Monday, December 03, 2007


I finally saw this film, which sent A.O. Scott of the Times, among others, into paroxysms of praise. Never before has an animated film, etc. It's the story of a rat who dreams of being a great chef, and succeeds with the help of the goofy young garbage boy (who does the actual cooking since the rat can't, or shouldn't, use kitchen tools). Apparently the tale was sincerely uplifting to many sophisticated critics. The animation is state of the art, though marveling at how realistic something looks seems less and less like a meaningful aesthetic experience. And overall I found the movie incredibly dismaying. Pardon my Berkeleyism, but:

--There is one female in the entire film, not counting possibly a few shadowy diners who never speak. The female is an ambitious underling who expresses rage about the male-dominated world of restaurants by slinging her knives around. (Male viewers laugh nervously and knowingly.) She is supposed to be great at her work, but her role in the film is to step aside while the rat-and-boy team climb to the top in a matter of weeks. There are no female rats in the entire large "clan." Maybe the filmmakers thought this was a compliment of sorts, but note this: both the garbage-boy, Linguini, and the rat-chef Remy are motherless. Linguini's mother is dead; I don't remember what happened to Remy's mother, if it's even explained. Yes, that's the usual Disney Bambi terror/fantasy, but the overall impression is that the filmmakers like this boy's world just as it is.

--The villain in the film is a dark-skinned North African type. There is one other dark-skinned cook in the kitchen who plays a minor role, and all the other humans are white. Yes, I hope we've moved beyond the tentative Deep-Space-Nine Star-Trek-Enterprise universes, where the writers are so afraid of offending that the black characters are not only moral paragons, they have no personality whatsoever. But in an animated film, skin color is a very specific technical choice. They are not working with a specific actor's appearance, but assigning the exact appearance they want to the character. Villain = dark person with heavy accent.

--It goes without saying that the "good" people have American accents, and the "bad" people have either English or French accents. The film is set in Paris and all the characters are supposed to be French. (The female love interest does sound vaguely French, but we've already dealt with the fact that she's female and therefore second-class. She can afford to have an accent.)

--Finally (as Trev pointed out) several characters insist over and over again on the most important moral principle in the world: Do Not Steal. Not even if you're starving can you steal a chunk of bread. It is OK to kidnap and tie up the dark-skinned man and the health inspector and throw them in a closet. But Do Not Steal, especially from companies; it is Wrong. So don't even think of illegally downloading or copying any Disney products, kids.

If this movie is our current inspirational message to the young, I'd say we have gotten exactly nowhere since the 50s. The progress in animation technique may even serve to disguise the retrograde message--and it is a message, believe me.

1 comment:

desesseintes said...

I've been watching Meerkat Manor, which I otherwise enjoy (even if it's narrated by one of the hobbits), and a strange thing: all of a sudden there's a "sly" intruder from across the border of our meerkat family's territory, and his name is.... Carlos. What next, meerkats build a 70-mile fence to keep Carlos out? He'll be stealing all their jobs, you know!