Candy Glass


I watched the last twenty minutes or so of the movie Ratatouille with a four year old boy the other night, doing my shift while his parents were having dinner with us. The animation was very good, and the visual syntax was varied, dramatic and assured. They sure know how to make animated movies nowadays.

One scene that struck me was when the girl, having walked out of the restaurant with all but one of the staff, for reasons I could not fathom due to ongoing discussions with the four year old, is stopped in traffic on her motorbike, and looks to the side at something which invokes remorse at her leaving. The lanes of traffic on either side of her drive off, with her sitting on the bike, and the traffic held up behind her. (It loses in translation.) Another is the previous scene when the staff walk out of the kitchen, and we have a rat's eye view of the feet and legs in regulation black and white checks as they tramp out.

The character around whom this whole story turns is a saintly rat with a genius for cooking. Think about that. I'm sure that when this unworldly little fella arrived at the restaurant he encountered very mean rats, including the alpha rat, but by this stage of the movie he had won them all over, and a couple of the humans to boot. Boss rat marshals the others to do our hero's kitchen bidding, and takes care of threats from the rest of the humans. Two of them find themselves trussed up in a cupboard while the restaurant meals are prepared and served. One of them is a health inspector. Think about that.

A character who is not trussed up is the morbid-looking restaurant critic, whom Jonas—the four year old—pointed out to me as a "bad man." With the wisdom of my years, I had detected that the critic was not such a bad bloke, and assured Jonas so. The restaurant staff weren't much chop though, except for the two who remained. Aside from the temporary difficulties with boss rat, there are no bad rats in this movie; at least, none that I saw. And when the rats took over the kitchen, they all went through the dishwasher, demonstrating their commitment to hygiene.

Those of us who are more or less grown-up can look at this movie as a parable informed by the shlock-standard absolute social value of inclusiveness. It is an article of faith that most Western atheists and agnostics, and a goodly number of Christians, subscribe to. The rats are the despised outsiders, stuck with labels such as "filthy," "disease-carrying," "sewer-dwelling" etc. Enlightened human beings, however, are capable of seeing through this kind of discrimination to appreciate rats as they truly are. And what a gourmet feast results! So, those whose thinking is so advanced as to be pre-adolescent may argue, "This is not about rats! It's about socially-excluded group X, Y or Z." Those of us who are more or less grown-up can conclude that this story is, to use a gastronomical metaphor, a bucket of tripe. But what about Jonas?

When I was growing up, I saw a lot of mediocre Westerns at the movies and on TV. One of the staples of Westerns was the bar-room brawl. Almost inevitably, someone would be propelled through a window into the street. He would usually pick himself up, shake himself off, and charge back into the brawl. These scenes were so familiar to me that when I learned, as a teenager, that a boy had been hospitalised after riding his pushbike through a ground-level glass panel at a school, I was nonplussed. It was the first time I had ever given the matter any thought. Of course that would be the result, but the frequently-repeated scenes had bypassed reflection and made their way directly into my (mis-)understanding.

The bar-room windows were part of the elaborate charade that is the movies. The glass for those scenes has only to support it's own weight and a painted sign—usually Saloon or Bar—until the extra goes through it, when it will be replaced for the next take. It's not much more substantial than microscope cover slips, and is called, I believe, candy glass.