Ratatouille is one of the freshest wide releases of the year. Critics love it, audiences love it, everyone in the RT office loves it too. This is a familiar feeling for Brad Bird, whose previous success, The Incredibles wowed audiences worldwide, and for Pixar who’ve been Certified Fresh on every film since their feature film debut with Toy Story in 1995. With the recent UK cinema release and the upcoming US DVD release of Ratatouille, we caught up with Bird to find out where the story began for him.
Take us back to the beginning, how did you come on board Ratatouille? It wasn’t your project initially, was it?
Brad Bird: No it was an idea that was conceived by Jan Pinkava and he was working on it when I first came up to Pixar in 2000 to do The Incredibles. So I was aware of the film and always loved the idea but it was a very difficult story to kind-of describe in a sentence or two. It’s not like “Pixar Goes Underwater” or “Pixar Does Superheroes,” it’s a much weirder idea.
So it was challenging to pull it together and a little over a year and a half ago the founders of Pixar, John Lasseter, Steve Jobs and Ed Catmull, asked me to come onboard and help solidify the story because the story was elusive. I wrote a new script and took it through production. So my time on the film was relatively short and, in animation terms, quick.
What was there initially that you wanted to keep and what did you feel needed to change?
BB: I thought the initial concept of a rat who wants to cook was always an idea that was full of possibilities. I think the Cyrano de Bergerac relationship between Remy and Linguini was always appealing to me; it was funny and the possibility for physical comedy was great. I think that the challenge was to get all the storylines supporting the key relationship in the film which was between the rat and the garbage boy. So I had to lose some of the other characters – I killed Gusteau off and made him part of Remy’s imagination. Colette was a minor character; I made her a major character. I made the rats rattier, I minimised the family storyline, separated Remy from the family for a chunk of the film which made the relationship with Linguini able to grow. I had Remy actually join Linguini and have him share the apartment with him, almost like The Odd Couple. The legal relationship between Linguini and Gusteau wasn’t in there.
So it was a lot of things and I just had to find the right mix.
If you’re going to come onboard a project late, is Pixar the place to do it?
BB: It’s a great team and if you’re clear about what you want they can get it for you just like that. But you have to be very clear, and very specific. I had to make a lot of decisions very quickly and then stick with them because the time for going “maybe this, maybe that” had all been used up by the time I got involved.
It’s known as being a very high-tech company but I think that in many respects it’s Pixar’s embrace of old-fashioned notions of not focus-grouping ideas but just going with your gut, people following their instincts, simply saying, What kind of movie would we like to see, and making that, which make it such a great place to work. Also their message that it’s not about the technology, those kinds of ideas and the focus on characters, is what makes the place so special. And the fact that filmmakers are in charge of the projects.
What’s next for you?
BB: I was starting to work on a live action film a couple of years before I came on board Ratatouille so I’m going to return to that and I’m quite excited by that idea. I don’t want to tell you too much about just yet, I’m not really ready for that, but it’s a historical-based thing and I think it’s going to be pretty wild.