Why Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly) Got ‘Ratatouille’ Wrong

Central to Ratatouille’s plot, especially its final act, is a question about criticism. I won’t reveal the moral that this particular story resolves itself with, but I will state that it isn’t exactly kind to the modern critic. The story paints Anton Ego, voiced by Peter O’Toole, as a vicious man who revels in destroying reputations and believes that his word is the final word.

That image of the critic, then, is hard to keep out of your mind when reading reviews of the film that are flowing in.

RottenTomatoes – Ratatouille

Now, all of these reviews have been designated as “fresh” according to the site’s distinctions. However, one of these reviews needs to be considered more carefully, but I get a distinct rotten smell from it. Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman has written a review (His grade is a B) where I believe that he raises some good points: Linguini does kind of get dropped from the plot, and the romance is by far the film’s weakest development. But then he goes and spoils it all by saying something so downright offensive I don’t even know where to begin:

As a story, however, Ratatouille is fun without very much surprise. It’s like a fusty old Disney cartoon retrofitted with the Pixar sheen. The lack of celebrity voices is a major drawback, since Remy ends up with very little personality. Contrast him with, say, the bad-boy Owen Wilson speedster in Cars, and you’re seeing the difference between a hero with spice and a bland one who happens to know where the spice rack is.

I don’t even know where to begin with this. While Owen’s rating and his comments otherwise fall into the realm of your regular “good, but not great” review, I cannot let this statement go undiscussed. What Gleiberman is suggesting here, against all expectation, is a causal relationship between celebrity voice casts and quality animated films. And that is perhaps the most ludicrous thing I’ve read in a review in a very long time.

Discussing Ratatouille itself, I believe that the film’s voice cast (especially Patton Oswalt as Remy) are perfect for their roles. While Cars was about a jerk of a race car who was extremely cocky, this is a story about a rat who is passionate about food and who does so in a laid back fashion. Owen Wilson was a non-entity in Cars, and his voice performance barely fit the character he was portraying. Here, Remy is a character who would never work with a performance like Wilson’s.

And the entire celebrity voice actor thing is actually far worse: I’ll let SoulDriver from NeoGAF make this case.

Uh, celebrity voices can be nice sometimes, Like Rowan Atkinson and James Earl Jones in the Lion King for example, but that without the celebrity voices the characters would lack personality is beyond my reasoning. If anything, it gives them more character, since you actually make the connection character-voice, not character-voice-celebrity. When I hear Princess Fiona, I hear Cameron Diaz.

And that’s the problem: the bigger the celebrity, the more that character basically loses any individuality they had. They become an extension of their celebrity self, and any chance of them developing separate from that is removed entirely.

What Gleiberman is really saying here is that he didn’t like that Remy wasn’t hip and edgy enough, and that all he did was want to cook. And yet his solution to this problem, apparently, was to give him a celebrity voice that would be more relatable and fun. This is exactly what shouldn’t be done, because it gives people the idea that celebrities fix problems in animated films. I don’t think that Ratatouille has a problem in need of fixing, but if it does celebrities would not fix it.

Gleiberman is entitled to his opinion, and while I would grade the film higher I don’t believe he is being ludicrously unfair to the picture as a whole. However, what frustrates me is that his vision of what it should have been is so damn offensive to everything that the film actually stands for. This is an animated film where the voice cast was selected because they suited the vision that Bird put forward. He picked Patton Oswalt because he felt his passion for food; he picked Janeane Garofalo because apparently he knew she could do a flawless french accent. He picked gifted voice actors capable of giving strong character-driven performance…but what Gleiberman wants is a hip, edgy movie star who can bring spice to the role. In other words, he wanted to see a complete different film.

So just say that, Gleiberman. Come out and say “I believe this film is conceptually poor, and that its characters are not properly realized.” Because I wouldn’t be writing this if you had said this, because then we just disagree on the film itself. Instead, what you’re suggesting is that what the film really needed was to throw in a celebrity.

And that is a precedent that Ratatouille tries to fight, and one that I believe should be thrown out the window anytime now. You can dislike the film all you want, but suggesting that what it needed was mass-commercial appeal ignores everything it stands for. This asinine criticism only confirms the film’s message about criticism. I hope Mr. Gleiberman rewatches the film soon and takes that particular message to heart.

6 Comments

Filed under Cinema, Pixar, Ratatouille

6 responses to “Why Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly) Got ‘Ratatouille’ Wrong

  1. Media Maven

    Hey Myles, love the site. Seems you and I are cut of the same cloth. As for why the critics at EW don’t like Ratatouille, maybe its because they are the two worst movie critics in the history of film criticism. I don’t think I’ve agreed with Schwartzbaum or Gleiberman a single time in the 5 years I’ve subscribed to the magazine. They have the film appreciation level of a 15 year old hipster. They think all indie/foreign movies are God’s gift to film, and yet they still love crap films like Ocean’s 13 (I believe they gave it an A-. An A-!)

    Don’t let those imbeciles ever get you down!

  2. I’ve long become a cynical bastard when it comes to critics, so I think they and I are in a perpetually down state.

    Perhaps this is why I have instead turned to criticizing things myself. This sounds like a psychological problem when I type it out.

  3. ManaByte

    I kind of want to buy the new EW…just to burn it.

  4. Pingback: The Ten Reasons You Should See Pixar’s ‘Ratatouille’: #5 - The Food « Cultural Learnings

  5. Pingback: The Ten Reasons You Should See Pixar’s ‘Ratatouille’: #2 - Patton Oswalt/’Remy’ « Cultural Learnings

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