Remy (voice of Patton Oswalt), the aspiring chef in writer-director Brad Bird's Ratatouille.
Pixar isn’t the only brand-name associated with Disney’s latest animated wonder
Ratatouille. Writer-director Brad Bird is also a hot commodity, after helming Pixar’s
Academy Award-winning hit The Incredibles. Previously, Bird had made his mark in the
animation world with his now-classic 1999 feature, The Iron Giant, an action-packed tale
about a boy and the towering robot he befriends.
Now, he’s set to wow movie fans again with an original, spirited and heartfelt tale of a rat who dreams of becoming a first-rate Parisian chef. In an exclusive Fandango interview, we managed to catch up with the busy filmmaker at the Pixar compound in the San Francisco Bay Area, and found out his thoughts on the new movie, his creative processes, and what’s in that Pixar water that turns all their work into gold.
[Also, check out our interview with Ratatouille star Janeane Garofalo!]
Fandango: What was the hook that drew you into the production?
BB: I think it was the impossibility of the obstacles that [the rat] had to overcome. The absurd size of the obstacles immediately created these kinds of amazing situations for animation. I also liked the sort of Cyrano de Bergerac aspect of the story, with one character [acting as a front] for the real genius. All of these were ideas lent themselves to great character animation.
Fandango: For Ratatouille’s voice-overs, you chose well-known actors like Peter O’Toole, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, as well as behind-the-scenes insiders who work at Pixar. Was that a conscious decision?
BB: I cast whoever is most appropriate for the role, and that could be a famous person, a semi-famous person, or somebody you’ve never heard of. That’s one of the things I love about Pixar. The casting is never based on “Celebrity Q” or fame quotient or anything like that. It’s all about what’s right for the film.
I think that O’Toole is perfect in the role of the restaurant critic, Anton Ego [aka “The Grim Eater”]. But Lou Romano is also perfect for the role of the garbage-boy, Linguini. Now Lou Romano is not well-known in terms of being an actor. In fact, he’s best-known as the production designer for The Incredibles.
But Lou did Linguini’s voice for Ratatouille’s temporary sound track, and everybody liked it so much that we retained his voice for the final film. That’s sort of what happened with my own voice in The Incredibles. [In addition to writing and directing the project, Bird supplied the inimitably raspy voice of The Incredibles’ flamboyant fashion guru Edna Mode on the “temp track” and it stuck.]
Fandango: How did you first get involved with Pixar?
BB: Well, I knew [Pixar co-founder] John Lasseter from school. He was a classmate of mine at Cal Arts. And it’s just very easy working with these guys because their focus is all about the work. It’s not about following Hollywood trends or copying anyone else.
Everybody here loves film, and everybody operates from the very intuitive sense of what excites them. They don’t focus-group any ideas. They just base their decisions on one simple question, “Do I want to see that movie?”
Pixar won an Oscar for a short subject called Geri’s Game several years ago, and that film’s creator Jan Pinkava [originated and] developed the idea for Ratatouille. He was working on it when I came up to Pixar to do The Incredibles in 2000.
Fandango: So when did they bring you back to work on Ratatouille?
BB: A little over a year and a half ago, I was asked by Lasseter, Steve Jobs [and others] to take over the project because they were having trouble getting the story all together. So I wrote a brand new script for Ratatouille and then did new story reels and then took it into animation.
Fandango: Did you know anything about cooking or had you ever been to Paris?
BB: I had only been to Paris once! (laughs) But for our [cooking] consultant, we had Thomas Keller, head chef at the French Laundry in Napa [who provided many of the film’s recipes]. And there are several people within Pixar who studied good cooking and went to cooking school. So, there was a lot of accumulated knowledge about good food, and we certainly tried very hard to make the kitchen feel like a real kitchen.
And we did go to several gourmet restaurants in Paris, which was a pretty good gig. But I was very taken by how beautiful the city was. And so in Ratatouille, we tried to capture [some of] the beauty of Paris and I hope we succeeded.
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