The Memeing of Ratatouille

Movies Features Ratatouille
The Memeing of Ratatouille

In the wildly popular 2022 film Everything Everywhere All at Once, a multiverse-hopping sci-fi family drama, a surprising factor arises: Pixar’s Ratatouille. As Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) interacts with bizarre new universes, struggling with the fate of all of them on her shoulders, she discovers one in which she works in a restaurant alongside a teppanyaki chef who is secretly puppeteered underneath his hat by a raccoon. This raccoon-controlled chef emerges as a recurring bit, and the raccoon’s name is “Raccacoonie.” Meanwhile, in our universe someone goes viral on Twitter a couple times a year for reminding us that “Ratatouille” is not the name of the rat—the rat’s name is Remy.

The inclusion of a Ratatouille-based bit in a film written and directed by two Millennials feels apt. This is because, and maybe you already noticed this or are lucky enough to not be afflicted with Poster’s Disease, people love to tweet about Ratatouille. If you simply Google “Ratatouille tweets,” the first hit leads to a whole article dedicated to some of them. In addition to popular variations on the clarification of Remy being the rat’s name, others enjoy ruminating on the real-world implications of the film, and even concocting some more, ah, R-rated variations on the material. Such reflections are not limited to Twitter either, as Tumblr has become its own haven for Ratatouille memes that then make their way onto Twitter or Reddit.

In the year of our lord 2022, people continue to collectively think about the 2007 Pixar film Ratatouille much harder than they probably should. This is to the point that a public tongue-in-cheek criticism of the film even got the attention of Remy’s voice actor, Patton Oswalt, back in January:

It appears to be the case that, more than any other film in the beloved Pixar catalog, Ratatouille has maintained a steady internet interest over the 15 years since its release as the source for viral jokes.

Beyond the great thinkers of our time posting their way through philosophical meditations on the premise of a rat who helps a guy become a great cook by sitting on his head and controlling his arms through pulling at clumps of his hair (inhale), certain scenes have become templates for memes in their own right. Anton Ego biting into Remy’s dish of ratatouille and being transported back to happy childhood memories, or Chef Skinner becoming progressively more agitated as he reads a letter, for example. This meme popularity arguably peaked in 2020 (coincidentally, the year of the rat) when TikTok creators found plenty of viral content fodder from repetitive use of the film’s theme, “Le Festin,” going so far as to inspire the first TikTok musical adaptation.

Like most things generally cherished by Millennials and/or Gen Z, Pixar films have all received their fair share of meme treatments over the years. From the stoic, face-swapped version of Mike Wazowski to the traumatized Mr. Incredible, Pixar has provided ample material for jokes and bits, retweets and videos alike. But there is something about Ratatouille in particular that has resonated far more deeply, granting it far more social media mileage than other Pixar films; this X factor makes it almost impossible to scroll through Twitter on a daily basis without seeing at least one reference to it. As a tail-end Millennial myself, it feels pretty obvious to me why this would be the case: As the younger generations have spearheaded the proliferation of absurdism in viral jokes, the plot of Ratatouille is the perfect meme breeding ground.

On its own, the plot of the film is iconic nonsense: A garbage boy working at a formerly revered Parisian restaurant and a rat who has lifelong aspirations of being a chef become an unlikely food-making dream team. When Remy the rat finds himself at the once-great Gusteau’s Restaurant, a soup accident catalyzes the discovery that Remy can control Alfredo Linguini’s hand movements by pulling on his hair. While hidden under Linguini’s hat, Remy realizes his natural gift for culinary arts and keeps Linguini from being fired at his job—the perfect, most reasonable solution! Director Brad Bird was attracted to the original concept for the film, initially developed by Jan Pinkava, because of the core ludicrousness and the conflict being driven by the simple idea that rats and kitchens don’t normally mix.

Along with Wall-E, Ratatouille was one of the last Pixar films that I watched in my final years before puberty, before going to the movies to see a Pixar film become more of a novelty than a necessity, and not long before I would stop seeking these films out entirely. Though the scope of Average Ratatouille Enjoyers crosses generational divides and extends into Gen Z, late Millennials and beyond, I do think that the 2007 release of Ratatouille acts as a crucial part of its social media longevity. Ratatouille snuck in at the perfect time right as my generation, the guinea pigs for sites like Instagram and Twitter, was growing out of films geared towards children, but not quite, and right as we reached the defining period of our social media usage and the way that we communicate with one another online. Ratatouille now bridges two productive facets of modern internet meme culture: Nostalgia and absurdity.

Most Pixar films, though fanciful, coast on fairly simplistic premises: What if toys could talk? What if cars could talk? What if fish could talk? What if human emotions could talk? And so on and so forth. And then we have Ratatouille which, amidst a backlog of children’s fantasy features about things like a house pulled away by balloons and a lovesick, garbage-collecting robot, stands out as the most illogical of them all. Maybe it’s because most Disney films offer up something of an explanation for their fantasies: Magic, curses, alternate universes, intimate worlds that humans aren’t allowed to inhabit. The world of Ratatouille seems to operate quite similarly to our own, except it’s also one in which a rat can, by some act of God, control a human man by pulling on his hair. That’s just something that can happen. There’s never any justification for why this is the case; it’s just a world where human beings must live with the lingering threat that rodents could, at any time, choose to mobilize and take control of the human population.

But it’s ludicrous questions like this that fuel younger generations’ continued fascination with the film, and what makes it such a potent well of shareable material a decade-and-a-half later. The favorability with the generation who watched the film in theaters as children, who steered the ship of social media usage and the popularity of memes that developed from it, which then trickled down to the more fervent embrace of absurdism in Zoomers. That’s how you get things like Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical and, of course, that great piece of 2022 cinematic absurdism, Raccacoonie—which has itself become something of a meme (you can buy all sorts of unlicensed merch of it on Etsy).

You could say that Ratatouille represents an ouroboros of current pop culture, and the connecting thread between the generations that grew up online and the way this now influences their creativity: Regurgitating jokes and references to jokes ad infinitum, the same kinds of references relied upon to great effect in any number of modern, mainstream films. But possibly the most consequential aspect of this, as could be said of most memes, is how it reflects the connections that we now form with others. There is a generational acknowledgement of Ratatouille as a prized cultural artifact, one which we can use to communicate with people similarly nostalgic for it.

By linking nostalgia and the absurd, Ratatouille carries the dual function of symbolizing a perceived better time while reflecting the outlandishness and, as a consequence, the fear, of our current one—an idea that carries similar implications to the film’s usage in Everything Everywhere All at Once. Perhaps, all along, what a collapsing society looks like is the proliferation of Ratatouille jokes.

Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.

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