Rataphooey (RaT-A-phOO-ee)

20 07 2007

Here’s what a few week’s (in)digestion has produced on the Pixar flick:

Clearly, of all the dishes over which his army of animators had lavished loving digital attention, dearest to Brad Bird’s writer-director heart was the one prepared from Anton Ego’s own words, served back to the vicious critic after his ceremonial defanging, which he savored with a chaser of humble pie in that end monologue as seemingly fair as it was covertly vengeful. I could muster up little more than a beseeching roll of the eyes at this revenge, so far removed from the proverbially called-for cold that a great cloud of hot air rose up from it during the spectacle of its consumption. Never had a critic been happier to eat his own words than Ego, spoon-fed them by an artist indulging himself in delicious wish fulfillment whipped to frothy confectionery heights, defying the gravity of disbelief, and cherry-topped to boot. A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down indeed. Yummy, mommy, I want some more!

If only the story were as smooth as the look. Not even the latest in expedient voice-over technology can prettify whole chunks of exposition. Glaring presence gives way to glaring absence: as if to draw further attention to its essential nature as unimaginative crutch, the voiceover sinks from view for long stretches, now and then resurfacing to segue. The pat story hit all the needed bases on predictable schedule (had schedules been issued, I might have joined the happy ending express at some later station along the route, perhaps second act crisis?), though I actually appreciated that the main human character didn’t go, sports-movie style, from fumbling underdog to expert chef. I half expected some epilogue in which Anton Ego’s mother, remembered turning from the stove in his ratatouille-induced vision, turned out to be the very farm maman who in the beginning expels Remy’s family with a shotgun, so highly did the movie arouse in me expectations of tight Hollywoodian structure.

Is it party pooping to, well, s—t on a movie that’s made critics everywhere swoon? So be it. While conceding his responsibility to shepherd new talent to the public’s attention, I defend the right of the critic to, well, criticize. The critic who is true to himself works from some sense of inner disappointment—let us say original disappointment, preceding the lifelong search for even the merest touch of that grace, art, whose powers of beatific transfiguration are, his earliest memory, much as they are for the artist. What nurture, then, divides artist and critic whom art’s touch had twinned at birth? Some wound is at the roots of our misanthropy, as is a wolf’s bite in lycanthropy, that makes us rancorous beasties. All love the storyteller better than the heckler. Well, no quarter given, none expected. Bierce would have approved—but certainly not applauded. In my corner, Statler and Waldorf.

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