Does Pixar Sometimes Get a Free Ride?

Let’s think for a moment about two movies that have a lot in common.

Ratatouille, released in 2007 by Disney Pixar, is a whimsical tale about an unusual rat who happens to be a great chef.

The Tale of Desperaux, released in 2008 by Universal Pictures, is a whimsical tale about an unusual mouse who happens to be born without the timidness that comes naturally to all other mice.

Ratatouille was a smashing success. The Tale of Desperaux fared much more modestly at the box office.

Ratatouille is a critical darling with a 96% percent favorable rating at Rotten, the premier site for collecting and averaging the critical grades for movies.

The Tale of Desperaux received only lukewarm reviews and averages a 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Having seen both movies, your Monkey is perplexed by the overwhelmingly positive response to one and the underwhelming response to the other.

If anything, Desperaux is the superior film of the two.

Sure, Ratatouille has some good things going for it. Pixar can’t help but make a visually impressive film. They do 3D animation better than anyone, and they are usually great at telling a story.

Brad Bird is a very talented director whose work on the Incredibles and the Iron Giant made this Monkey all too eager to see what he could do with the story of a rat who dreams of being a chef.

The problem is that Ratatouille just falls flat.

It is so predictable and uninspired that we find ourselves sitting there waiting for the next predictable plot point to hit.

  • The good guy who turns out to be the bad guy.
  • A hostile relationship between a male and female cook that turns into a budding romance.
  • A protagonist who fails, then succeeds, then suffers a setback due to a misunderstanding (or deception), then finally succeeds with the help of some friends.

Perhaps Ratatouille’s  biggest crime is that it left the viewer with nothing to discover. Only the next step in the formula to anticipate. It made this Monkey feel like he was just seeing the same rote story played out again.

And he was feeling like it was no longer worth taking the ride.

In fact, your Monkey almost didn’t feel like it was worth seeing Wall-E, which would have been a tremendous shame because Wall-E is exactly the opposite of what Ratatouille is.

Desperaux, like Wall-E, is a movie that shows a lively imagination.

It manages to create unique situations and challenge expectations through clever storytelling and wry humor.

It might not be a perfect movie, but it’s a refreshing and inspiring one that manages to deal with dark issues like death and grief and disappointment without ever wallowing in pity (self or otherwise).

It is about the inspiring power of storytelling, and of hope, and of doing the right thing and being heroic and all that good stuff.

While this is not a “Pixar” film and is not immediately granted all the unassailable prestige that a Pixar film is given, a great deal of care was taken with the animation.

It is grand when it needs to be grand, simple when it needs to be simple, and the action sequences pack plenty of thrills without being too hectic.

What is the point of all this? Aha. A good question to ask, my friend.

Your Monkey is worried about these weighty issues because

  • He genuinely liked Desperaux and thinks that it got something of a short shrift from critics and audiences
  • He genuinely found Ratatouille to be boring and dull and predictable, and can’t understand why people seem intent on falling all over themselves to praise it
  • He can’t help but wonder if the mere fact that Ratatouille was a Pixar film automatically made it a critical darling.

Your thoughts?


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