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29 October 2007


There are many perfectly rendered archetypes in the work of animator Brad Bird – the “human” characteristics conferred on the robot in The Iron Giant, for instance, or Bird's own voiceover of the demented designer Edna Mode in The Incredibles – but Bird trumps even his own high standards with the extraordinary food critic, Anton Ego, in his brilliant movie, “Ratatouille”.
Ego – lovingly and waspishly voiced by Peter O'Toole – is a superlative invention, largely because he is hardly an invention at all. Ego is the declamatory critic who feels that his opinion is the only thing that matters in the world of food. The critic who believes that the world waits on his opinion. The critic who surveys from the plateau of his superior knowledge and his allegedly superior “taste”. Ego is the critic who is barely human, instead being simply a series of aesthetic neuroses.
We have met critics just like Ego, and not just in France: they are living and working in these islands. For them, the restaurant experience is only and ever a matter of Platonic perfection, and it is for them to tell the unwashed masses just what restaurants most closely achieve this perfection.
It says a lot for Bird's confidence that he knows just exactly how to deal with this character, but then Bird shows in Ratatouille that he knows exactly how to deal with the world of the professional restaurant, homing in on every detail from the '61 Latour to the Environmental Health Officer with uncanny accuracy. Bird has to have been a plongeur or a waiter when he was young, because only someone who has sweated in a real kitchen can have this sort of feel for how kitchens are structured, and he clearly knew the sort of professional expertise he needed when setting out the details of the kitchen and the cooking, consulting with luminary chefs such as Guy Savoy and Thomas Keller.
If one can make a criticism of the movie, it is that it is a little over-egged: so much is going on so often that one viewing simply isn't enough. This wealth of detail aside, Ratatouille makes it 3 classics out of 3 movies for Brad Bird. Iron Giants. Superheroes. Rodent Superchefs. I guess eight years working on The Simpsons is going to have some impact on a guy's way of looking at the world.