer a brief analysis of a few twentieth-century animated shorts to demonstrate the scope and historical veracity of animators’ concerns. On the way I note that the earlier films work through important theoretical points. A brief discussion on the industrial and critical contexts of contemporary animated feature film is then followed by close textual analysis of a few of Ratatouille’s more complex allusions. In particular, I address those that support the film’s main contention: that animation is as worthy of artistic status as both cuisine and live action cinema. This reading does not detract from or override other readings or include discussion of related issues of gender or of ethnicity, the latter of which arises from the juxtaposition of American and French accents and the anthropomorphic representation of a rat as protagonist (see Allen 2008). Nor does it engage in depth with the relative merits of cinema, television and reality television, although the film provides an interesting discussion on these media by depicting Gusteau on television, a medium that has commonly been assumed to be inferior to cinema.

The scope of Ratatouille’s advocacy is foreshadowed in the film’s title which alludes to a dish of mixed vegetables. The dish is reminiscent of the fragmented nature of animation across various artistic, scholarly and industrial endeavours. Tensions between notions of high and low arts and who is qualified or entitled to practice these are also interrogated in the juxtaposition of the protagonist, Remy the rat, an unlikely but inspired cook; his helper, Linguini, a likely but incompetent artist; and Collette, the lone female who must work hard just to maintain her current position in a kitchen full of self-absorbed men. These characters are marginalised not by their worth, but by the circumstances of their birth. Never quite secure in their art, the other chefs at Gusteau’s perpetuate elitism by closing down opportunities for new or marginalised artists.

At the metaphorical level, Remy can be read as a symbol for the animator, the talented artist who remains out of the public eye, who seldom receives full credit and whose works are underrated. Skinner, the histrionic master chef, a philistine, can be read as representing the industry head or corporation that takes credit for the work of the team and whose real goal is to make money. Critic Anton Ego demonstrates that the canon is underpinned with criticism based on personal taste; and the untenable nature of auteur animators’ position is shown by August Gusteau, the great chef who, unlike the hunger artist, offers the apprentice the benefit of his dedication even beyond the grave. That this is possible establishes beyond doubt the richness of his medium.

Bird (2007) demonstrates the epitome of the animator’s art at the same time that he depicts chefs engaged in repetition and teamwork. They are minutely animated across the full depth of field to perform cuisine’s ‘endless, often mindless repetition of a thousand small tasks’ (Boudain quoted in Eburne 2010, p. 170). In one scene, as the apprentice begins to alter a recipe he knows is faulty, his mentor insists that it is replication not innovation that is required. This suggests that, as Roland Barthes has observed, the chef’s art is as much about ‘the compulsion of the cook as the pleasures of the table’ (quoted in Eburne 2010, p. 169). Bird depicts the chefs arranging their contributions, time after time, in a pre-determined, visually aesthetic pattern as part of a larger work of art that they did not design. Furthermore their kitchen is equipped with the best in kitchen technology and laid out more or less in accordance with the Kitchen Brigade System devised by the famous chef, Auguste Escoffier, in the 1890s (Simpkins 2010, p. 205), a time when animators were also experimenting with film. Thus, Bird links the arts historically as he demonstrates that division of labour, technology and replication of art work, all held to be un-artistic when they occur in processes of animation, become acceptable as processes of cuisine.

The film industry is also held up for examination. That Gusteau has five stars, an impossible number for a restaurant, references the Oscars where stars proliferate. Bird is one of a very few writers whose animated scripts have been nominated for Oscar awards. That the kudos of the Oscars is directed towards live action film is also made clear in debates where some critics argue that Ratatouille deserved Best Picture and/or Best Director, but was disadvantaged by its relegation to animated categories. Others point out that these categories are intended to allow animation to stand beside live action film (Riedemann 2008 addresses several aspects of the debate). In practice, however, the matter is one of entitlement: just as the Michelin stars are the glamour awards in cuisine, so Best Picture and Best Director are the glamour awards of American film.

Bird states publicly in answer to industry critics that ‘There isn’t a giant difference between animation and live action. You need characters, stories, themes. It’s called good storytelling’ (quoted in Gaydos 2008). And he situates Ratatouille firmly in cinema by demonstrating animation’s facility to include in its repertoire the art and craft of cinematography. In this way he replies to the cinephiles’ criticism that the flatness of the animated image – the lack of distortion – that arises from not using an anamorphic lens damages the aesthetic qualities of the work. He also combines close ups that show the anamorphic distortion with a range of camera movements, demonstrating that the animated steadicam can go beyond what is physically possible with an actual steadicam in placing the audience close to the action. One of the narrative effects is to intensify the threatening appearance of the villain, an effect which might be expected to please the critic. While the film drew praise for aping camera technology there was seldom any accompanying analysis of the storytelling and the use of Computer Generated Imaging (CGI) drew many of the same old criticisms (Zacharek 2007). It is impossible to overstate the irony in this duality. Its longevity and resilience is demonstrated in the next section through textual analysis of a few early short animated films.

Twentieth-century Animated Shorts

Early films engage with the ways in which drawing (particularly line) and film combine to extend what the artist can do. In the 1908 Fantasmagorie, Emile Cohl used a blackboard, erasing and redrawing between each exposure, to show a figure encountering an object that continually morphs into something else. Film is shown to give movement to drawing, to create life forces implied in recognisable body language, thus promoting a sense of realism, and yet to control life forces in objects with plasticity that defies the laws of physics. In this way, Cohl demonstrates that the film animator can surpasses what is possible in both drawing and live-action film. The impermanence of chalk, the rapidity of the production (at least as it appears to the viewer), the child-like nature of the drawing and the lack of narrative, however, undermine the notion that the genre is an art.

Animation as art was Windsor McCay’s primary concern. Having worked in the early 1900s to revolutionize the newspaper strip cartoon (Cradnol 1999), he went on to prove that drawing and film would be a useful combination of art and technology. This effort is depicted in his 1911 film Little Nemo (for which the 2003 film Finding Nemo is named). In live action, McCay expounds to his colleagues that animation on film is possible and he is shown drawing endlessly and sequentially thousands of images. When a truckload of paper and several large barrels of ink arrives, however, his drawings are upset. In this way, McCay comments on the enormity of the task and the difference between screen time, a representation of time passing that is under the control of the filmmaker, and real time, the time scale in which the artist draws the images. This links his work more closely to art than to industry and demonstrates, perhaps incidentally, that like film, pen and ink are technological devices that do not, in themselves, produce art.

Later, McCay accused animators of making an ‘art’ into a ‘trade’ by selling out to commercial interests of the studios where the imperative was to improve the bottom line by screening rapidly produced animated shorts to support screenings of live-action films (quoted in Cradnol 1999). That others shared his concern is evident in the defensiveness of the texts themselves and in ongoing efforts to show the extent of what animation can do. For instance, in the 1934 film Betty in Blunderland (dir. David Fleischer), Betty Boop completes a jigsaw of a rabbit that comes to life, knocks on the mirror where a door appears, and exits. This shows that animation can render magic visible while pointing out the incongruity. When Betty falls down the hole past washing lines strung between high rise buildings, the film juxtaposes and comments on ordinary life in the contemporary world.

Other scenes refer to materialist consumer culture: Betty drinks ‘Shrinkola’, an obvious reference to Coca Cola. The allusion prefigures product placement, now a standard technique for raising funds for film making, and demonstrates the use of celebrities to promote the growing consumer culture. With her waspish waistline, pre-censorship Betty is ‘woman as sex object, scantily clad and intensely aware of her sexual appeal’ (Abel 1995, p. 187). Her consumption of Shrinkola provides an early example of the sexually desirable but unavailable temptress widely used in post World War II advertising to encourage the consumer to move from purchasing necessities to including luxury goods as part of normal household expenditure.

In Betty in Blunderland, icons of popular culture jostle with allusions to serious art. The characters resemble those drawn by Tenniel for Lewis Carol’s famous novel, Alice in Wonderland, thus ensuring that audiences recognise the film as adaptation from literature as well as its associated illustration. Other characters are reminiscent of Warner Bros. cartoons. The whole is a web of intertextual reference that links animation, drawing and print media (one that commanded respect) and contributes to a pool of historical representations that have come to evoke, among other things, nostalgia. The humour thinly disguises the implication that animators are smart, witty and knowledgeable people.

Industry executives, however, are criticised. In the 1940 film, You Ought to be in Pictures, Daffy Duck pleads with JL (Jack L. Warner) for a serious part and Porky Pig requests a part in a live-action film. These requests are harshly rejected. Daffy is banished to a drawing on the wall and Porky Pig opts out of his contract to try his luck elsewhere. Since he is a ham, his failure is predictable, but he is not given the chance to show his ability. In the end, Porky returns, chastened, surrendering his autonomy to JL. The first level of comment relates to the studio as a harsh and unjust employer that stifles art, something that most employees felt strongly about at the time whether working in animation or live action. The film also shows, however, that the producers underestimate animation, animators and the synergies to be gained from combining animated and live action filming.

The concern that animation is ghettoized by the need to address children is obvious in Tex Avery’s Swing Shift Cinderella (1945) where the wolf sends Little Red Riding Hood away and moves into the Cinderella movie to pursue the more adult (and shapely) Cinderella. Avery mixes references to children’s literature with sexual innuendo, implying that animation is, indeed, a form suitable for grownups. He also alludes to popular films that have drawn substantial adult audiences: when the Fairy Godmother – variously called Grandmother by Cinderella – exits to follow the wolf the sign says: ‘Gone with the Wand’, alluding to the most famous film of all, Gone with the Wind. In this way Avery comments on the hierarchical structures associated with cinema as well as adaptation from literature. In What’s Opera, Doc? (Chuck Jones 1957), Bugs Bunny and others go further, performing Wagner (in their own way) so that live theatre and notions of high and low art become central.

A famous short film, Duck Amuk, (dir. Chuck Jones 1953, Warner Bros.), shows that the power of the animator over the text extends beyond animation in the misspelled title. Then Jones teases Daffy Duck by rapidly changing the set each time he starts to speak. The audience sees the pencil, itself an animation, but not the artist who, as we already know, is invisible. Daffy compensates with ad lib lines and changes of costume that suit the changes in setting, but eventually he breaks the fourth wall, asking ‘where are we?’. As the film appears to become out of sync with the projector a line indicating the frame edge appears across the screen and sprocket holes appear at the side. This suggests that the camera, too, is animated.

This lovely incongruity reminds the informed viewer that one of the criticisms of movie animation is its connection with technology. Aping individual frames as they appear on a film strip is a reminder that all film movies are made up of stills: whether animated or live action, the movement is an illusion. Jones ends by reinforcing his comment on the invisibility of the animator and the nature of the mediated message when he reveals that the artist is not Jones himself, but Daffy Duck’s nemesis, the animated drawing, Bugs Bunny.

Clearly, animated narrative films are able to carry complex theoretical points. The above examples exemplify Leslie’s notion of ‘a universe of transformation, overturning and provisionality’ (2002, p. iv), and, by showing one cartoon character as the creator of another, Jones implies that the sign of the real not only substitutes for the real and needs no real world referent, but also that the originator of the sign never was real: he has always been a sign. Read this way, Jones’s discussion chimes with the much later writings of Baudrillard (1994) who argues that audiences are so media saturated that world events have lost their real world significance and become simulacra.

Contemporary Circumstances of Animated Production and Criticism

Subversive messages about art, scholarship and industry are often cloaked as humour, satire or buried in the subtext. Typically, the films end with at least a token reinstatement of the status quo, or they rely on humour arising from incongruities that, like the issues themselves, are not resolved. The depiction of superhuman stretches, instant changes in setting, or morphing, for instance, presents visual puns that cross the barrier between the literal and the metaphorical, setting up the incongruity of a joke. As might be predicted, however, the insistence on demonstrations of god-like control, no doubt intended as a counter hegemonic strategy, merely serves to entrench existing attitudes in the industry and in film school pedagogy 1: in his 2010 publication, scriptwriter Neil Landau (p. 36) repeats as an adage the old assertion that ‘If it can be done in real life, why animate it?’ Animation, in this view, is for children’s films where the characters are not human, for humour, or merely a cheap or convenient adjunct to live action filming.

Using animation can be cheaper than hiring actors, partly because animators are not stars and outsourcing the work to countries where wages are low is common (Hendershot 1995, pp. 117-118). But the work itself is slow and exacting. While models, drawings or CGI save building sets, the medium is not static. Cutting edge technology such as that used and developed at Pixar (now owned by Disney), takes time and a substantial budget. Although ‘Disney does not discuss how much it spends making and marketing its films’ industry estimates that the 2009 film, Up, was ‘nearly four years in the making, cost $175 million to produce and carries a worldwide marketing budget of about $150 million’ (Barnes 2009a). Tangled (2010), gives rise to similar estimates.

Although Pixar’s films have all been financially successful, industry executives continue to publicly express doubts. Prior to the release of Up, ‘Richard Greenfield of Pali Research downgraded Disney shares to sell’ on the grounds that he did not think the protagonist would attract young boys (Barnes 2009b). 2 The same criticism was levelled at Ratatouille and Wall E, both of which, along with Up, left toy manufactures dissatisfied because they could not see scope for merchandising spin offs. The tension between the artistic and industrial imperatives are complex and palpable in these exchanges: executives at Pixar and Disney have repeatedly maintained that they do not seek mega-hit or mega-merchandising, that quality and good story telling are their first concerns (Barnes 2009b), but it is clear that film makers are subject to a wide range of industry pressures. Perhaps this is why Brad Bird, a proven director with the beginnings of the movie animation auteur to his reputation (The Incredibles 2004) was brought in to replace Jan Pinkava, the instigator of the Ratatouille project.

Similar tensions are evident in reviews of Ratatouille. For instance, Zacharek (2007) praises Bird’s ‘restrained palette’, the shapes and shadings, and calls the film ‘pure joy’. This acknowledges that palette is in the hands of the artist: just as Windsor McCay’s pen and paper did not make art, nor does the technology that enables animation. However, although it is irrelevant, Zacharek adds that in general she dislikes CGI because of its garish colours, suggesting that animated film makers in general (clearly Bird is an exception) lack a sense of aesthetics or else they rightly consider garish colours appropriate for such low art. This critic’s ‘aprioristic scales of high and low genres’ (Juvan 2005, p. 5) are revealed again when she includes comments that dissociate the review from the film. For instance, and again extraneously, Zacharek writes that she prefers short-form animation, except for, perhaps, the ‘luminous’ and painterly 1937 Disney film,Snow White. That she credits Snow White to Walt Disney but not to the director, David Hand, attests to a lack of research and respect accorded the genre (which now includes Bird’s film), as well as to the general invisibility of quite responsible personnel involved in high-end production. These comments not only turn the attention onto the reviewer, they occupy space that could be used to tease out the film’s contribution to serious cultural debates.

Even when their presence is recognised the animator’s more serious points are frequently misunderstood. In a generally thoughtful review James Naremore (2007) describes Ratatouille as ‘a lovely fable about the social and spiritual wonder of art’ (p. 55), but he misrepresents the main issues when he writes a rather back-handed compliment:

G. W. F. Hegel once wrote that because cooking is intended for consumption rather than contemplation, it can never become an art. If only he could have visited Gusteau’s, a once great Paris restaurant that looks like the Tour d’Argent. (p. 54)

This comment implies that the quality of Ratatouille’s images might cause Hegel to re-think his notion and elevate cuisine. The artists did go to pains to animate the food. In the DVD extras and on youtube, the team, which includes master chef and restaurateur, Thomas Keller, recount their visit to Paris to research, observe and to experience the cuisine. They note that the surface of freshly cooked food glistens as it goes on cooking after it is taken from the pan, that its surface is lively, and that cooked foods drape and mould their shape onto whatever is underneath. As you layer food onto a plate, they note, each layer behaves differently depending on what kind of food it is and how long it has been cooked. These observations come from the eye of the artist, they pay tribute to a fellow art, and they are deliberately incorporated into the work. Naremore’s statement reviews not the representation but its referent and, clearly, Hegel would be on more solid ground if he were to promote animation rather than cuisine.

Historical References to Cuisine in Ratatouille

The notion that animation is a recent art is exacerbated by the trend of movie animations towards photorealism. Even as their characters defy the laws of physics animators work to depict human movement, rain, wet or glistening surfaces in ways that will please technophiles while rendering the text even more transparent for general audiences. This goes against the grain of modern art which has moved towards the notion of a text as worthy in its own right so that the aim is to bring the viewer ‘back to the surface’ of the work (Bolter and Grusin 1999, p. 41). Furthermore, as with photography (Bolter and Grusin 1999, pp. 25-26), another ‘recent’ art, there is a perception that technology separates the artist from the work imposing a dislocation with the foundation elements: perspective, line, shape, shade, colour, and choreography. Again, Bird provides evidence that these criticisms are unjust.

Ratatouille’s point is that animation is judged harshly while similar matters in respect of cuisine are overlooked. Evidence is given in the form of historical allusions that reveal skeletons in the historical pantries of the famous. Auguste Gusteau alludes to the icon of cuisine, Auguste Escoffier. Like Gusteau, Escoffier promoted cuisine as something anyone could participate in, and wrote a book of recipes that included a Kitchen Brigade System for layout and division of labour. This 1903 publication has never been out of print. Similarly, Gusteau’s book has sold out and will be reprinted yet again. Furthermore, in case we missed all of that, Auguste Gusteau is doubly Auguste because his family name is an anagram of his given name.

Like Skinner, Escoffier is also associated with kitchen fraud. He and Ritz were both dismissed from the London Savoy in incidents of shady dealing designed to line their own pockets. It is likely that the Ritz hotel in Paris was partly financed with those ill-gotten gains (Taylor 1996). For around a century, this news was suppressed (Taylor 1996). Furthermore, Ritz, whose name is known all over the world, was not a chef but an owner and administrator. He is paralleled by Linguini whose legitimate ownership of cafe Ratatouille, like Ritz’ ownership of his Paris restaurant, rests on a hint of illegitimacy.

That Gusteau passed away soon after losing a star will also remind adult audiences of the widely publicised suicide in 2003 of Bernard Loiseau, the youngest chef to achieve three Michelin stars (the maximum for restaurants). At that time, Loiseau faced the prospect of losing a star and having his restaurant downgraded from 19 to 17 in the Gault Millau guide (Eburne 2010, pp. 169-71). This was widely reported. Follow-up articles report that Loiseau suffered from overwork, from stress resulting from over commitment to business, to the media, especially television, and to the costly demands of the Michelin system that eats profits so that once the third star is lost it is almost impossible to regain it (Eburne 2010, pp. 169-71; Severin 2007). While I do not mean to imply any direct relationship with actual critics Ratatouille makes it clear that critical reviews are the food of the chef. In effect Loiseau and Gusteau are starved by the loss of the stars that sustained them. The death of a chef following a review implicates the critic and demonstrates the power of criticism over the artist. Speaking of Loiseau Michelin-starred chef Jacques Lameloise said: ‘The critics play with us. They mark us up, they mark us down. I think that’s what made him crack’ (BBC online 2003). This allusion places Anton Ego’s careless criticism in an extremely serious light. Ego feeds on the life-blood of artists by sneering at whatever does not meet his most exacting standards of personal taste. He admits that the fun in criticism comes from finding fault. Positive criticism, he says, is much harder to do.

Although he is more candid, Ego’s behaviour is reminiscent of some of the more heated debates of high modernism and its scathing judgements of popular culture that fail to account for the fact that a critic holds the power to know, to judge, because that power is vested in him or her by those who are knowledgeable but not expert, and that expert judgements can and do differ (see Scholes 2003). This is the ultimate criticism the film levels at the art and film worlds. Influential critics are enjoying themselves at the expense of artists, cultivating some and denigrating or ignoring others whose work is also worthy of attention.

Pedigree, Legitimacy and Nationhood

In Ratatouille, the insistent references to France as having the best cuisine refer to a canonical hierarchy of cuisines. This is laid down at the film’s opening for payback when we realise that although Remy is an unlikely cook he is French, while Linguini’s Italian name suggests that he is not French enough. This relates to the film’s production in America: Remy speaks with an American accent and it is the American animator who is on the defensive demonstrating that animation, like cuisine, is an exacting process and superior to the fast food of Hollywood, live action film. This metaphor is strengthened by Skinner’s attempts to market fast food fraudulently under the Gusteau label and by the description of one of the dishes as ‘sausages deep fried in batter, you know, American food’. Skinner, then, is like the movie industry that churns out blockbuster after blockbuster like sausages, all looking and tasting the same but lacking the aesthetic appeal of the film we are watching. Ratatouille is the ratatouille of American cinema. Like the dish prepared by Remy, a native of the South of France from which it came, the film takes the discerning adult back to childhood, to family, to authenticity.

Frenchness is at issue in the narrative, too. Remy is French enough to cook, but an unacceptable artist because he is a rat. Linguini cannot cook because he ‘is not French, but half Italian’. According to Simpkins (2010):

French and American audiences would find it problematic having the great chef’s heir standing at the pinnacle of Parisian gastronomic culture untrained and without pedigree, such quaint fantasies not holding enough cultural validity for even an animated film. (p. 208)

These strongly expressed sentiments sidestep the point that in a film where a rat masters the art of cuisine, which implies that anything is possible, it seems arbitrary to draw the line at Linguini’s Italian heritage.

In the film, even as it is invoked, the pedigree of French cuisine is undermined. Linguini’s hybridity parallels that of haute cuisine, at least as it is represented in popular culture. The story is that Catherine de Medici took with her to Paris, when she went there to marry Henri II in the sixteenth century, a team of Italian chefs. Historians are divided on whether, at that time, French chefs flavoured food only to cover up its lack of freshness, as was common practice throughout the western world, but agree that Medici’s Italian chefs were accustomed to flavouring fresh food and to seeking out rare and exciting dishes. 3 Some attribute important changes in French cuisine to Medici’s chefs while others dismiss the Italian effect during this foundational period as a myth. The implication remains, however, that at best Medici did not trust French cooking: at worst, French cuisine is, indeed, a French-Italian hybrid. Furthermore, history also reveals that cuisine’s Michelin system, now so prestigious and so securely linked to Paris haute cuisine, was for several decades a giveaway guide to facilities (petrol, food) for the motoring public, initiated and funded by the motoring industry and represented by the fork rather than the star (‘The Michelin Guide from 1900 to the Present’).

Unlike haute cuisine, the lack of documented histories constrains animation. Early film animators began their work expecting that the basic elements of aesthetics and the techniques of the visual arts would provide an unbroken connection between the past and their innovative works with film. By the time it was apparent that this would not be the way the works were conceptualised it was too late for them to act effectively (if, indeed, this had ever been possible). These histories are, in most cases, ‘yet to be researched and re-discovered’ (Wells 2002, p. 1). In time, it could (and perhaps it will) be argued that the urge or intent to animate the image is close in origin to that of the image itself. Drawings left from the Palaeolithic period show figures with multiple limbs in different positions, and superimposed images of the same figure in different positions, suggesting that movement as much as line and shape provided the impetus for their creation (INORA online). In the same way that cooking can be traced back to the origins of fire, so the links of animation can be traced to early representations. It is likely that the history of animation will turn out to be no more fractured than the history of cuisine or any other art with its roots in antiquity.

As techniques changed, so did the most pressing concerns. But those that were there at the start, invisibility, lack of credit, lack of control over and prestige of the genre, are all evident in Bird’s 2007 Ratatouille. So, too is increased quality of art; technological development that extend the possibilities for realism and detail; the attention to shape, movement, palette and the like; and the encoding of coherent, witty and informed discussions. These are all endeavours that, in the work of Bird’s predecessors, failed to bring about significant changes in respect of the practical issues raised in the films. Bird’s personal achievement has been rewarded with the directorship of Mission Impossible IV, slated for release in December of 2011. This suggests that the film industry will claim his stardom to perpetuate existing priorities of live action film.

As in cuisine, the animation auteur does not make the ordinary artist visible. Placing the focus on large, unseen teams goes against the grain of western individualism; it also crosses powerful systems of celebrity and stardom on which the industries of art, film and cuisine depend. That the individual auteur cannot change this is clear: at a time when communications ensure that he can speak publicly, what Bird says is that respect for animated cinema is not forthcoming (Gaydos 2008). The effect is to cage the animator between a narrow demographic and a narrow range of narrative genre for which animated projects are green lighted, trapping the artist in spectacle mode. As with the hunger artist, the artist becomes invisible once the novelty is gone.

It is significant, then, that few scholarly or critical accounts of Ratatouille discuss or explicate the rich and carefully constructed metaphor that casts doubts on the icons and lineage of the most senior and respected branch of cuisine in order to show that animation deserves more respect. While Ratatouille has given rise to a large number of thoughtful and/or scholarly works sprinkled far and wide across many disciplines, in this paper, I have sought to demonstrate the advantages of placing the text central to contributions to animation scholarships. While not overestimating the power of scholarship to effect change, placing the texts at the centre of discussion has enabled me to take into account evidence, points and views that are outside my main discipline of Film Studies. This includes some disciplines, such as history, that, according to Ward’s analysis (2003, p. 19), are not directly connected to my own in terms of enquiry into animation. My take home message is that this strategy, if widely adopted, would quickly increase the critical mass of resources available for researchers across disciplines and contribute to the momentum of research, which itself begets research.


(1.) See, for instance, the Round Table topic of discussion for the Henri Langlois Festival International des Ecoles de Cinéma, 2010, round table scheduled for December 11, 2010: ‘Animation schools – Teaching an art or a technique?’ Festival flyer delivered (in English) to the author by email, available in French online at: http://www.rihl.org/tablesrondes.php

(2.) Young boys are the primary demographic. See Geena Davis’ website, http://www.seejane.org for a discussion of the paucity of strong, female leads in children’s film.

(3.) Although the idea has taken on the status of a popular myth (see any cursory search of the internet) the entry ‘grande cuisine’ in the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online (2010) supports this view (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/241514/grande-cuisine?anchor=ref278363 accessed 20.6.2010). Susan Pinkard (2009) in her book A Revolution in Taste: The Rise of French Cuisine (New York: Cambridge University Press), however, argues that the changes in direction of French cuisine commonly associated with de Medici’s reign in France are of a later date.


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Ratatouille, 2007. [DVD] Brad Bird, USA: Disney Pixar.

Fantasmagorie, 1908. Cohl, Emil, France: L.Gaumont. In Animated Century 2003. [DVD, 2003] Irina Margolina and Adam Snyder, USA: Rembrandt Films, Avora Media, Studio Mir.

Betty in Blunderland, 1934. Dave Fleischer, USA: Fleischer Studios. In Animated Century 2003 [DVD, 2003] Irina Margolina and Adam Snyder, USA: Rembrandt Films, Avora Media, Studio Mir.

Swing Shift Cinderella, 1945. Tex Avery, USA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In Tex Avery’s Screwball Classics, [DVD, 1988] USA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Little Nemo, 1911. Windsor McCay. In Animation: The Beginning. [DVD 1987] USA: Grapevine Video.

You Ought to Be in Pictures, 1940. Fritz Freleng, USA: Warner Brothers [Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XS9AycVzINU]

What’s Opera Doc? , 1957. Chuck Jones. USA: Warner Brothers. [Youtube: http://www.funnyjunk.com/movies/3182/What+s+Opera+Doc/]