I think Ratatouille is a brilliant film, a multi-layered work that is both gleefully entertaining and surprisingly deep. It’s a Pixar cartoon, for goodness sake, so it’s going to be cute and kid-friendly yet with a few jokes tossed in to satisfy the parents. Yet who would have thought it would have been one of the year’s most intelligent films, one that subtly and poignantly addresses the divide between high and low culture, entertainment and art, the role of the critic. It’s about food and its a goofy romance and it stars a rat, but it’s also about instant satisfaction and empty fulfillment versus patience and appreciation of quality, serving as a clever commentary on America’s preference for the former but espousing the virtues of the latter. Still, it advocates a truce between the two factions, acknowledging that both have a place in society and that high and low brow can still live harmoniously together on the same plate.
But this entry isn’t about Ratatouille. It’s about the fact that when it came time to pick which film I thought should (or would?) win the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture at my friend’s Oscar Pool, I chose Persepolis, the stunning achievement based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel of growing up during the Iranian Revolution. The drawings shifted from the elaborate to the most minimal, from fantasy to stark reality, depicting Satrapi’s inner thoughts and dreams but also horrendous images from the revolution. And the effect is simply enthralling. Somehow the scenes following Satrapi through her awkward and rebellious adolescence are more believable, humorous, and haunting than if they were shot in live action. And perhaps even more shocking was the portrayal of Iran. For a country so demonized in our current politics and national dialogue (for some good reasons, of course) this film was a fascinating peak at the birth of the beast from the critical perspective of one of its citizens. As we watch Satrapi grow increasingly disillusioned with her country, frustrated by it’s leaders, terrified by it’s new directions, we too wonder how it came to be this way. What went wrong? Can it ever go back to what it was before. Yet while pondering these questions, we are charmed by its beauty, intrigued by its people, and drawn to Satrapi, hoping with her that someday the nightmare will end.