Exclusive: Brad Bird Takes RT Through Ratatouille

We find out how to reshape a Pixar project.

Brad BirdRatatouille is one of the freshest wide releases of the year. Critics love it, audiences love it, everyone in the RT office loves it too. This is a familiar feeling for Brad Bird, whose previous success, The Incredibles wowed audiences worldwide, and for Pixar who've been Certified Fresh on every film since their feature film debut with Toy Story in 1995. With the recent UK cinema release and the upcoming US DVD release of Ratatouille, we caught up with Bird to find out where the story began for him.

Take us back to the beginning, how did you come on board Ratatouille? It wasn't your project initially, was it?

Brad Bird: No it was an idea that was conceived by Jan Pinkava and he was working on it when I first came up to Pixar in 2000 to do The Incredibles. So I was aware of the film and always loved the idea but it was a very difficult story to kind-of describe in a sentence or two. It's not like "Pixar Goes Underwater" or "Pixar Does Superheroes," it's a much weirder idea.

So it was challenging to pull it together and a little over a year and a half ago the founders of Pixar, John Lasseter, Steve Jobs and Ed Catmull, asked me to come onboard and help solidify the story because the story was elusive. I wrote a new script and took it through production. So my time on the film was relatively short and, in animation terms, quick.

What was there initially that you wanted to keep and what did you feel needed to change?

BB: I thought the initial concept of a rat who wants to cook was always an idea that was full of possibilities. I think the Cyrano de Bergerac relationship between Remy and Linguini was always appealing to me; it was funny and the possibility for physical comedy was great. I think that the challenge was to get all the storylines supporting the key relationship in the film which was between the rat and the garbage boy. So I had to lose some of the other characters - I killed Gusteau off and made him part of Remy's imagination. Colette was a minor character; I made her a major character. I made the rats rattier, I minimised the family storyline, separated Remy from the family for a chunk of the film which made the relationship with Linguini able to grow. I had Remy actually join Linguini and have him share the apartment with him, almost like The Odd Couple. The legal relationship between Linguini and Gusteau wasn't in there.

So it was a lot of things and I just had to find the right mix.

Ratatouille


If you're going to come onboard a project late, is Pixar the place to do it?

BB: It's a great team and if you're clear about what you want they can get it for you just like that. But you have to be very clear, and very specific. I had to make a lot of decisions very quickly and then stick with them because the time for going "maybe this, maybe that" had all been used up by the time I got involved.

It's known as being a very high-tech company but I think that in many respects it's Pixar's embrace of old-fashioned notions of not focus-grouping ideas but just going with your gut, people following their instincts, simply saying, What kind of movie would we like to see, and making that, which make it such a great place to work. Also their message that it's not about the technology, those kinds of ideas and the focus on characters, is what makes the place so special. And the fact that filmmakers are in charge of the projects.

What's next for you?

BB: I was starting to work on a live action film a couple of years before I came on board Ratatouille so I'm going to return to that and I'm quite excited by that idea. I don't want to tell you too much about just yet, I'm not really ready for that, but it's a historical-based thing and I think it's going to be pretty wild.

Comments

Gimy

Gimy Moo

one of the most overrated flicks of the summer. very boring and its one of the only kid's movies my son didn't even ask when it comes out on dvd. worse than Shrek 3...

Oct 26 - 10:32 AM

Xynotyro

Rob Wadleigh

Why do people like you even go to this site if you can't appreciate good films. Of course you should be happy since most Hollywood movies these days (animated and not animated alike) are aimed at your of demographic and meant for attention spans smaller than Michael Bay's left nut.

Oct 26 - 11:05 AM

arendr

Arend Anton

Believe me, I'm not one of those people who has a short attention span. I'm one of Michael Bay's biggest detractors here, and I love really slow and long movies. My favorite movie this year (so far) is The Assasination of Jesse James.

I laughed at a few parts of Ratatouille, but overall I just felt it was really dull. The plot was a cute idea, but nothing amazing. I didn't find the color palatte all that interesting, either. Overall, it just felt like a 30 minute TV cartoon stretched out too long.

Oct 26 - 12:01 PM

arendr

Arend Anton

Honestly, I'm not trying to be a hater...but Ratatouille sort of sucked. It was really bland. And where did you get "masterpiece" from?

Oct 26 - 10:50 AM

moviemonkey2

J P

I'm with you guys. It looked good, like all Pixar movies, but it was bland. I'm hoping Bird wasn't a two trick pony, because Iron Giant and Incredibles were...well incredible. This one was just....meh.

Oct 26 - 10:56 AM

Xynotyro

Rob Wadleigh

Why do people like you even go to this site if you can't appreciate good films. Of course you should be happy since most Hollywood movies these days (animated and not animated alike) are aimed at your of demographic and meant for attention spans smaller than Michael Bay's left nut.

Oct 26 - 11:05 AM

arendr

Arend Anton

Believe me, I'm not one of those people who has a short attention span. I'm one of Michael Bay's biggest detractors here, and I love really slow and long movies. My favorite movie this year (so far) is The Assasination of Jesse James.

I laughed at a few parts of Ratatouille, but overall I just felt it was really dull. The plot was a cute idea, but nothing amazing. I didn't find the color palatte all that interesting, either. Overall, it just felt like a 30 minute TV cartoon stretched out too long.

Oct 26 - 12:01 PM

Baccus83

First Last

You're all allowed your opinions, but come ON.

Ratatouille worse than Shrek 3? Really?

I personally thought Ratatouille was one of the best movies of the summer. It's really a great film about the creative process. I mean, the story has a spine to it, and it's thematically consistent and non-pandering, unlike many animated films these days. I really enjoyed it, and I think Brad Bird is one of the great directors working today.

Oct 26 - 11:44 AM

arendr

Arend Anton

Believe me, I'm not one of those people who has a short attention span. I'm one of Michael Bay's biggest detractors here, and I love really slow and long movies. My favorite movie this year (so far) is The Assasination of Jesse James.

I laughed at a few parts of Ratatouille, but overall I just felt it was really dull. The plot was a cute idea, but nothing amazing. I didn't find the color palatte all that interesting, either. Overall, it just felt like a 30 minute TV cartoon stretched out too long.

Oct 26 - 12:01 PM

rt_hire_me

Teague Bates

Rat was a great movie. You can never predict what is going to happen with Bird. You think "oh, the critic is going to taste the tomato and then vomit like the Simpsons 3eyed fish scene" or "he's going to love it bla-bla", but then when he tastes it and recalls his childhood, it was such a geat moment, and you think 'they did it again, they amazed me and I just didn't see it coming'. Pixars ideas are consistently novel without being too left field or convenient.

But what I really want to say is good for rt for doing interviews like this. It's almost like people in the industry aren't allowed to talk about how bad movies get made. So here's Bird, permitted, I assume, to talk about how a good concept got rescued from a possible train wreck. Whenever Rupert Everet is on Letterman or some other show, you never see the host ask "How could you make a movie like 'Next Best Thing?' What made you think that was going to be a good movie?" And then Rupert could explain what he liked about the script and how the train ultimately came off the rails and how the victims who watched it can get 1 1/2 hours of their life back.

How do sane and talented people make bad movies, and how do institutions like Pixar keep their winning streak alive? RT, you have to go after these people and make them accountable, especially ticket prices being what they are today, not to mention the value of our time.

Oct 26 - 12:10 PM

VML

Victoria Leduc

Worst than SHREK 3?!!!! That's sooooooo not true! SHREK 3 was worst! RATATOUILLE was not a bad movie. I thought it was the best movie I've seen all summer. (Probably my favorite film of this year.) I didn't like SHREK because it wasn't as good and funny as the first two. Plus, the franchise got really annoying and it seemed that the movie was solely made to make money.

Anyway, interesting article. Pixar is probably one of the only studios in the US that still relies on creativity-over-marketability, something that's been missing from Disney. I'm looking forward to more of Brad Bird's films, including the live action historical movie he's currently making (its about one of the San Francisco earthquakes, BTW).

Oct 26 - 02:06 PM

katsat

KN Sato

I hesitate to say that something is boring if many intelligent people think otherwise. Sometimes it just shows a lack of sophistication or savvy if one is bored by something that is overwhelmingly deemed to be of high quality - kinda like jazz. Of course, that is not always the case, and sometimes it's just a matter of different tastes. I can understand how Ratatouille may not be everyone's cup of tea. but for myself, I loved it and think it is probably, in a good way, the most adult of all Pixar films.

Oct 26 - 03:27 PM

robcat2075

Robert Holmen

If Ratatouille is bad then what are all the other movies Hollywood cranks out? They're hideous toxic slime by comparison.

Oct 26 - 04:39 PM

witherwings

Jamie Lynn

Ratatouille wasn't supposed to be a comedy so much. I really enjoyed it--saw it three times. I love what Brad Bird said about Pixar not focus-grouping ideas. Focus-groups kill creativity, IMO.

Oct 26 - 05:25 PM

arendr

Arend Anton

I agree about the focus-groups, Witherwings.

I didn't say Ratatouille is bad. I just felt it was sub-par. Mediocre, is unfortunately, a failure as far as I'm concerned. Yet we all do mediocre work, even the best. It's just something that happens.

But I'm glad some of you enjoyed it so much.

Oct 26 - 05:57 PM

arendr

Arend Anton

I agree about the focus-groups, Witherwings.

I didn't say Ratatouille is bad. I just felt it was sub-par. Mediocre, is unfortunately, a failure as far as I'm concerned. Yet we all do mediocre work, even the best. It's just something that happens.

But I'm glad some of you enjoyed it so much.

Oct 26 - 05:57 PM

Alterran

Anon Y. Mouse

Ratatouille was beyond doubt the best family film of 2007. In fact, it was probably one of THE best films of 2007. No one in our family is under the age of 15, and yet we all loved it. So far, Brad Bird = Good Movie.

Oct 26 - 07:47 PM

laika86

Daniel H

To be honest, Ratatouille wasn't really that much of a family film. It didn't contain any objectionable content, but its themes (and the fact that it involved rats scapering through kitchens) made it more appealing to artsy adults/college students than children.

By the way, I am one of the aforementioned artsy college students, and I loved it. Pixar's 2nd best film, behind Finding Nemo. I wish other studios apporoached film the same way as Pixar.

Oct 26 - 09:34 PM

meadowblaster

A Shellab

I was underwhelmed when I first saw it, but upon repeat viewings I think it's really good.

I think movies like this are good for children, instead of mind-rotting unfunny movies from Dreamworks that rely mostly on tired slapstick, fart jokes, and shots to the crotch to get laughs. This movie will stand up and be remembered 10 years from now, much like Iron Giant.

And please don't put this movie and Dreck 3 in the same sentence.

Oct 27 - 06:50 AM

zbbrox

First Last

I can see why someone would be underwhelmed by this flick, because it's a much subtler movie than other Pixar movies--it doesn't have the obvious heartstring-tugging of Finding Nemo, or the non-stop laughs and action of The Incredibles (both of which I love, by the way)--but it's a genuinely beautiful film, on several levels. I think the climactic ratatouille-tasting scene was one of the most surprising, satisfying, and thematically-faithful film resolutions I've seen in years.

Oct 27 - 07:25 AM

JUDGE DREDD

idle one kenobi

Visually i thought Rat was incredible i did love the film. BUT, i thought it was just a bit short on gags. It did have a very disney movie feel about it, which isnt bad. But disney just dont do gags.

Shrek 1 n 2, Incredibles, toy story, all had great elements of comedy, wether it be a visual gag, or a clever pun that the adults would notice. I dont remember anything like that in Rat.

Ice-age is also one of my faves, as is Wallace n gromit movie. They are fun to watch, as well as visually impressive. If Rat had humour it would have been my number 1.

might i also recomend Surfs up, if you havnt seen it, i thought it was pretty clever funny and boasted the best water FX ive yet seen.

Oct 27 - 07:33 AM

witherwings

Jamie Lynn

You're approaching the movie looking for laughs, then slighting it because you find little. Again, since when do computer animated movies have to be comedic? This movie was a drama, through and through. You're hashing it into a genre it was not.

Oct 27 - 09:04 AM

subframer

sub framer

Ratatouille is a movie about creativity, art, criticism, as well as other Pixar fundamentals, family, love, loss and redemption. I'm not suprised that some people, who I presume not to be artists or artistic types, don't resonate with the essence of this storyline. This is a beautiful film, with considerable artistic depth and insight tucked inside of a simpler but compelling storyline tucked inside of a children's movie. Bravo Mr. Bird

Oct 27 - 08:50 AM

witherwings

Jamie Lynn

You're approaching the movie looking for laughs, then slighting it because you find little. Again, since when do computer animated movies have to be comedic? This movie was a drama, through and through. You're hashing it into a genre it was not.

Oct 27 - 09:04 AM

ShowBizBaby

Allan Neuwirth

Why do people continue to insist that any animated feature film is a "kids' movie"... or even a "family film"?! Why, just because it happens to have been created via animation instead of live action? Listen to filmmakers like Brad Bird when they talk about their work: it drives them INSANE when their efforts are summarily dismissed/relegated to the "children's table." Only in the U.S. is this the case! Animated films are created and released every year in Europe and Asia, and not automatically looked at as fodder for tykes. RATATOUILLE was made for anyone to enjoy -- kids, adults, even senior citizens. And it happens to be a masterfully created film, teeming with brilliant visuals, great dialogue, fully developed characters, humor, surprises, and heart. Maybe it's not to everyone's liking (nothing in this world is), but how can anyone claim to be bored by it? Did it need more explosions?

Oct 27 - 12:06 PM

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