Ratatouille (2007)
Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Pixar is the king of the animation industry in Hollywood. Right from its first full length feature Toy Story (1995), Pixar has almost single-handedly charted out the roadmap for the industry and has inspired hundreds to take up a profession in the field of animation. Its movies have been universally identified as witty, funny, amazingly detailed and ultimate fun. But it is the final sequence of Ratatouille that takes them onto a whole new level.

The scene I’m talking about begins just after the hilarious moment where the notorious food critic Anton Ego is reminded of his mother’s cooking right after he tastes the little chef’s masterpiece – Ratatouille. He walks off from the restaurant and delivers a monologue (narrated by the formidable voice of Peter O’Toole) that may just be Pixar’s best piece of writing ever. Here is the transcript followed by the scene itself.

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.

What Anton says about food criticism is so applicable to film criticism and art criticism, in general.  Anton beautifully expresses how critics assume attitudes and turn down lifelong dreams with the scribble of a pen. He learns to acknowledge the effort behind every piece of work – both the inspiring and the insipid – and learns, in his own words, not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. He learns to enjoy first and judge later, be open to novelty and ultimately accept every piece of work as it is. And finally when Linguni asks what Anton would like for dinner, the latter glances at Remy and says “Surprise me”. And that is exactly what critics like Roger Ebert seem to be doing – basking in the sheer joy of cinema.