I trust Pixar. Each movie is an adventure into an inherently cinematic notion. Most of the time it concerns animation, new algorithms, and using those to render a normal event ultra-cinematic. ‘Nemo’ is one of my favorites in that regard because it is all about spatial depth, and how far can the camera see and sweep when its not bounded on ground but ‘swimming’.
They use rats here. This permits them to literally have a rat-camera, where the whole world is at the lower edge of a larger one. Many of the shots are from hidden or secret perspectives, where you would expect a rat to be, corners and crevices. There are a lot of look-ups and look-downs. And there is one escape sequence on a lake which has some of the most cinematic uses of water. It is already hard to render water with normal film cameras…but watch this for something ultra-real…beyond the deliberate flatness of most animation…No, this has dimension and depth.
But Pixar also has great story engineering. You are already familiar with the New Wave notion of real-life merging with movie-life as a metaphor for spectatorship (if not watch Truffaut’s ‘Day for Night’). It was a big deal back then and labelled as clever, although today it all seems too simple. But it spawned an ultra-awareness that resulted in many self-reflexive films. Ok, self-reflexive art has a historical tradition in literature and painting…but with film being the narrative, sensory, and popular art that it is, we are talking changes in collective consciousness in terms of how we reason about narrative (and visual narrative).
The relations between levels of storytelling in reflexive films can be manifold. Sometimes it’s simple like a story about a story. Sometimes it’s a little more sophisticated like a story about a play. Sometimes the self-awareness is outside the story and in the actual filmmaking, like ‘Fear and Loathing’ where the aesthetic mirrors the drug-induced mind of the protagonists. Other times it can come from side angles like in ‘Zodiac’ where numerous detectives discover their version of the story and at the end we see the actual writer of the story we’ve been watching discover his own story.
And you may have something like this here. A complicated design where many story elements acknowledge reflexivity in ways that are either essential to the story, or purely ornamental.
The central element of the story relies on a character appearing to be something he’s not. In this case, a good chef. He is in fact being puppeteered by a rat, our real hero. So look at this. We suddenly have a dual dimension: the story of our ambitious rat with a flair for good cuisine but facing the impossibility of becoming a chef in the ‘real world’… and the false reality he constructs in order to enter the real world and fulfill his dream. Eventually both realities merge in balance at the end…and guess where it all takes place?
Paris, of course.
Also, the entrance into the world of fabricated reality is through a book. A cookbook whose chef suddenly animates and talks to the hero. Throughout we have this same chef in multiple cardboard reproductions, almost as to signify the plasticity of animation. We also have our hero as narrator of the movie in voiceover flash-back fashion, and his brother telling us at the end that he could have ‘told it[the story] better’. There is a nod to French films (Jean Gabin, I believe?). And a large plot element in the third act with a restaurant critic whose job is to judge our hero’s ‘performance’ (as a chef).
Smart stuff. Not only for kids.