Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God,
serve one another with whatever gift each of you has
received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking
the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with
the strength that God supplies, so that God may be
glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong
the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:10-11
The author of 1 Peter, of course, was not thinking of such physical gifts as taste and smell when he urged his readers to use their gifts in the service of each other—and the idea of a gifted rat would have been far beyond his imagination. Nor is film director Brad Bird’s purpose to bring glory to God or Christ, at least not in this, his most ambitious of all his entertaining films. Still, when a young rat named Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) discovers he is gifted in distinguishing a myriad of smells and tastes from each other, his parents do find that the gifts can be of service to his fellow rats: they put him to work sniffing every morsel of food that the rats gather so that he can detect any that has been implanted with rat poison.
One night the violent downpour from a sudden storm sweeps Remy into the sewer, and then into a river, and eventually carries him to Paris, where a restaurant draws his attention. It was founded by the famous chef Auguste Gusteau, a hero of the gourmet-loving rat—Remy has read a copy of his book. Chef Gusteau has since died, the place having lost its luster when a respected food critic had given it a bad review. However, the spirit of the chef speaks to Remy, urging him to try out his own culinary skills. Naturally, the staff is not pleased to see a rat in their kitchen, so for a while Remy is in danger of being diced himself by the culinary knives aimed in his direction. Finally, he is able to speak to the bus boy at the bottom of the kitchen’s pecking order, Linguini (Lou Romano), and convince him that together they can create great dishes that will restore the lost reputation of the restaurant.
Remy crawls onto the top of Linguini’s head where he pulls on a tuft of hair, either the left or the right side, to tell the clueless boy whether the ingredient and technique are appropriate or not. Linguini’s toque conceals the rat from the gaze of the other staff members, who are thunderstruck when a customer sends back his approval of a dish. (See any resemblance between Linguini’s story and that of the Ugly Duckling?)
There are plenty of complications, of course. Linguini is attracted to the lovely assistant chef Colette (Janeane Garofalo), who hitherto has regarded him as a hopeless drudge—and who is very puzzled over his sudden ability to create sumptuous, customer-pleasing dishes. And there is Anton Ego, the almost sadistic Food Critic, delightfully voiced by Peter O’Toole, who comes to check out the restaurant he had once attacked in his food column. Anton’s past displeasure with the founding chef causes everyone to tremble at his presence. Thus when Remy decides to cook up a serving of Ratatouille, everyone in the kitchen is taken aback because this is a rural peasant stew, not something fit to be offered to a food critic in a Parisian restaurant aspiring to earn five stars.
Ratatouille represents director/writer Brad Bird at his best, his latest film as good as his two previous animated hits, The Incredibles and The Iron Giant. Young and old can enjoy this, especially devotees of the Food Channel, and even those whose idea of gourmet food is a Burger King Whopper.
1) The film can launch a discussion of gifts or talents: what does the passage from 1 Peter say about them—are they for ourselves or the community? How is Remy’s gift of taste and cooking a communal one? What are your gifts? It might be interesting to make a list of the church members whom you know and list beside them their gifts/talents. What kind of a picture does this give you of your church? How is food an important part of faith and church?
2) Early in the film Remy’s father is telling him that the world, dominated by “the enemy,” and that it is one that they cannot change, that they must look after their “own kind.” “This is the way things are; you can’t change nature.” What do you think of Remy’s response, “Change is nature, Dad. The part that we can influence. And it starts when we decide.” Remy decides that he is going to strike out on his own to create a different future. Compare his and his father’s view of change. What examples of each view do you find in your church and community?
3) The film even has an underlying feminist theme, which we see in the exchange between Collette and Liguini. She asks him, “How many women do you see in this kitchen?” When he hesitates to answer, she replies while pinning his sleeve to the table with her knife, “Only me..” She declares that fine cooking has been ruled by “an antiquated hierarchy built upon rules by stupid, old men” that make it impossible for women to participate. Yet she is here because of her toughness, and she is not about to let him spoil things for her. How are women still held back in the various professions?
4) Food critic Anton Ego writes, “…In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.” How is this story’s theme similar to the Biblical theme of God lifting up the lowly? See 1 Samuel 2:8; Job 22:29; Luke 1:46-55; 1 Peter 5:5.