More Powerful In His Death
Ratatouille‘s Gusteau, though dead, still towers over the movie. Arguably, he’s a more powerful figure than he might have been had the moviemakers kept their original plan of keeping him alive. Warning: thematic spoilers.
First of all, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, go do it. There will be certain spoilers here. Back? Fun, wasn’t it? Okay, onwards:
According to the behind-the-scenes features on Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille, chef Gusteau was originally intended to be alive. There are even a few rudimentary scenes with him greeting guests or talking with his sous-chef, Skinner. This was originally changed because director Brad Bird decided his character arc took too much time from the other character plot-lines – the film was too crowded.
Cutting him strengthened the film in a number of ways.
The villainous chief of the kitchen has high-jacked Gusteau’s reputation to sell his own products, namely frozen-dinner-like lunchables that send shivers down any food artiste’s spine. Even in the early conceptions, he was using Gusteau’s depression with the situation to push his own agenda.
However, with Gusteau dead, Skinner is the authority in the restaurant. Not only that, but his prime motivation for sabotaging Linguini is based on his desire to keep the restaurant (and the pre-packaged franchise) for himself. He would have much less power to interfere were he not in charge, and his motives would be much less visceral. In short, he would be a watered-down character if he had to operate under a live Gusteau.
The rough-sketch scene containing live Gusteau paints him as disheartened by his restaurant’s loss of stars and disillusioned in his own ability as a chef. Enter Linguini, who in his desperation to succeed (and his partnership with Remy) could transform the operation of the kitchen and the courage of his father.
But it would weaken Linguini as a character, turning him into even more of a catalyst for others’ development than he already is. With Gusteau nothing but a revered ancestor, Linguini is free to inherit his culinary legacy while making a name for himself separate from that (with Remy’s help, of course).
As Pixar realized, including Gusteau would steal not only precious screen time but also emotional and relational significance from these other characters, spreading the impact too thin.
The true protagonist of the drama, the culinary prodigy would try to be a chef no matter what his circumstances. Nevertheless, if he had Gusteau to deal with in the kitchen – instead of just battling Skinner and wrangling the hopeless Linguini – we would have a whole extra dimension to this puzzle that would make him less significant.
And Gusteau, his hero, his idol, is dead. His dreams and ideals are shaken and questioned. Yet he presses on, because “he is a cook” — and because the floating illusion of Gusteau in his imagination pushes him on.
Can you imagine Remy talking to his own private Gusteau when the real one is holding a pity party in the office? As a “ghost”, Gusteau is no longer a fallible person requiring his own character arc and progression, with his own flaws and struggles. He is the personification of Remy’s own ideals, which lets him pull Remy back to the true north of the movie’s theme, and to what Remy needs to overcome his rat-ness in pursuit of his dream.
Kill the Darling Fattie
It’s not always easy to get rid of story elements we love, especially if they are characters. Yet the makers of Rataouille made the right call in cutting this character, not only letting the others take on larger roles but transforming him into a beacon for what Remy needs in order to succeed. Gusteau, his restaurant, and his film work better when he’s operating from beyond the grave.
Ratatouille (2007) was produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Mission Impossible–Ghost Protocol) cowrote and directed the film.
Kimia Wood has been making stories since she was little, and loves being able to bring imaginary people to life. You can find out more about her works under the “Books” tab, and/or subscribe to the mailing list.