Peter Lawler’s disinclination to blog right now seems to be catching. It’s the height of summer, after all, and there are other--if not always better--things to do. One thing I’ve done that is both other and better is to see the new Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille with my kids and my young niece. I’m told that Ross Douthat gave it an unfavorable review in the print version of NR, but I haven’t been able to track down a copy in all my travels. If this is true, he couldn’t be more wrong. This is a wonderful movie and, I think there is a serious teaching to it below all the surface delight. It is, in short, a corrective to French egalitarianism and its flip side, French snobbery.
The premise for the plot is the re-discovery and restoration of the central teaching of a late, great French chef famous for his claim that "Anyone can cook." Upon his death, a low (very French) chef who was his underling takes over his restaurant and his brand--driving both into the ground by reaching always for the lowest common denominator (e.g., he puts the great Chef’s name on a line of frozen microwave food with egg rolls, corn dogs, etc.) The rat is disgusted by the garbage eating habits of his colony. He is inspired by Chef Gusteau and wants to introduce reason into the eating habits of his friends and relations. The traditionalists among them--most of all, his father--shoot him down. An accident leads him to take up life anew in--of all places--Chef Gusteau’s restaurant. He assists a young and hapless employee in such a way as to make him a celebrated chef. This witless (though very good) "chef" turns out to be (despite his cooking roots) pretty useless in the kitchen. But with guidance he develops other skills and manages to hold his own in the kitchen. There is also a great "restaurant critic" who is like the political philosopher apart from the political order, examining and pronouncing upon the order, but never fully taking it in. To reignite his passion the rat prepares him a fabulous ratatouille dish--that reminds him of his childhood, his humble origins, and his need for more than pure criticism (or philosophy). In the end, it is clear the central teaching of Chef Gusteau is more deeply understood by all--anyone can cook, they agree, and while not everyone can be a great cook, a great cook can come from anywhere.