Drat That Rat. It Scared My Kids
A Love Letter to Ratatouille and a spanking for Disney
by Sylvie Bigar
The old hag angrily picks up her rifle and fires it repeatedly at her young victim. Miraculously, he ducks and dodges, terrified, before scurrying away. A few seconds later, the entire ceiling crashes down with a thundering roar. "Mission Impossible?" The latest Bourne hiccup? No, this is the beginning of "Ratatouille."
Next to me, Sebastien, my three-year-old son is frozen with fear, his soft brown eyes opened wide. “I am scared Maman,” whispers my daughter Sophie, age six.
I try to reassure them. “It’s just the beginning, I’m sure it will get better, the little rat will be ok.” But it gets worse. After the ceiling collapses, the entire rodent colony evacuates in a panic. Our hero, Remy, is separated from his father and family, and swallowed in the whirling waters of the Parisian sewer. The dramatic music echoes the hurt of separation and underscores the pain of Remy’s grief.
By this time, I am cradling my son on my lap and squeezing my daughter’s hand. It feels oddly like a visit to the pediatrician, just before he grins gently, bringing the needle to my children’s velvety skin saying, “It will only hurt for a second.”
When the adorable rat finally makes it to the Parisian restaurant of his dreams, he almost gets cooked, then served, until a young garbage man named Linguini saves him from being thrown into the Seine. In the next scene, knives fly, pinning poor Linguini down through his sleeve. At this point, Sebastien decides to take matters into his own hands. He stands up and declares, “I want to leave.” Relieved, Sophie jumps down and both kids fly out of the theater, Maman in tow.
To ease our reentry into New York after a French holiday, my husband and I steal a few hours in the afternoon for a date and decide to go see a movie. Sheepishly (or should I say ratishly?) I ask if he wants to see "Ratatouille." It’s easy to pontificate, “I need to see the kitchen scenes,” I tell him. “I am, after all, a food writer.”
I had looked forward to experiencing the movie with my children for many reasons: We had just spent a few days in Paris, but more importantly, food, farm stands, kitchens and restaurants have progressively become a meaningful backdrop to our young family’s life.
On my father’s side, both grandparents were born in Lyon. My mother’s family hailed from Alsace, and one of my earlier memories of her father was the look of perfect contentment that settled on his blind blue eyes when a waiter laid in front of him a gargantuan choucroute he could not see, but inhaled deeply before devouring it.
Summers brought us South towards La Garoupe, near Antibes, the trip woven around the famed Nationale 7, with fine restaurants along the way -- all excuses for a three-hour lunch or even an overnight stay.
After making New York City my home, and after years spent in the rat race, I decided to slow down. And in caring for my own family, these childhood memories rushed in and with them the tastes and simple pleasures of my youth. I became obsessed with food, and let my taste buds take over. Soon, I started to put my thoughts on paper. A new chapter began.
On this lovely August afternoon, my husband is game for a "Ratatouille" matinee. The ticket-taker sneers at us but the cool theater is inviting. We cuddle in the soft seats and the lights dim.
Yes, it’s scary and loud, but the animation is magical. Remy is a well-developed and cuddly character, and the setting is as perfect as the Per Se kitchen that inspired it.
We laugh at the food critic episode, salivate at the simple yet-so-evocative ratatouille and leave, enchanted, hand in hand.
I cried when Bambi’s mom was shot. I trembled when Cruella de Vil attempted to transform the 101 Dalmatians into coats, and my disdain for cats can clearly be traced to Cinderella’s Lucifer. But the sound and image technology have made these alleged children’s movies louder, brighter, and scarier. Is it necessary? Are my children unusually sensitive? And if so, is that bad? "Ratatouille" is rated G and thus should be appropriate for all audiences.
The debate could go on endlessly but I’ve learned a good lesson in my parenting journey. As soon as the next kiddie movie comes out, I’ll take my husband on a date. And then, maybe, I’ll go back with the kids.
Based in New York, Sylvie Bigar describes her mission as “to intensify the joy of gourmet and travel adventures for like-minded readers.” When not in the kitchen tasting her cassoulet, she delights in sharing her discoveries in print.