by Rick Rockwell
Ratatouille, the new film from Disney-Pixar, may be the box office champ this week* and a darling of the critics, but what do adults know about kids’ films?
Or maybe, dressed up as it is in animation, Ratatouille is a film for adults disguised as a kid flick.
Whatever the reason may be, young children may find Ratatouille a bore or discomforting, or strangely, both.
Let’s face it, film critics rarely attend films with their three-year-olds in tow, and adults are the ones who usually buy the tickets, not kids. So Ratatouille’s box office take of $47 million comes courtesy of adults, not kids. Yes, teens and some younger children do have the power of the purse in their households, but arguably they are responding to marketing (mostly television commercials) on the opening weekend of a film, not word-of-mouth, which is what truly motivates kids in the world of peer pressure. So adults have put their stamp of approval on Ratatouille. For parents searching for a G-rated film already dubbed as a new Disney classic by critics, Ratatouille is manna. Richard Corliss of Time assigned his approval of the film so far in advance of its opening that the blurb from his review was a key part of the film’s marketing campaign. (Could it be critics loved the film because one of the key villains is critic Anton Ego, voiced by Peter O’Toole?)
Count this critic among the horde that liked the film. But count my three-year-old among those who turned thumbs down. Here are the reasons:
1) The film is 110 minutes long. After fifteen minutes of trailers, and the Oscar-nominated film short Lifted (hilarious) which runs another five minutes, children five and under will probably lose attention about 75 minutes into the film, just like the unofficial test crowd of kids observed during the opening weekend did.
2) Critics assured parents that the only mildly violent scene was early in the film when an elderly woman decides to use a shotgun to dispense with the rat infestation in her home, and that the scene was acceptable. Sure, the violence is no worse than a classic Loony Tunes cartoon you might see on television. However, most television sets don’t come equipped with Dolby surround-sound. Younger children were visibly upset and scared during this scene. (By the way, no character gets hit, although it serves as a necessary plot device to separate the main character Remy, the rat, from his pack.)
3) One of the key characters, Gusteau (voiced by Brad Garrett from television’s Everybody Loves Raymond) is a ghost of a famous chef. Although his death is dealt with in an offhand manner, this did not go unnoticed by the three-year-old critic, who still wanted to know why Gusteau had to die. (This too is an essential plot element, but try explaining that to a three-year-old.) Although not unwelcome, be prepared for discussions about death with a younger child.
4) The film deals with complex themes of inheritance, gastronomy, and even criticism, not exactly what my three-year-old likes to discuss.
5) Likewise, the main character Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) is a rather sophisticated rat, who adores cooking, cookbooks, cooking shows, and haute cuisine, while eschewing the tastes of his rat pack. He’s the perfect Parisian rat. However, he’s not exactly a character an American three-year-old can embrace easily, unlike Wilbur, the pig, from Charlotte’s Web.
6) Action sequences are key in a children’s film and the animation in Ratatouille is tremendous, almost three-dimensional. However, the film bogs down mid-way through and becomes a series of conversations. This is necessary for the plot, but for a child expecting more of the wonderful action (lightning blowing the rats off a roof; the scrambling escape into the sewers; the first chase around the kitchen of Gusteau’s restaurant) this is where the film again shows its colors as pitching for adults primarily.
So go see Ratatouille. You’ll probably enjoy it. Just don’t expect your kids to like it.
*So far, Spider-Man 3 is the year’s box office champ, with ticket sales of $875 million, worldwide.
(Promotional film poster from Disney. To see a trailer for the film, please check below.)
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by Rick Rockwell