Monday, July 2nd, 2007

I managed to catch a matinee of Ratatouille on Friday, opening day, and it was, of course, superb — with Pixar and Brad Bird behind it, how could it not be? — but I’m dismayed to find out that it did not open to massive numbers:

According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, “Ratatouille” about a rat who aspires to become a gourmet chef sold $47.2 million worth of tickets during its first three days. It took the No. 1 slot ahead of the new Bruce Willis movie “Live Free or Die Hard” with $33.2 million.

It was the lowest opening for a Pixar-produced release since the studio’s second effort, “A Bug’s Life,” launched with $33.3 million in 1998 on its way to a $163 million total.

By contrast last year’s Pixar entry, “Cars,” drove off with $60.1 million — a figure regarded as something of a disappointment — and finished with $244 million.

If “Ratatouille” follows the same pattern as “Cars,” it will gross about $189 million, becoming the third consecutive Pixar release to underperform its predecessor. But Disney was confident “Ratatouille” would easily pass $200 million.

Of course, it did break my rule to never name a product anything French, because Americans can neither spell nor pronounce anything in French. This raises another question: What exactly is ratatouille?

Ratatouille (IPA:[ræt??tui, -?twi]; English [r?t'?-t?'?] “ra-ta-TOO-ee”) is a traditional French Provençal stewed vegetable dish. [...] Tomatoes are a key ingredient, with garlic, onions, zucchini (courgettes), eggplant (aubergine), bell peppers (capsicum), some herbes de Provence, and sometimes basil. All the ingredients are sautéed in olive oil.

The name of the dish appears to derive from the French touiller, “to stir”, although the root of the first element rata is slang from the French Army meaning “chunky stew”.

As a Brad Bird film, Ratatouille deals with intriguing philosophical issues, all under the guise of a simple family film. In fact, one issue, lightly touched on, is family, and how Remy’s family demands hinder his development — I won’t spoil the movie by saying any more.

This has come up before, in The World’s Most Toxic Value System, for instance:

It’s very common to read accounts of entrepreneurs in Third World countries who could easily achieve even greater success but deliberately refrain because if they did, they would be inundated by extended family members. Could there be a more effective mechanism for keeping a society poor?

Dereliction Express brings up the same issue to explain why things don’t get repaired in Africa:

A third explanation sees communal claims and the parasitism of extended family, clan, and tribe making individual progress impossible and nepotism inevitable. These reasons for the engulfing mess and hopelessness come variously combined in different places — as we find in the reports of Tim Harford, Paul Theroux, and V. S. Naipaul.

As a young man, Theodore Dalrymple worked as a doctor in Rhodesia, where black doctors earned as much as white doctors — but didn’t get on as well as one might expect:

The young black doctors who earned the same salary as we whites could not achieve the same standard of living for a very simple reason: they had an immense number of social obligations to fulfill. They were expected to provide for an ever expanding circle of family members (some of whom may have invested in their education) and people from their village, tribe, and province. An income that allowed a white to live like a lord because of a lack of such obligations scarcely raised a black above the level of his family. Mere equality of salary, therefore, was quite insufficient to procure for them the standard of living that they saw the whites had and that it was only human nature for them to desire — and believe themselves entitled to, on account of the superior talent that had allowed them to raise themselves above their fellows. In fact, a salary a thousand times as great would hardly have been sufficient to procure it: for their social obligations increased pari passu with their incomes.

One of Remy’s chief conflicts with his family is that they’re rats, and they steal garbage from humans, while he wants to create something, which calls to mind Paul Graham’s How to Make Wealth — which I’m shocked to realize I have not blogged on yet.

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