Thursday, July 19, 2007

Incredible Rats

What can I say? After a month or more of not writing, Duvall's inspired me to pick up the electronic pen again. That, and I'm a bit tipsy.

Anyway, I've been meaning to write this post for some time, but my thoughts don't seem to coalesce meaningfully. GF and I saw "Ratatouille," which was absolutely great. Excellent animation, which then recedes as you get absorbed by the plot. As a sign of all this, I actually felt hungry after seeing a movie about rats in the kitchen.

But, I was wondering if the director, Brad Bird, was softening on his somewhat Objectivist tone laid out in "The Incredibles." There, the catch phrase was "when everyone is special, nobody is", which is oddly depressing for a Disney venture (except for the fake ending at the end of Pirates 3 - which, by the way, don't see). In Ratatouille, the phrase is "anyone can cook", but as none other than Peter O'Toole intones, the meaning is not that anybody can cook. Rather, it's that truly great cooking can come from anywhere.

A softer tone to be sure. But I wonder if Brad sells the power of learning and practice too short. After all, the "natural endowments" of the brain are increasingly being shown to be a product of application and hard work, not "natural" abilities. But Bird tends to cast these things as significant, but perhaps not important. *spoilers* Remy, the main rat, has a natural gift, it is implied. But the female sous chef - who has worked her ass off to get where she is - is several times upstaged by Remy or him controlling his human puppet. And while I don't doubt that genius can be a matter of inspiration, it's also very much a product of knowing enough to do something with that inspiration.

Which is not to say that I didn't find the movie compelling, funny, and entertaining. And yes, I choked up a little at the penultimate scene. But, what is Bird thinking? What is going in his head? How has his thinking evolved between these two movies? And what does this bode for the third? I like his movies because he doesn't pander to the Disney crowd. It's no original Transformers movie, but it's a far cry from Cinderella. I don't want him to lose his edge, but I'd certainly like him to be a bit more introspective about what his message is and the wider context it plays in. That may be too much for a cartoon, even one being directed by as skilled an individual as Bird, but it is one thing which, for me, would move his films from "good for adults, but you can take your kids to it" to "good for both kids and adults."


hcduvall said...

I don't know, I suppose you can track down the old Simpsons episodes he produced or directed and see how he's developed. That said, while not having seen the Rat movie as I have minor misgivings--though calling Bird Ojectivist may be both being too hard on him whilst giving Ayn Rand's ideas more weight then they deserve--I'm lukewarm to the Incredibles (I see your point, and this probably dovetails with it, but mainly I just hate the fact the only self-made character in that is the villain. Oh Iron Man, I miss when you were a hero).

There exists the possibility that despite the impression of populism by virtue of popularity, really, he just isn't. Which is a longwinded way of saying, maybe he is thinking, and his conclusions are just different. This is similar to the "People who disagree with me are stupid" pseudo-fallacy. Pseudo because I'm not convinced that I'm not smarter than everyone.

Hey--wait a minute! Those are digressions, this is about the fact that Brad Bird makes nostalgia flicks disguised as kid's movies, huh?

Yes, I agree.

HoBs said...

"After all, the "natural endowments" of the brain are increasingly being shown to be a product of application and hard work, not "natural" abilities."

That actually I think that view is somewhat dated. Research along those lines was more popular in the 70's and 80's, but I think the actual trend is going the other way. In the 80's, child rearing was all about self-esteem, the repercussions of which has recently been lamented on time, npr and nytimes of 20 something workers who all think they are special.

Also, Dweck is mostly saying not that hard work drives achievement, but that believing hard work drives achievement is the key to success.

I actually have always personally believed that success depended only on hard work, (which according to Dweck probably was good for me) and have only recently become more and more convinced from the accumulating genetic twin studies that genetics matters a significant amount.

That said, yeah, the message of the Incredibles still pisses me off, this column, partly inspired by a Duvall rant at the time of the Incredibles release, echoes your thought.

It is not just Ratatatouille. The idea that endowment beats effort is all over, from Harry (birthright) vs Hermonine (hard worker) to the central themes of Tolkein (heroes are heroes due to birthright) of Star Wars (jedi are born).

The idea is not just objectivist. It is the intersection of Objectivism and Marxism who both trace their origins to Fredrich Nietzsche.

But yeah, I agree, Rat- was great. The animation was amazing, The first time animation has wowed me in some time. And I like how the modern take on the dish ratatouille just was (for me) pure cullinary genius, and put the contestants on Top Chef to shame who all failed completely when given basically the identical task.