Saturday, June 30, 2007

Steve Jobs' Other June 29 Product Launch: Ratatouille

If Steve Jobs had just brought us the iPhone on June 29, 2007, dayenu--it would have been enough. But that date also marks a simultaneous launch of a groundbreaking product from Steve's other company, Pixar (now in the corporate maw of Disney): Brad Bird's Ratatouille. (If you're lucky enough you can find out where it's playing on your iPhone.)

The review I'd write, had I time and talent is by A.O Scott in the New York Times. But don't read the review until you've seen the movie. Scott gives away too much that you should have directly from Bird.

Bird takes the standard formula for commercial success in animation (write for the kiddies and throw in some sophisticated jokes and cultural references to keep the parents from squirming) and turns it on it's head. Ratatouille is a film for adults about the essence of excellence and the soul of creativity with enough madcap mayhem, chases, fireworks, spills and gags to keep the kiddies from squirming. (It's been known since the dawn of movies: falling into water is funny. Remember that if you ever want to make a comedy.)

As in The Incredibles (2004) Bird finds a way to translate the look of drawn caricature into the language of 3-D models. The character design is hilarious, and the character development is rich and distinct—even for the supporting cast. As in every Pixar feature, the look of every frame is meticulous, thoughtful, and invested with love and delight of craft. The best Pixar features are love songs to the worlds that inspire them. Just as Cars bursts with deep knowledge and joy of car culture, Ratatouille takes food, kitchens, and restaurants seriously. The filmmakers tackle the challenge of depicting the senses of smell and taste without resorting to the cartoon cliche of wavery, wafting, smoky aroma lines. This film is so delicious, you can almost taste it.

Moore's law and an army of clever coders will guarantee that each year's crop of big budget animated movies will have richer palettes of texture, lighting, fire, fur, and liquids to throw up on the screen, But what catches our breath and holds our attention in a Pixar film is not the atmospherics, but the story. No one works harder or better at building animation stories than Pixar, and Ratatouille has, perhaps, their best, most satisfying story ever. Director Bird also has screenplay credit on Ratatouille and shares story credits with Jim Capobianco and Jan Pinkava.

Mickeleh's Take: As a meditation on excellence and creativity, Ratatouille can be taken as a commentary on iPhone. Great movies and great products (like great kitchens) are the product of teamwork, top ingredients, dedication, risk, and love. They also are expressions of a singular, driven, creative vision. Chuck Jones said that it's combination of a lot of work and a lot of love, but when it's done right, all you notice is the love. Thank you, John Lasseter. Thank you, Steve Jobs. Thank you, Brad Bird.

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