Throughout this blogathon, I’ve hinted at how Pixar and Disney didn’t have that great of a relationship at some points. There’s no better time to talk about it in detail than now. In their early feature film days, Disney and Pixar had a 3 movie distribution deal. Growing out of the problems between Pixar and Disney during Toy Story 2’s troubled production, the two companies had a lot of disagreements. Pixar wanted Toy Story 2 to count towards their 3 movie deal, but Disney refused because it was originally planned as a straight to video sequel.
Though all three of their movies were profitable, Pixar didn’t like the current arrangement. Despite how they handled all of the production costs while Disney only paid for distribution and marketing, they split the profits 50/50. In addition, Disney owned all the story, character and sequel rights, and they collected a 10-15% distribution fee. Of course this set the stage for a contentious relationship.
Further disagreements between Pixar CEO Steve Jobs (yes that Steve Jobs) and then Disney chairman Michael Eisner made negotiations even more difficult. Negotiations completely broke down in mid-2004, with Disney forming a short-lived Circle 7 Animation studio designed to continue telling stories with Pixar’s creations. Jobs then announced his intention to enter negotiations with other distributers. Warner Brothers declared their interest with a spokesman saying “We would love to do business with Pixar. They are a great company.” After a lengthy discussions hiatus, negotiations continued after Eisner left Disney in September of 2005.
Note – after Eisner left, Disney Animation Studios started improving their movies after years of critical disasters and several commercial bombs.
We’ll get to Ratatouille’s production later, but these new negotiations were happening during Ratatouille’s early production stages. Disney and Pixar created a one-movie distribution deal for Ratatouille so that in the event that a bigger Disney/Pixar deal fell through, Pixar would at least have a guaranteed distributer for their next feature film. But in the end, Disney agreed to buy Pixar for around $7.4 billion in an all-stock deal. Following Pixar shareholder approval, they completed the deal in May of 2006. John Lasseter got promoted to head of Disney’s entire animation department, and he would assist Disney Animation Studios with a number of their upcoming movies, with Meet The Robinsons being the first movie he assisted with story work. They also closed down Circle 7 Animation, which never released a movie.
Steve Jobs also became the largest individual shareholder in the Disney Corporation, with 7% of the shares, and a seat on its board of directors. The next highest shareholder, Eisner, held 1.7% of shares. Other previous Pixar shareholders received 2.3% of shares of Disney’s common stock. A few months later, it was revealed that Disney’s new and current CEO, Robert Iger, realized they needed to buy Pixar after attending the Hong Kong Disneyland opening parade when not one Disney character created in the last 10 years showed up. Instead, the only new characters showing up were all Pixar creations.
Despite the merging, they insisted that Pixar would remain a separate entity. Pixar would still have their own HR policies, they’d keep their studio name, and even their merchandise would keep the name “Pixar”.
Anyway, the idea for Ratatouille came to co-director Jan Pinkava in 2000. Although they liked his idea, they lacked confidence in his directing and gave the project to Brad Bird (The Incredibles director) in 2005. Some of the crew spent weeks in Paris to familiarize themselves with the city and its culture. For one particular scene involving a character diving into water, they even had a crew member dive into a swimming pool with a chef’s outfit on to see which parts would stick to their body.
The biggest challenge from an animation standpoint was creating CGI food that looked delicious. Gourmet chefs from both the United States and France were consulted, and animators even took cooking classes in San Francisco to understand the workings of a commercial kitchen. They used the same subsurface light scattering techniques on food as they did on human skin in The Incredibles to add depth to the images. But apart from that and further advancements in how CGI water works, the animation in this movie went relatively smooth from what I could tell.
Ratatouille released in June of 2007 to massive critical praise, earning 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 8.5/10. The New York Times called it “a nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film.” The movie earned $620 million worldwide on a $150 million budget. Although it only won Best Animated Film, it earned 5 nominations at the Academy Awards, including Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Original Screenplay. It also won 8 Annie Awards out of its 12 nominations (earning three nominations in the Best Voice Acting category, of which it won for Ian Holm’s role for Skinner).
Ratatouille is a very interesting concept for a movie. It stars Patton Oswalt as Remy, a rat with a heightened sense of smell and a passion for cooking. As such, he’s a bit of an outcast in his family, who would rather just eat garbage and live as normal rats do. After he’s separated from his family and lands in Paris, he finds himself in the restaurant founded by famous chef Auguste Gusteau. Meanwhile, the clumsy and talentless son of Gusteau, Alfredo Linguini, earns himself a job as the garbage boy at the restaurant. There are politics involving the restaurant’s current owner, Skinner, trying to stop Alfredo from inheriting the restaurant as he’s supposed to according to Gusteau’s will, but the core of the story is Remy embracing his love of cooking in a world that despises rats. It’s about two outcasts growing as friends and partners and succeeding against all odds.
It’s hard not to enjoy this movie’s characters. Even Skinner is entertaining with his strict attitude, his determination to hold onto Gusteau’s restaurant and how he keeps making himself look crazy. Even though I’m not passionate about cooking, the movie portrays it as an art form so well that it’s easy to be captivated by the storytelling and the movie’s atmosphere. It’s not quite as dramatic as Toy Story, nor does it even try to be as amusing or entertaining as The Incredibles, but the tone is very well balanced. You feel Remy’s struggle to figure out where he belongs. You feel Alfredo’s struggle to find his confidence and whether he should admit where his sudden cooking talents are really coming from.
I wouldn’t call this movie amazing, nor would I call it Pixar’s most rewatchable movie, but it’s nice. It’s likely a fascinating movie for people who enjoy cooking more than I do, or food buffs in general. It feels like it’s geared more towards adults than it is for kids, and that’s not a bad thing. If you’ve missed this unique entry in Pixar’s catalogue, it’s definitely worth checking out.
Also I can’t help but mention Video Brinquedo’s ripoff of Ratatouille. For years they made a whole bunch of Pixar mockbusters, and as bad as Little Cars is, Ratatouille’s ripoff, Ratatoing, might be the worst one. They can’t even make the movie look good in this trailer. The entire movie can be found on YouTube. I dare you to sit through it.
Pixar considered a lawsuit over this movie, but ultimately decided not to.
Next up is WALL-E, followed by Up and Toy Story 3. We’re in the middle of Pixar’s golden age of sorts, where all of their movies did very well critically and commercially. It’s not too long after this when things start to flip around, where Pixar’s movies aren’t doing quite as well while Disney Animation Studios really started to improve their movie quality again. That’s not to say that Pixar movies aren’t still good. These days it seems to be more balanced, and it’s not very often when the best animated movie of the year isn’t either Disney Animation Studios or Pixar. Well, except for perhaps Cars 2, the only Pixar movie to have … let’s call it mixed critical reception. But we’ll get there soon enough.