Wednesday, July 11, 2007

WHY "RATATOUILLE'S" LOVE STORY NEEDED HELP

John K. recently did a terrific blog on Popeye and Olive Oyl where he called Olive "the most distinct and entertaining girl character in animation history." I agree! I like cartoon girls who are human beings and not glamour queens and karate experts, and who have to make the same moral choices that I do.


I can't stand standard cartoon girls like the Bratz girls above. Who would ever want to meet these hideous fashion zombies? Not me!


Cartoon girls don't have to be ugly. Look at the life Katie Rice manages to inject into her characters! I love Katie's stuff! I'm not normally interested in cute but her girls are more than cute. They embody youth and a sense that it's great to be alive!


A couple of years ago I decided to stop drawing girls in the Bratz style and try to discover a way of drawing them that felt right to me. Of course when I worked on other people's projects I drew the girls the way I was told. It was still fun (especially John's girls). But when I drew for myself I tried to find a style that fit my own taste and life experience. For better or worse, this (above) is what I came up with.


I like girls who are human beings just like I am. My kind of girl has an emotional need for men, just like men have an emotional need for women. This need makes them vulnerable and that vulnerability makes them interesting (I hope). In my opinion modern animated films put too great an emphasis on women's independence. Isn't it obvious that if they're so godawful independent then they don't need anybody and there's no dramatic tension? I can't understand why studios are blind to this.
Commenters liked Colette in "Ratatouille" more than I did. They were touched by the way she fell in love with the guy who washes the dishes. Well, I was too. But I can't help thinking that the character dynamics would have worked better if Colette hadn't seemed so independent. She looked like someone who'd been around the block and had no romantic illusions. She looked jaded. She didn't need a relationship. When it developed it seemed forced and phony.



51 comments:

Nate Birch said...

"I can't help thinking that the character dynamics would have worked better if Colette hadn't seemed so independent."

How so? I'm not sure what would have been dramatically interesting about a chick with low self esteem going out with the dopey guy. That's what you expect...that's what happens all the time in real life. I thought you were a proponent of cartoons having stories that are *more* interesting that real life.

If they had removed her independence it would have come off as her settling because she though she could do no better and Linguini lucking into snagging a good looking girl who's only going out with him because of her mental issues.

The fact that Colette doesn't seem like the type who would go for Linguini gives the impression that there's something *more* to the relationship...it isn't a strictly logical pairing of two similar people. It must be true love or fate or whatever other flowery thing you want to mention.

It's actually part of the same thing that makes the Popeye, Olive Oyl thing work. Popeye's a hero! Super strong! He could probably get a decent looking girl...but he goes for this weird looking beanpole with huge feet. Their relationship would be a lot less interesting if Olive was the a more conventional mate you'd expect the hero to have.

Plus they do a good job of explaining *why* Colette is so independent...how she made it in a male oriented system. She wouldn't even exist in the kitchen and the movie at all if she wasn't the way she was.

I'll admit early on she was a little extreme...the scene where she stabs Linguini's sleeves with the knives came off a little more crazy than confident...but by the end of the movie I thought she was fully redeemed.

Brian said...

Tex Avery's cartoon Hick Chick has some of the best man/woman dynamics of any cartoon ever, imo.

Brilliantpants said...

I was actually really suprised that they got together. What I'm annoyed by is not so much stuido's desires to match up unlikely couples, but studio's desires to insert a love-story into EVERY SINGLE STORY LINE FOR EVERY SINGLE MOVIE!!!
I'm SO tired of it! There are thousands of kinds of stories in the world where a romantic situation makes no improvement!
Ratatouille is a perfect example of that. I hate useless romance!

The Jerk said...

i would suggest that perhaps with colette, the idea was that her independence was pretty much a front she puts on to cover the vulnerable person inside, the girl who does need someone else. she puts on the hard exterior as a way of surviving in the "male-oriented system," as nate just said. thus her reaction to linguini's advances (genuine or puppeteered) is a believable one.

John A said...

Bratz girls don't even look human. Black out their eyes and you have a collection of alien trannys escaped from area 51.

As for the dynamics of cinematic love: It's something that audiences have been conditioned to accept blindly. Introduce two characters that don't get along in the beginning of the story and the audience KNOWS the two of them will be together at the end. In fact, audiences are disappointed when this DOESN'T happen. I don't know why the general public craves to see this particular contrivance played out time and time again, but apparently they do.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Nate: I didn't say The girl should have low-self esteem, just that she should have a normal need for other people. Colette doesn't need anyone, she's cold.

Interesting point about the attraction of opposites! That does work in some films but those tend to be romantic films where the love story is front and center. Convincingly courting some one who's an opposite type takes lots of screen time, more time than Ratatouille was able to give it. In Ratatouille the love story was secondary. There was no time for a virginal clutz to convincingly woo a jaded, efficient girl.

About Olive Oyl, I didn't say the girlfriend should be conventional, just that she have human needs. Olive Oyl needs the attention of others just like I do and just like Popeye does. I can relate to that.

Jerk: She does have that one, if-you-sneezed-you-missed-it explanation of her contradictory character, but that's not enough for me.

She doesn't strike me as someone who's gushy and warm inside but has to maintain a cold exterior. She strikes me as cold inside and out. When she all of a sudden warms up to Linguini it seems like the emotion is coming out of left field.

Amazingly this contradiction wasn't fatal to the film. The film had built up so much good will in other areas that the audience wanted the love story to succeed. When the love story foundered the audience mentally added enough backstory to make it work.

I'm like everybody else in this respect. A friend will attack the logic of the film I like and I'll realize that he's right...but I like the film anyway. If the film has appealing characters or situations I'll work to put band-aids on the ailing scenes and so will most of the audience.

It's amazing that some films can elicit this kind of audience response. Of course the opposite also applies. If you don't like the characters and situations then the smallest logical flaw seems high as Mount Olympus.

Ryan G. said...

Olive Oyl is a great character. However, she seems a bit confused in whom she wants to be with. Shes always making Bluto and Popeye fight for her. She always ends up with Popeye, but she seems to like the "jerk/bully" in Bluto. You would think that she wouldnt even go for that type of thing.

Anonymous said...

The real love dynamic in Popeye cartoons is Popeye and Bluto. Olive is a clueless, unrequited lesbian who never met Miss Right. The Fleischers would have clarified this in contemporary street terms, had they not been kicked out of their studio by the gangsters who ran Paramount.

JohnA said...

Olive Oyl has some of the best body language ever in an animated cartoon. I loved the litle run the animators created for her in the earlier cartoons, she'd get all stooped over and bow-legged and those gigantic feet would just flop, flop, flop all over the place--she's like this farm girl with very little experience with actual human interaction--and yet, all of this makes her even more appealing. They ruined her when they tried to "cuten her up" in the fifties.

Why does she occasionally run off with Bluto? She likes the attention. (and Females is Fickle)Don't look for the cartoons to be 100% consistant in the way they handle their personalities, though. First and foremost the objective was to create funny situations, not present role models.

JohnA said...

I disagree anon: Olive Oyl is 100% straight. She may not be a very attractive female, but she obviously enjoys attention from the opposite sex.(it makes her feel all pretty inside)

Emmett said...

Two things.

First off, the point about how girls are drawn is well taken. Too many cute features and exaggerated beauty could block the girl's character and make her less expressive. I would love to know how Katie Rice figures her girls out. They are simple enough to get a personality across clearly.

Second, is there a rule that says a character should be predictable. I like it when character's a unpredictable. It gives them a little more appeal. I liked Collette, because she had some unpredictable features. I'll admit the love story in RATATOUILLE could have been figured out a little more. But that doesn't mean there was something wrong with the characters.

Anonymous said...

Uncle Eddie, your all-purpose female character resembles Ann B. Davis from "The Brady Bunch" and "The Bob Cummings Show".

Ryan G. said...

>First and foremost the objective was to create funny situations, not present role models.<
True, but the love story always went down the moral route with Olive ending up with Popeye, a good hearted person who does the right thing.

JohnA said...

Well Ryan, there were a couple of cartoons were Popeye gets fed up with her and dumps her ("Beware of Barnacle Bill" is one example, another is the one where Bluto and Popeye pick her out from a bridal agency, fight over her all the way to the altar, and then Popeye abandons her after he sees her without her veil )There were also a few cartoons that ended with Olive walloping Popeye. The great thing about the old Popeyes is that they were never predictable.

Anonymous said...

Then there's the Famous Studio rodeo picture where Bluto smokes loco weed and brands Olive on the ass with a flaming iron. No psychologist ever wrote anything bad about the Famous Studios output. They were too busy attaching Warners and Disney for not making PC cartoons fifty years earlier.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

Olive Oyl was always a pretty fickle dame. She dumped Popeye in several cartoons for more adventurous men (like Barnacle Bill, or the one where Bluto is a pilot) but when the going got rough she always begged for help from Popeye. And the poor sap would take her back!

Women -- can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.


Speaking of skirts, here's a picture of a date I recently had, thanks to you Mr. Fitzgerald.

JohnK said...

>>Shes always making Bluto and Popeye fight for her. She always ends up with Popeye, but she seems to like the "jerk/bully" in Bluto.<<

That's exactly like real girls! Fickle!

Kali Fontecchio said...

>>Shes always making Bluto and Popeye fight for her. She always ends up with Popeye, but she seems to like the "jerk/bully" in Bluto.<<

>That's exactly like real girls! Fickle!<

Psshaw! I wish there were more guys like Popeye and Bluto killing each other over me!

Girls might be fickle, but guys are oblivious!

Jordan said...

>>Psshaw! I wish there were more guys like Popeye and Bluto killing each other over me!

Girls might be fickle, but guys are oblivious!>>>


No no no, guys are DIRECT and honest, girls are cryptic, fickle and frustrating!!!


Not that this comment has any connection whatsoever to my personal life in the past few months.


-Jordan

Gabriel said...

gee, i have enough trouble fighting with myself when i have to make a move towards some girl.

Eddie, I'm in the same point you were regarding how to draw girls. I wonder if i should continue trying to rip off Katie Rice's girls. And David Gemmil's, and Chad Coyle's...

Ryan G. said...

>>Psshaw! I wish there were more guys like Popeye and Bluto killing each other over me!<<

But who would you take? Bluto or Popeye?

Kali Fontecchio said...

"No no no, guys are DIRECT and honest"

Are you kidding?????

They are obscure, and lie!

Kali Fontecchio said...

"But who would you take? Bluto or Popeye?"

Hmmmmmmmm.



....

Popeye!

Anonymous said...

"Colette doesn't need anyone, she's cold."

Baloney.
Very quickly in the scenes where she's showing the guy her methods of cooking, she's shown to be cheerful, delighted with food, and at the end of the scene when he says something like "thank you for all this advice" she replies: "thank you"...and he asks, puzzled, for what? She says in a very simple, kind tone of voice: "For taking it".

And looks at him with a lovely mixture of affection and appreciation. In that little exchange it's apparent that by sheer force of will she's become just another under-cook in the great man's kitchen, but her skill is probably taken for granted there and Skinner and the guy with the killer thumb aren't a lot of fun to cook under. Now this dopey kid really listens, tries and takes her seriously, and it touches her.

Yeah, stone cold.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Gabriel: Try Don Martin girls.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon: I wouldn't stay "stone" cold but, yes...cold. The compliment she gives him is also intended to remind him of her superiority. That's hardly selfless love.

Remember what I said about the way she's drawn? She looks like someone who's had sex at 13, had a number of unsatisfying relationships with fast-lane boys in her teen years and now, in her 20s, is already jaded. You seem to think that one or two ambiguous love lines trumps that. It doesn't for me. In real life her type of character wouldn't fall for Linguini.

I don't mean to slam worldly 20 somethings. Lots of fine people are like that. I'm just questioning whether she was the right partner for a klutz like Linguini.

Jordan said...

>>>Are you kidding?????

They are obscure, and lie!<<<


!!!!

Every guy I know approaches relationships and social situations as directly and honestly as possible (i.e. asking a girl out, etc), only to be left in the dark by a girl's vague and confusing actions. Every girl I've known has been like some sort of puzzle I'd have to figure out, instead of laying it all on the table!

I'm a neurotic awkward mess of a man but I try to be honest about it...every girl I've been with or have been interested in has been a psychopath and hides it until I'm none the wiser!


!!

-Jordan

Anonymous said...

But....she IS SUPERIOR, for god's sake-she's an experienced chef, he's a newbie. Should true love make her all awkward and self-deprecating and stuff? Has someone been reaing "The Rules"?

Anyway, I didn't get that at all...she thinks he's an idiot savant cook and admires what he did for that, and nowhere did i get a aura of "I'm better than YOU!".

Sex at 13, huh? Wow--bad girl! But in real life all kinds of people fall for all kinds of people--there's no hard and fast rules. People surprise each other and themselves all the time. As others have said, it was kind of refreshing to see different types attract rather than the usual cliches of personalities.

Katie said...

I agree that girl characters in cartoons don't always get the treatment they deserve- although it's hard to explain why. Many movies, comics, and cartoons use girls more like props than actual characters- you need a standard pretty girl as either a temptress, a prize, a pretty girl in peril, or whatever. In these situations the girl character doesn't need a distinct personality, since her purpose is to act as a symbol. There isn't anything neccessarily wrong with this. The problem is that when you need a girl with actual personality, the trend is to rebel completely against the normal stereotypes. This sort of thinking seems to have led up to the whole "grrl-power" thing.

There shouldn't be two extremes, but many cartoon girl characters can fall into one of two categories- your typical girly girl, or the ultra smart wisecracking girl who is always rolling her eyes at whatever male characters are around.

It's hard to break free of these kinds of templates though- I'm certainly not trying to insult anyone! I'm just speculating here....but in the minds of most people (boys AND girls) girls are supposed to be lovely, charming, and attractive. Boys want to date those types, and girls want to be them. I wonder if when people are creating girl characters if they don't feel they are sacraficing much of the girl's appeal by adding to or subtracting from the "ultimte girl template."

Art certainly imitates life in this way...it's easier to let a guy character be goofy or retarded or have an abnormal personality, or even an abnormal look. People are more forgiving to imperfect boys than they are girls! I'm also totally guilty of this, and hate it.

I could ramble on and on about this stuff. I guess I already have! Sorry! Maybe I'll think this stuff out better and make my own blog post about it!

Katie said...

Oops, I forgot to add- I didn't see Ratatouille yet, so my rant about girl personalities in cartoons doesn't include the girl from it.

mike f. said...

What are BRATS?

Are they supposed to be some kind of fish, or squid or something? They sure look hateful. What's the point of designing and marketing horrible, hateful toys that look like fish?

Why are they so popular? I wouldn't even give one to a kid I don't like.

I'd give one to a seal, maybe. Is it the end of the world yet? I don't get it...

Anonymous said...

Mike, it's spelled "Bratz." I'm not even kidding.

They are dolls designed by sickos to make 9-year old girls into whores. So far it seems to be working. Girls are getting cell phones and wearing make-up as young as seven now.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon: Interesting comments! Yes, she is superior but she could have good-naturedly helped Linguini rather than flaunt her superiority. Or she could have flaunted it in a funny way like Madeline Kahn did in "What's Up, Doc?"

It really was refreshing to see different types than you see in most animated films, and Brad deserves credit for that, but he did so very cautiously. All the major characters had a humorous side but nobody had a funny side. I don't think adding that would have hurt, and it might have helped a lot.

Brian B said...

I think that's the easiest criticism you could place on Ratatouille. It's love story wasn't very developed and not entirely believable. At the same time, I think the movie was trying to move impulsively. Kind of with a wink. It gave the great pepper spray gag, and kind of just said "why not?". It's not the best love story, but I don't think it was a focus from the start.

I agree, a "love" story would have worked better if she was less of this force of "women independence", but it wouldn't have been as funny. The writer/director already knew the situation, the slightly bizarre relationship it was, and punctuated with Linguini's foot coming up in the kiss like a girl. A true love story develops the characters, and weighs the movie a little bit more in Linguini's direction if they went that route. As is, they had a tough balance keeping it Remy's story.

On the same token, maybe it adds a bit to the 2nd act which some people said went on a little long. Find a way to fit Remy into it and give the film another setpiece or two with some type of event or growth.

Anyway, my only real point is that yeah, maybe it makes the love story better. That's arguable, though I'm a bit tired of the super-independent woman as well. But how important is the love story, and how does it affect the rest of the movie to have one? Including Remy's fear of such an intimidating kitchen. Linguini's fear of telling someone about Remy. How much is it still Remy's story? How do you recover the comedy you've lost from a pretty workable character like Colette? Who's welcoming us into this kitchen and making it as intimidating as it is to Remy? Who leads the restaraunt "Ratatouille" at the end?

Colette and Linguini make a responsible, good pair. A lesser Colette changes the complexity of Linguini as well. You feel like they'll pick the other one up when they have trouble. Linguini would have had to do a 180 to be run his own restaraunt with a more helpless feminine girlfriend.

It's just a choice the way they did things. It could have been better, but it's not necessarily central to the story. The way the characters played off each other, progressed the story, and gave people the impression of a workable future is central. Suprisingly, Colette is a real support structure for the weight of this film when you look at. Do you change that because the love story may or may not work better?

Btw Eddie, what do you think of Miyazaki girls. Narratively that is.

Which reminds me of one more thing, how physically Colette looked. I thought she was pretty subtlely specific in that respect - which was nice.

Soos said...

Just wanted to say; I agree 100%!

I'm working on expressing this in a short, early-MAD-style parody, but Colette's introduction as a hard-working feminist is a poor attempt to distract from the fact that she has no real purpose in the film outside of the main character's penis warmer.

I thought it was funny that she complains about how she's the only female in the kitchen, how it's a sign of chef chauvinism - but she's also the only female character in the movie. What does that say about the directors of the film?

JohnK said...

>>
It really was refreshing to see different types than you see in most animated films<<

which ones in particular?

weiverp said...

Eddie! Great post!

All relationships exist to fill certain needs and desires. If we weren't needy, there wouldn't be any relationships.

What did you think of the book "My Secret Garden"?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Weiverp: I spot read that book years ago. I'm not a fan of the author but I remember thinking that this was probably what she was best at.

Brian: Miazaki's girls? They're very cute and appealing. In spite of this I'm still not a fan of Miyazaki's films. They're very well done and I have nothing but admiration for the director but something about them leaves me cold.

I feel like Benny Goodman being asked what he thinks of Faberge eggs.

Katie: True, so true. You make girls goofy and cute at the same time, which is a great combination!

Sean Worsham said...

Eddie,

You forgot to note this, Sergio Aragones also draws pretty cute women in a very funny, "I love life" kind of way when he chooses.

Of course Sergio doesn't beat Katie in that department, although overall I think Sergio is one of the best cartoonists of all time.

Kali Fontecchio said...

"People are more forgiving to imperfect boys than they are girls! I'm also totally guilty of this, and hate it."

Yeah Katie! Double standard type thing. But maybe, just maybe it's like the smart child versus the retarded younger sibling. The smart child is held at a higher standard, because he is smart, so he'll get in more trouble after doing the same bad thing that the retard child did. Women are more beautiful, and intelligent, etc. than men, so if they are imperfect in some way they are judged differently.

My two cents!

Katie said...

Seans right, Sergio's girls are great! I think he's got us all beat in every department, though, as he's one of the best! :)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post about not drawing the way you've been *taught* to draw women, but drawing them the way YOU see them.

There is a goofy comical quality to your women, the same way Don Martin's ladies make you want to laugh at them, but you still find them endearing.

I TOTALLY understand what you mean about the emotional innaccesability of women in cartoons. I hopw you DO know this is a carefully crafted agenda by ball busters to keep men castrated and in their place. You are completely right..I sensed the same cold, independant streak and it made her less interesting...thus..I found myself not giving a crap about her. In order to connect with a character emotionally, you must be *shown emotions* by that character.

Cartoons are a stomping ground these days of balls-to-the-wall independant females...all of them are smarter than the boy characters, more motivated, faster thinking, better at sports...well...just...better with *everything.* The boys are treated as moronic tag alongs.

It's a fantasy that the female animation execs wish would play out in real life.

But..one must question...do women REALLY want dumb tag along guys who wait for directions and cannot come up with ideas or solutions on their own? I dunno..but some of these cartoons seem to think the world would be a better place with the men more dumbed down and weakened.

Curiously, you have this hyper women's lib thing going on, but right along side it are the pop tart, sexed up under age girls like BRATZ which is like a total slap in the face to women's lib..right? Because women should NEVER be objectified...and ESPECIALLY underage girls!!!!!!! And yet today, it has been twisted around to be *empowering* to be oversexualized at an early age.

YOU try to figure it out..I sure can't!!!! I guess the bottom line is, women are great no matter WHO they are. Sexed up ho's or cold, indifferent chefs. Take yer pick, Buster.


Cynthia

Sean Worsham said...

Katie you're just too modest :). But yeah, I guess what we can say is Sergio is definitely one of the best, no arguments here.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Cynthia: Wow!!!! I've never heard this sentiment expressed so succinctly! Let's rent a billboard and put it up over Sunset Blvd.!

miss 3awashi t said...

i like girls who act tough but arent it makes me feel like their over compensating for a weakness they see in them selves.
frankly i like characters like that even if their boys.
i don't like girl characters nowadays tho ...
...i miss betty boop

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Miss: Interesting! And I'm always surprised to see that a Theory Corner reader lives in Dobai.

miss 3awashi t said...

i'm starting to wish i didn't

the clownninja said...

Eddie I totally agree with you, i found something lacking bigtime with that movie, it was beautiful and all, but once you get into three dimensional caricature, the story has to echo that depth. There was nothing truly compelling for me about that movie, once you start embracing caricature, than you gotta start actually caricaturing the actual twisted emotional dynamics of real people, and even real animals. (i've seen plenty of weirdo pets) The whole thing was so underplayed that in retrospect it seems like a dance performance. Nowhere is what i'm talking about as obvious as in the flat love story. There is no set up for it, no actual needing. Thats what love is about right? you can't leave it out. so i agree with you, but i think its notable that i'm expecting so much from a cartoon. Wait scratch that, i don't care if cartoons don't have realistic human emotions, but if they're not gonna, please dont make them about cooking.

Tanstar said...

Agreed!

Anonymous said...

rat animation lame

Anonymous said...

The worst excuse for rat drawings and so full of sloppy rat depictions from poor excuse for computer software users to animate.