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  1. #1

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    'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wrong

    On Tuesday, Pixar's rats-in-the-kitchen flick Ratatouille debuted on DVD and Blu-ray. How fitting that its release coincides with that of the Pixar Short Films Collection, 13 animated shorts that chronicle how far Pixar and computer animation have come in the last 20-plus years. While there's no doubt Parisian cityscapes and intricately designed French gourmet kitchens are a visual quantum leap from anthropomorphic desk lamps and beach balls, Pixar would be well served to revisit the basic story telling of its short films to rediscover the warmth and sense of fun that is sadly lacking in its most recent feature.


    Lights, camera, beach ball! The deceptively simple "Luxo Jr."

    Pixar: What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

    To watch the 13 films of the Pixar Short Films Collection in order is to bear witness to the evolution of computer animation as it moved from the digitized realm of hardcore computer geeks to the creative world of artists and storytellers. It begins with "The Adventures of Andre and Wally B.," a mid-1980s exercise in graphics and motion John Lasseter animated at Lucasfilm. In 1986, Steve Jobs purchased the computer graphics division at Lucasfilm to form Pixar, which some will remember as a computer hardware and software company—filmmaking was but a tiny portion of the company’s business, and an experimental one at that. Here Lasseter and other founding employees including Ed Catmull, Eben Ostby and Bill Reeves would lay the foundation for a new kind of animation entertainment. More short films would follow; each one building on its predecessor with more realistically rendered images, shapes, shadows and textures. The one constant was the humor, warmth and pathos derived from these simple stories.

    The early films in the Pixar Short Films Collection include "Luxo Jr." and the bouncing desk lamps that would eventually symbolize Pixar. There’s "Red’s Dream," with its film noirish bicycle shop; the Oscar-winning "Tin Toy" with its drooling monster baby and two classic punch lines; and, finally, the just-for-fun "Knick Knack" and its love struck snowman. These were the proving grounds—the baby steps that would eventually lead to the first fully computer animated feature film, Toy Story, released in 1995. And they’re all classics.


    Not sheepish at all. The delightful "Boundin.'"

    Pixar was now a full-fledged animation studio. With their focus shifted to features, less emphasis was placed on the shorts, but they still served a vital role in developing young talent at the studio—much like short cartoons did at the Walt Disney Studios in the 1940s and 50s. 1997 saw the release of the Oscar-winning "Geri’s Game" with its schizophrenic chess match. Other gems include "For the Birds" (another Oscar winner) and the sublime "Boundin’," Bud Luckey’s homespun tale of a sheared sheep who learns a life lesson from a wise jackalope. Its non-stop motion and Seussian rhymes are an absolute joy. It’s the crown jewel of a sparkling short film collection.

    You’re a Rat, for Pete’s Sake

    Which brings us to Pixar’s latest offering, Ratatouille. Count me among the apparent few (Disney touts Ratatouille as the “best reviewed film of the year”—so says RottenTomatoes.com) who weren’t charmed by this French kitchen caper. Like Cars before it, Ratatouille has a story that can’t quite figure out what to be (buddy film? fish out of water comedy? sly romance?) and characters that I never felt any emotional connection to. The animation is exquisite, but it’s all window dressing for a movie with little warmth or heart.


    Linguini a'la Rat

    Ratatouille tells the tale of Remy (Patton Oswalt), a gastronomically gifted rat who longs to rise above his squalorly existence to become a chef like his idol Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett). After a harrowing escape from the country, Remy finds himself an unwelcome guest in the kitchen of Gusteau’s once grand Paris restaurant, now a haven for tourists more than haute cuisine. He befriends awkward schlub Linguini (Lou Romano), the restaurant garbage boy, who recognizes Remy’s culinary talent (and his ability to understand humans) and saves him from a violent demise. They eventually forge a relationship whereby Remy becomes Linguini’s rodent puppet master, transforming him bit by bit into Paris’s top chef, much to the chagrin of Linguini’s boss, the rat-obsessed Skinner (Ian Holm).

    The story misfires repeatedly, introducing a romance between Linguini and kitchen mate Colette (Janeane Garafalo) that never gels and building to an anticlimactic showdown between Remy/Linguini and dour food critic Anton Ego (a gloriously funereal Peter O’Toole). When the worst thing your heroes have to fear is a bad restaurant review, it’s hard to generate any real sympathy or emotion for them, no matter how many ratty hijinks you bring to the kitchen.


    This is my town baby! Newark?

    And finally, why, why, why does a film that oozes authenticity and detail in every French cooking creation and Paris city skyline boast so many characters that sound like they just flew in from Jersey? Linguini might just as well have been named Soprano.

    No one does computer animation like Pixar. They set the gold standard over 20 years ago and continually top themselves visually, but after Cars and Ratatouille, you’ve got to wonder what’s happening to their storytelling skills.

    John Lasseter once made me care about a Luxo lamp and a clearance unicycle. Why can’t today’s Pixar get to the heart of a rat and a race car?

    Wall-E, are you listening?

  2. #2

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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    Interesting review...

    I must say that I personally share none of the views expressed about the films Ratatouille and Cars. I feel that Brad Bird did an incredible job saving this film, which lost a bit of it's direction by the original creator Jan Pinkava, in its late stages of production.

    After being asked to co-direct Ratatouille during The Incredibles DVD promotional tour, he added many elements that helped make a film about a rat thoroughly enjoyable and took Ratatouille in an entirely new direction.

    What I gather from this film, in relation to Pixar, is maturity. I caught a glimpse of Pixar's mature side after seeing The Incredibles for the first time. I felt it was a new direction for the studio, a direction of appealing to the wider market. It was then that I understood Pixar's focus on the story first and foremost; the medium of which it's told comes later. What's most important is telling a truly captivating story.

    The story only got deeper with Cars which some say is it's biggest flaw. Cars drove with a lot of 'heart' and maybe not enough 'in your face' excitement. Heaven forbid Pixar try to invoke a heartwarming story that borders drama and romance...just wait until 1906.

    Then there is Ratatouille, a movie about a rat. I can't think of any other production studio that can take an unlikable creature and make that creature a highly lovable pet!

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20071028/film_nm/rats_dc

    Disney's "Ratatouille" boosts demand for pet rats
    Sun Oct 28, 10:42 AM ET


    LONDON (Reuters) - It has four legs and a tail like a dog or a cat, so why shouldn't man's best friend be a...rat?

    Demand for rats as pets has surged thanks to the latest Disney/Pixar animated film "Ratatouille" featuring the adventures of a gourmet rat Remy demonstrating his culinary prowess in the top kitchens of Paris.
    Britain's Pets at Home domestic pet chain says rat sales have surged 50 percent since the film opened in Britain on October 12.
    "It's early doors yet, but it seems 'Ratatouille' has done wonders for the image of rats," said company spokesman Steve Fairburn said on the www.ukpets.co.uk Web site.
    "Contrary to popular opinion, rats are actually one of the cleanest and least smelly pets you can own. They are incredibly responsive to learning and can be taught to do amazing tricks, much in the way that dogs and cats can," he added.
    Indeed, the British experience appears to have been echoed wherever the film has been screened.
    The United States reported a surge in demand for pet rats during the summer, and pet groups in Germany and Sweden have also said rat sales have surged thanks to the film.
    But they also warn that, as with demand for pet puppies and kittens that can fade once the cute factor diminishes with age, a rat is for life not just the holidays
    I find it hard to believe that this film lacks the least bit of Pixar's finest efforts of storytelling presented in an unparallel form of animation. This film is clear evidence that Pixar has mastered the Art of Storytelling through animation.

    Just as impossible as it is for a rat to become a chef; Pixar has made the impossible happen.

    They have made Remy an extremely lovable character for the entire world to enjoy and this film is growing to become one of Pixar's highest grossing since the studio's debut into the animation business.
    Last edited by ROBONICS95; 11-06-2007 at 10:47 PM.
    "If you build it right, they will come." - Bob Iger

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  3. #3

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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    I mostly disagree with this review as well. I think Cars and Ratatouille were wonderful storytelling (Ratatouille being my favorite Pixar movie behind The Incredibles and Toy Story 2). Considering Ratatouille has a 97% positive tomatometer rating (100% positive for major critics) I think Pixar is on the right track.

    Certainly, the movie isn't PERFECT, but it was a damn fun time at the movies that had me REALLY caring about the characters.

    Meet the Robinsons, however, that was a complete piece of dog crap.
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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    Cars has heart, i nearly cry EVERYTIME i watch the our town part.

    as for Ratatouille, i think it appelled more to european audiences. why? i have no clue. but it did.

    maybe if they had set the film in new york in one of those top kitchens with a sewer rat, it might have been more appeling to americans, just maybe.

    i enjoyed the film, but most people i talk to about it say it was boring or they fell asleep, blah blah blah.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chernabog View Post
    Meet the Robinsons, however, that was a complete piece of dog crap.
    i compleatly disagree with this. Chicken little was dog crap. Robinsons was step in a great direction. i cared about those people, esp. Goob. It wasn't the little mermaid or peter pan, but it was good, and i enjoyed it. it made my little brother cry, and thats saying something, lol.


  5. #5

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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    Not relying on gimmicks used in previously successful films and creating very unique movies altogether is what makes Pixar so successful, IMO.

    I compare it to other animation studios out there who have repeatedly used successful gimmicks until they are not appealing anymore. Making a unique appeal to a certain film unattractive.

    Ratatouille is also rumored for a nomination not just for Best Animated Picture but also Best Picture! If this is a result of Pixar's departure, then I think its safe to say they are headed in the right direction.
    "If you build it right, they will come." - Bob Iger

    "I'm not a literary person. As far as realism is concerned, you can find dirt anyplace you look for it. I'm one of those optimists. There's always a rainbow." - Walt Disney



    "I don't care about critics. Critics take themselves too seriously. They think the only way to be noticed and to be the smart guy is to pick and find fault with things. It's the public I'm making pictures for." - Walt Disney

  6. #6

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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    Quote Originally Posted by ROBONICS95 View Post
    Not relying on gimmicks used in previously successful films and creating very unique movies altogether is what makes Pixar so successful, IMO.
    Quote Originally Posted by ROBONICS95 View Post

    I compare it to other animation studios out there who have repeatedly used successful gimmicks until they are not appealing anymore. Making a unique appeal to a certain film unattractive.


    Certainly you can't be referring to Dreamworks!!!

    I personally loved Ratatouille and thought it was more heartwarming than most of Pixar's other films. Even though I loved Cars as well, I do think it was probably their weakest film with the most unoriginal story. I also disagree with the OP about Boundin, which I thought was a bit painful to watch.

  7. #7

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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    Quote Originally Posted by krystledm View Post
    as for Ratatouille, i think it appelled more to european audiences. why? i have no clue. but it did.

    maybe if they had set the film in new york in one of those top kitchens with a sewer rat, it might have been more appeling to americans, just maybe.

    i enjoyed the film, but most people i talk to about it say it was boring or they fell asleep, blah blah blah.
    Once upon a time I waited tables in a famous fancy restaurant in New Orleans (another city where food is integral to the culture), so that may have been why I personally enjoyed it so much. However, I don't know anyone that disliked the film, or fell asleep, and THEY didn't have that sort of connection. I don't think 100% of major film critics had that connection (or 97% of the web based critics.... I'm referring to the percentage of positive tomatometer reviews).

    i compleatly disagree with this. Chicken little was dog crap. Robinsons was step in a great direction. i cared about those people, esp. Goob. It wasn't the little mermaid or peter pan, but it was good, and i enjoyed it. it made my little brother cry, and thats saying something, lol.
    Chicken Little was also godawful. Robinsons, well, the last 20 minutes when John Lasseter kicked into high gear (the part that made your little brother cry?) was watchable, but I was so bored to tears by the ADD nature of the first hour and whatever... it was bad storytelling IMHO. I don't usually walk out on movies (Jurassic Park 3 I remember leaving, lol) and if I wasn't with a big group watching the film, I would have walked out of Meet the Robinsons.

    It is amazing how varied opinions are on all these, eh?
    Last edited by Chernabog; 11-07-2007 at 11:17 AM.
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  8. #8

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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    Quote Originally Posted by kirbilicious View Post

    Even though I loved Cars as well, I do think it was probably their weakest film with the most unoriginal story.
    Seriously? Unoriginal???

    I completely disagree with the OP. Cars and Ratatouille were great films. Cars wasn't one of my favorites but Ratatouille definetly now is. I now have a favorite Pixar movie with Ratatouille which I never had before. I'm not saying I never liked Toy Story, A Bug's Life, etc. but I never even considered them in my top 10 favorite films.

  9. #9

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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    Yeah, I must disagree, Cars was more eye candy (exceptionally nice on big screen) and yes, quite a simple story, (Doc Hollywood style story) Ratatouille on the other hand came across to me as a much more thoughtful story, I've not really been ablr to actually peg it, but truly like this movie. Toy Story blew me away, I remember so many of my peers jeering the all computer animation, but I though, hey, if it looks this goo, you gotta go with it! Nemo was, of course, the highest grossing Pixar film to date, again the rendering was fantastic. Pixar just keeps getting better and better in my opinion!


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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    On a related note, I was stunned by some of the reviews of Bee Movie fawning over the quality of the animation. Definitely not impressed particularly in light of the artistic quality of Ratatouille. At first I was going to give credit to the art direction of the movie but seeing a bit more I don't think that is the case. They just don't have the tools and skills that Pixar does!

    I had the opportunity to see all the shorts at Pixar. I love Lifted - absolutely engaging and smile enducing!
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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    Ratatouille is just as compelling and emotionally connecting as any other Pixar film. I actaully enjoyed Ratatouille more than Cars. It is my favorite yet. All of them are good so I can't say there is a best. Michael Giacchino's score makes me Ratatouille even more.

    I wish Pixar could take a break for a while because there is way too much comapring and analyzing going on. I wish people wouldn't take these films for granted.

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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    Quote Originally Posted by themur View Post
    On a related note, I was stunned by some of the reviews of Bee Movie fawning over the quality of the animation. Definitely not impressed particularly in light of the artistic quality of Ratatouille. At first I was going to give credit to the art direction of the movie but seeing a bit more I don't think that is the case. They just don't have the tools and skills that Pixar does!

    I had the opportunity to see all the shorts at Pixar. I love Lifted - absolutely engaging and smile enducing!
    Bee Movie is over-rated. Dreamworks films, in the words of Anton Ego are, "overheated puffery." Their films lack a certain charm and constantly try to disguise it with flashy celebrity voice-talent.

  13. #13

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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    Quote Originally Posted by Experiment626 View Post
    Seriously? Unoriginal???
    The storyline in Cars is nearly identical to the Michael J Fox vehicle Doc Hollywood.

    Although that's not the reason why, (it's not so much the story but how you tell it, IMO) I didn't get attached to Cars. Didn't really care much for it; somehow it felt uninteresting, overlong and obsessed with nostalgia. I loved the scenery, but that's about it.

    Ratatouille however is absolute genius and Pixar's best film to date. The themes about being an artist - and especially about being an art critic - are sophisticated and right on the money. It's also incredibly heartwarming and fun. I don't know anyone - aside from the sour-faced OP - who didn't enjoy it.

    Oh, and saying the Rotten Tomatoes score "only counts web-based critics" is incorrect. Most of the 'Cream of the Crop" reviews and many of the others are simply online versions of reviews printed in magazines and newspapers.

    Unless you want to suggest AO Scott, Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert are "web based critics".


  14. #14

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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    Quote Originally Posted by TheSwami View Post
    I didn't get attached to Cars. Didn't really care much for it; somehow it felt uninteresting, overlong and obsessed with nostalgia. I loved the scenery, but that's about it.
    I totally agree, and I made similar points in my DVD review from last year.

    Again, as far as Ratatouille is concerned, despite its critical and box office success, it's simply not a film that moves me. After repeated viewings in the theatre and on DVD, I just don't get wrapped up in the story like the rest of you. I didn't find the characters particularly compelling and I spent most of the film thinking "gee, they really put a lot of effort into the animation," something I wouldn't have done if I was really drawn into the story. In the best Pixar films (The Incredibles, Monsters Inc., Toy Story 1 & 2) my admiration of the animation was always secondary, and usually an afterthought once each movie was over.

    Regarding Disney's less well received entries, Chicken Little had a great War of the Worlds concept, but it was poorly executed with painfully dated music and pop culture references. It could've possibly been hip in 1995, not so much in 2005. Meet the Robinsons was a vast improvement, despite its predictability and some very jarring pacing issues. It has a liveliness and a joie de vivre that's infectious. The fun both the animators and voice talents obviously were having leapt off the screen at me. All I could get from Ratatouille was how obsessively authentic it was trying to be, an exercise that continually tripped up the story.

    An observation on Wall-E: Anyone concerned that the current trailer for the movie spends more time talking about the Pixar legacy than it does the upcoming release? At the very least, it suggests Wall-E is going to be a tough sell. At worst, there could be some serious quality concerns.

    One final point that might've gotten lost in the Ratatouille debate: The Pixar Short Film Collection--buy it . . . now!

  15. #15

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    Re: 'Pixar Shorts' and 'Ratatouille' on DVD: Where Pixar Went Right and is Going Wron

    Great review, Tim. I'm right there with you. Cars & Ratatouille were both visually stunning movies, but I just did not connect with the story nor the characters in either film. I enjoyed Meet the Robinsons much more than either of these two films.
    <o>

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