Ratatouille Story Analysis Revisited
Sep 30th, 2016
Going through and cleaning up many of the broken links throughout the site, I ran across this oldy, but goody from 2007: Ratatouille: Why The Film Seems Too Long. I cleaned it up and placed it in the Vault along with some of the other articles I wrote when I first started out.
Please forgive some of the grammar. I would love to go through and rewrite them, but the history of it all is keeping me from following through.
In addition, I found some comments (when this site used to have comments) that I thought would be interesting to share:
On July 10, 2007 at 9:57am Graham asked:
Could you consider the 2 year Timelock regarding ownership of the restaurant to be part of a sub-plot, and not the limit of the main story? I didn’t feel any lull or sense of completion before the end of the film. Also, the opening scenes feel like they are more about limited options than limited time (there are only so many ways a rat can try to get food). I don’t remember how early in the film Skinner reveals the will’s 2 year requirement, so maybe it’s sooner than I think. But I think the main story is Remy becoming a chef (or being generally accepted as one), and that story does culminate with the critic’s review. I’d love to hear what you think, and thanks for a great site.
To which I replied (at 10:12am):
Remy’s wanting to become a chef is more of what Dramatica refers to as the Main Character Throughline. Remy’s longing to become something the world will not let him is felt most personally by us, the audience. It’s the “I” perspective on a story’s problems that Dramatica calls the Main Character Throughline.
The Objective Story (Dramatica’s fancy yet more accurate name for main story) is the one that all the Objective Characters are concerned with - the “They” perspective. From this vantage points the Objective Characters can be seen as chess pieces working together and against each other in concert with a common goal. Here it is best to think of characters in terms of their role: the rat, the garbage boy, the head chef, the assistant chefs, the food critic, the patrons, the waiters, etc. The reason being that now you are looking at the characters instead of from within them - an objective view.
From this perspective, the first storyline presented to us is that of the transfer of ownership of the restaurant. The problems in this Objective Story are resolved once Linguini is revealed as the heir to the restaurant. The second storyline begins and this one is resolved once the food critic gives the meal his seal of approval.
Again, the lull that I referred to was short lived, but I felt it was enough that it took me out of the picture and made me question where the film was headed.
Andrew Dickson then asked on Jul 11 at 11:22am:
This is an excellent analysis of a movie I really enjoyed. I saw it over the weekend and thought it was easily on par with the Invincibles[sic] and in many ways emotionally richer.
I do however agree with Graham that the two-year Timelock is not actually essential to the Objective Story. For me the Story Goal was to restore the reputation of the restaurant and return it to its five star glory. This was damaged first by Ego who Manipulates public opinion in his review and later by Skinner in his mismanagement of the Gasteau legacy (including frozen foods). The fact that Linguini is Gasteau’s son plays into the Manipulations but is really a complication along the road.
The MC story was about Remy and his gift (Situation), and the pressures to choose between the human world (of cooking) and the rat world (of his father and brother).
The IC character is Linguini, because he’s the person through whom the human world expresses its Fixed Attitudes about cooking and rats. And he’s the one who most worried about what others think about him. But the more he tries to reinforce those attitudes through the manipulations in the OS, the worse things get until the whole edifice comes crumbling down. His confession, and the departure of the cooking staff is the key moment. The dynamic of fixed attitudes is reinforced by the character of Linguini’s girlfriend who struggles to overcome fixed attitudes as the only woman in the kitchen.
The MC/IC relationship is all about Activities in the kitchen. Remy is able to cook by physically manipulating Linguini. Up until then the relationship between rats and humans is defined by chases and violence. The uniqueness of their relationship bonds them together for most of the movie, but when Remy helps Linguini with a kiss, it’s clear that they can’t go on like that forever.
So, for me its a failure/good story. They don’t save Gusteau’s restaurant, but Remy in his own way brings harmony to the world of rats and humans, and fulfills Gusteau’s philosophy that anyone can cook. The ending is set-up by that astonishing scene where Ego bites into the “peasant dish” and his transported. After that, the world never looks the same again.
To which I responded (at 12:28pm):
Interesting. I didn’t see it that way. I do like the OS Goal of “Restoring the Reputation of Gusteau’s” though and the notion of Failure/Good. But was Gusteau’s reputation in the tank from the beginning?
Ahh, yes, it was. Ego wrote the review it dropped to 4 stars, Gusteau fell into depression and died; it dropped to three. I don’t know how I forgot about that.
Something about that moment where Linguini takes over though still doesn’t sit right with me. Now I’m not so sure why. Where do you see the Limit then?
And then after awhile I decided (at 7:12am the next day):
I’ve had some more time to think about this.
I still think there are two separate stories at work here. The first is as Andrew described above: Remy as the Main Character, Linguini as the Influence Character, and their Relationship (or Subjective Story) revolving around their problematic Activities in the kitchen.
The second, and the first one we are introduced to, has Remy as the Main Character and his father Django as the Influence Character. Their Relationship is of the classic father/son type where father knows best, yet the son yearns for more. Whether or not their relationship is a conflict of Fixed Attitudes or one of mutual Manipulation would require further investigation. The important point is that their relationship is definitely not one of conflicting Activities; this relationship and the one with Linguini are significantly different.
Therefore, because the two Subjective Stories reside in different Domains their opposing Objective Stories must also reside in separate domains. In other words - two different stories. While I think the “Restoring the Reputation of Gusteau’s” works nicely with the second story, I’m not really quite sure what the first one would be. It still feels to me like it ends when Linguini acquires the restaurant.
Another interesting observation I had, and perhaps another reason why I felt dramatica tension was resolved at that point: If Remy and Linguini’s relationship is one of Activities, their Plot Progression would consist of Understanding, Doing, Learning and Obtaining. It seems to me that these are all covered by the time Linguini is revealed as the natural heir:
Understanding - Linguini discovers Remy getting “fancy with the spices.” They come to a mutual understanding by the side of the river.
Learning - All the wonderfully entertaining moments as they try to coordinate their cooking skills.
Doing - “Let’s do this thing!” Working their magic in the kitchen.
Obtaining - They acheive success - everyone wants their soup. Remy helps Linguini keep his job and then some, when he steals the will.
A full dramatic loop has been progressed through and their relationship really has nowhere else to go - under this context. This could also contribute to my feeling that something “ended” at or around that moment that the will was made public.
Andrew replied (at 12:24pm that day):
Those are good points and now you’ve got me thinking. I also appreciate the way you fleshed out my version of the relationship storyline with some details I’d forgotten. From that perspective the entire MC/IC throughline seems to be nested in the middle of story - basically the second act (in the old three-act structure) which seems weird. It’s also interesting, because once they achieve that success, the whole thing unravels: they stop doing, they stop learning, and eventually they lose their initial understanding.
On the other hand, since the consequence of failing to meet a goal is always associated with the MC/IC throughline, perhaps having the throughline resolve itself early really just hastens us on to the third act.
I also agree with you that there is still room for a second story. And I’m still not convinced that I’m understanding the Linguini storyline correctly, so maybe there’s three storis? I previously thought of the father/son relationship as part of the MC throughline, but you may be on to something.
One of the things I struggle with in my own stories is understanding how to use secondary characters in the MC, IC, and MC/IC throughlines. I understand how the perspectives work, but how much story can you have in a throughline before it becomes a sub-plot? And what are the limits placed on the MC perspective before you’re really shifted the focus up to the Objective Story?
One other thought. I wonder if a completed storyform would reveal that one of the throughlines has an episodic structure (rather than Z or hairpin) which would explain the sense of things stopping and then starting again? (The MC/IC throughline already has a natural break in the middle because it’s a hairpin, I think).
What I’m really getting from this movie is that each of the Dramatica throughlines is so crammed full of character and detail that the throughlines themselves feel like individual stories; storyforms within storyforms.
To answer the question in you’re previous post, I think the story has an option lock related to winning the approval of all the characters in the OS: the restaurant patrons, the critics, the kitchen staff, the rats, and most importantly, the health inspector. Eventually, they run out of options and the restaurant is closed.
And then on Jul 15, 2007 at 8:55pm Dramatica co-creator Chris Huntley added:
I saw the movie late last night and really loved it. Here are a couple things that popped out at me.
The story goal seemed to be restoring Gusteau’s reputation with the rat (Remie) acting as complex protagonist. Gusteau’s mantra, “Anyone can cook,” is proven true as illustrated by new restaurant “Le Ratatouille.”
It seemed to me that Remy’s MC throughline was in the Psychology (Manipulation) domain. His main concern is “Being:” is he a rat or a cook? Should he walk on all fours or upright? Should he play puppeteer or chef?
Conflict in the OS seems to come from Fixed Attitudes — low brow and high brow. The number of stars is connected to expectations not performance. Ego is biased against the idea of Gusteau. Skinner exploits Gusteau’s image by using it to sell fast food and therefore degrade Gusteau’s image/reputation. The restaurant crowd is snobby contrasted by the super lowbrow attitudes of the rats.
I think there is a “false” limit introduced with the two year anniversary Timelock. I say false because the story doesn’t conform to the feel and structure of a Timelock. But it is definitely there and chops up the story unnecessarily.
It’s also unfortunate that Skinner is so tightly tied to the Timelock. Once it’s up, Skinner is demoted from antagonist to contagonist.
Ego seems to have a substory of his own. We see very little of it except his transformation. It gives a strong emotional moment for the audience but is not intimately connected to the rest of the story.
Those are just a few of my initial thoughts. All said, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. And IT IS BEAUTIFUL.
Please note that since this article we performed an official Dramatica analysis of Ratatouille that contradicts Chris's original assessment. The Main Character Throughline is in Universe (a Rat who wants to be a chef) and the Objective Story Throughline is in Psychology/Manner of Thinking (Convincing Others that Anyone Can Cook).
Also note too the constant reference to Timelock. Optionlock and Timelock are affectations of the original Dramatica theory story concept of a Story Limit. With Narrative First and Subtext, we prefer to look at this dynamic as an actual Dynamic, by looking to the relationship between time and space. We call this the Story Continuum of a narrative--either Timespace (Timelock) or Spacetime (Optionlock). It's highly likely that a better understanding of how this Dramatica works would have saved a lot of time in errant analysis (what Chris refers to about the "feel and structure" of a Timelock).
On Nov. 8, 2007 at 5:28pm John Ludwick commented:
Hello, Mr. Hull. You have a remarkable way of disseminating story.
I’m considering Ratatouille as a top 5 of all time - it has simmered on its little stovetop and served up on DVD, and I still relish its scenes in the same way Anton Ego relishes the ratatouille dish.
I looked at the entire piece as an Optionlock depicting the journey of an artist. Remy is a rat - the antithesis of the kitchen standard. How will he even be able to get in a kitchen to practice his craft? When he does, he can’t do it in the open - enter Luigi. Luigi doesn’t have control, how will they continue? Briefly exit Skinner. Luigi falls for Collette - how can Remy keep Luigi focused for his own dream? I see Ego not as a different story, but as the last in a series of hurdles to Remy’s dream - the man who brought his mentor down.
That’s my take; thank you for your excellent article. I’ll definitely return to this site!