Pixar’s ratatouille is about a lot of things: inspiration, talent, art, and memory. And yes, it also simultaneously teaches capitalist concepts of capital and productivity while maintaining a fantasy of social mobility and access to high culture. It’s a story of extremes, with the poverty-stricken on one end of the spectrum, and the wealthy on the other. Ratatouille tells the ‘rags to riches’ tale of an artist from here, who attempts to get there. Once you look at the rats as the poor-or, how the rich see the poor, a whole new layer of the story opens up.
Remy, the main character of the film, is a representation of a struggling poor artist, who feels resentment towards a capitalist society, whilst trying to escape through the puddle of poverty. The movie shows that Remy’s family (the rats) purely exists to survive. They are socialised to ignore creative passions, for example, Remy’s dad disregards his love for his art-cooking and just dismisses his talent. If we view the rats portrayed in this movie as a representation of the lower/middle class while the humans as the privileged/upper-class of our society, it makes so much more sense. Remy yearns for human (rich) experiences because human beings appear to have the privilege to create art and pursue their passions without any worries of material expense. This is the truth of our society, where a majority of lower/middle-class people’s life choices, especially career choices, are based on material aspects of it. Whilst the rich are free to pursue passions on a whim, able to purchase expensive materials easily. The poor have to pick their passions carefully and with material cost in mind if they can even find the time amongst their worldly duties. Despite this, Remy seems to fulfil his ambitions by using discarded objects as cooking utensils and leftover food from the literal trash. And when he trespasses into a human home (a metaphor for rich society) he is punished with the loss of his home, loss of his family, and almost the loss of his life. This depicts and reinforces the class boundaries by showing how Remy gets punished for blurring lines and violating society’s strict views on class mobility.
The film further depicts how Remy makes his way into a more affluent society to bring his dreams to life, despite how despised he is in those circles. It shows how the underprivileged are often denied access to artistic expression. The movie with the aid of Linguini – the boy Remy controls to make his way into the kitchen of the Gusto’s restaurant – shows that this person is able to rise through the ranks for no reason other than who he is. Although the head chef of the kitchen sees Linguini as a threat, Linguini is able to achieve a position as a chef with relative ease, despite having no previous training and a decidedly clumsy demeanour, which perhaps was due to him being the Gusteau’s son and heir, whereas, Remy on the other hand, is the true bearer of talent, but is seen as a pest that has no place in the kitchen, despite the extreme evidence to the contrary when given the chance to prove himself. Moreover, Skinner’s character also depicts themes of capitalism in the movie. Skinner being the embodiment of capitalism is shown as a destroyer of art as he takes Gustaeu’s passion for cooking and turns it into a capitalist venture for creating more money by commercialising his food. Skinner is shown as arrogant and frugal, only caring for the conservation of wealth.
However, perhaps, the most compelling theme of the film is the one shown by the interaction between Remy and the food critic Anton Ego or rather, the conflict between Remy and his unrecognised success. As his family and rat community are ignorant of the greatness of culinary art, Remy is subjected to the aristocratic French standards, as expressed through a critic who delights in criticism and in being singularly determinative of what qualifies as good taste, particularly in upscale dining. This is why it’s significant that Remy chooses to serve Ego a plate of ratatouille, a “peasant dish.” Before Ego realises who the true cook is, the flavour of the perfectly cooked dish transports him to his humble beginnings, revealing a viewpoint that he had long forgotten and clearly had not experienced throughout his tenure as a food critic. While Remy gets a good review, he is never identified in the article. So, even though Linguini is no longer expressly titled chef, Remy’s ability is still kept hidden to maintain a societal order that does not allow rats (poor) to succeed.
As a result, the film depicts the potent themes of capitalism through its vicariously crafted characters and the remarkable interactions between them. Particularly via Remy’s persona. Therefore, when you strip away all the cartoon elements, Ratatouille is essentially the narrative of an economically and socially underprivileged individual finding art—in this case, the culinary arts—and striving to find a means to express his inspiration, while dealing with the transgressions of the capitalist society.
by: Hamna Qamer