Pixar was present at WonderCon over the weekend, with panel hosts Brad Bird and Patton Oswalt showing off a few "Ratatouille" clips. Bird also fielded some questions from the audience, and personally addressed the speculation surrounding his next project.
First, the big news. Bird, after being asked about his post-"Rat" movies: "My next project will probably be live action. That said there is a tendency for people who succeed in animation to leave. I’m not that type of guy, I love animation."
It is heavily speculated that this live action project is an adaptation of James Dalessandro’s "1906", a fictionalized account of the earthquake that devastated San Francisco. (Trivia for movie buffs: some historians believe that if it weren’t for that earthquake, America’s movie biz would’ve started in SF as opposed to going down south.)
Bird joined the project after most of the sets had already been built, and wrote a whole new script from the basic story. Jan Pinkava, who won an Oscar for the Pixar short, "Geri’s Game", was the original director.
"It’s a spontaneous movie," Bird said, "And if I had more time, maybe it wouldn’t have felt like that."
The spontaneity of the movie could be felt in the first clip Bird showed. Main rat Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) is in a restaurant kitchen, shocked to see that Linguini, a garbage boy, has knocked over a vat of soup and is dumping in random foodstuff to cover his tracks. What first starts as comedic observations suddenly lurches into an action sequence: Remy falls from his window perch and is trapped in the kitchen. Remy hops from food cart to food cart trying to avoid detection, scurries underneath tables and ovens, and at one point even ends up inside an oven and must hop out before he’s baked to a fine crisp.
Eventually, Remy makes it to an open window but after taking a whiff of the odiferous soup, the chef inside prevents him from leaving. Every time Remy makes for the window, he goes back again and again to add just one more ingredient. Soon, he’s entirely absorbed in cooking, and it’s a dazzlingly funny scene as he hops and dances around the broth, turning it into culinary perfection. The constant maneuvering and rat’s eye perspective could’ve been disorientating, but the camera work in "Ratatouille" is extraordinary. It’s fluid and never loses the concentration of the viewer.
The second clip is a scene between Linguini and Remy, establishing the central relationship of the film. Remy is discovered in the kitchen and Linguini is ordered to drown it in the river. But here arises the conundrum: everyone thinks Linguini can cook, though in reality it was Remy’s soup that everybody’s raving over. Drown the rat, and his job similarly goes down the drain.
Because humans can’t hear Remy talk, this scene highlights Pixar’s expertise in animating body language and physical communication; even a rat’s nodding got the huge crowd to burst out laughing. And the final scene of the clip features Remy running down the cobblestones away from Linguini. Remy turns back and one can just see the palpitations of Remy’s chest that’s characteristic of rats, a fantastic little detail.
Bird and Oswalt concluded the panel with the unveiling of the "Ratatouille" trailer, which introduces more characters: Colette, tough cookie chef and love interest; Gusteau, the chef much-revered by Remy; and Skinner, the diminutive head chef that’s out to prove Linguini is a fake. Bird likens Skinner to Dreyfus from the "Pink Panther" series, who underwent physical and mental torment trying to prove Inspector Clouseau was an idiot. In the trailer, Remy also discovers he can control Linguini by tugging on certain tufts of hair on Linguini’s head while hiding under his chef’s hat, an interesting quirk to get around the fact that rats can never be seen in kitchens. It also leads to a lot of physical comedy as Remy maneuvers Linguini around like a marionette, or, if you will, a Parisian mecha robot.
Other notes on a panel: a fan asked if John Ratzenberger will have a speaking role in "Ratatouille." Well, you already know that answer.