Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ratatouille is...Racist?

I saw Ratatouille in theaters yesterday. It's a truly wonderful movie. I love it immensely. There's just one problem.

Its villain is decidedly...ethnic. And the rest of the characters are...not.

As someone who finds this whole branch of history quite interesting, I'd like to point out the less than stellar records of most of the large animation companies. Disney is the largest and the one I know the most about (at one point in time I read lots and lots of books on Disney, and of course the Internet is always an interesting resource.) One famous example of Disney's apparent racism is in the classic movie Aladdin. Note that Jasmine and Aladdin look decidedly Caucasian. Their skin is so fair you wouldn't know they were supposed to be Arabs unless they up and told you. Now consider the evil vizier Jafar.

Not so Caucasian, eh?

Which brings me to Ratatouille. Lovely movie, great characters. Except that they're all supposed to be French, yes? And they're all supposed to look French.

So why does everyone look white and Caucasian until you get to the villain?

Look at the lineup:

Gusteau- definitely white
Linguini- white and red-haired
Colette- white

Even the sallow, dour critic with the attitude is white (tinged with shades of blue, certainly, but still, the skin color is white.)


Not so white anymore, eh?

In fact, he looks a hell of a lot like Jafar, doesn't he? The whole movie long I saw him as a shorter, sillier version of Jafar.

I wonder how long it takes before someone accuses Pixar of racism. I also wonder whether they meant it. I'm willing to bet they didn't. But you really can't make everyone else in a movie look sweet and white (like Disney did with Aladdin, Jasmine and the Sultan) and then have one person stand out as ethnic and have that person be the villain..and not expect a response, now can you?

I'm curious as to whether anybody else noticed this.


Diet Dr. Pepper said...

Since I haven't seen either of those movies, I didn't notice that. However, I have a different issue with Disney.

One seudah shlishit, my friends and I sat around and counted up the number of Disney characters who have lost one or both of their parents. The total was astounding. Why is that most Disney protagonists are orphans? What does Disney have against parents?! (Since I didn't see very many Disney films growing up, I can't remember all of the characters who lost parents, but perhaps other commenters do.)

Mordy said...

It's not that Disney has a thing about orphans. It's that fairy tales that Disney borrows from has a thing about orphans. Likely because it increases the sympathy for the main character. Anyway:
Snow White = Orphan
Cinderella = Orphan
Peter Pan = Orphan (Kinda)
The Sword in the Stone = Orphan
The Jungle Book = Orphan (Kinda)
Black Cauldron = Orphan (Kinda)
Aladdin = Orphan
The Lion King = Orphan
Tarzan = Orphan (Kinda)

All of which come from source material that predates Disney.

But that still leaves us: Films about animals (Dumbo, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, The Aristocats, Robin Hood, The Fox and the Hound, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver + Company, The Rescuers AND The Rescuers Down Under, The Lion King, Brother Bear and Chicken Little). Not to mention the tons of films (Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Incredibles) that deal with family relationships.

Mordy said...


haKiruv said...

Equal opportunity villainy.

Anonymous said...

I did notice the similarity in mustache.

On the ethnicity point, I don't know. From what I have read on the house of mouse it would not shock me, however I have to agree w/ HH on the Aladdin characters.

Mordy said...

Pencil mustaches are evil. I think we can all agree on that.

the apple said...

Hmm. I looked at some old pictures of Aladdin, and he looks about as dark-skinned as Jafar (maybe depending on the "lighting" he looked paler).

The mustache similarity is uncanny!

W/ Ratatouille ... is Skinner supposed to be of a certain ethnicity? Or is he just dark-skinned? Saying that it's racist is being a little hypersensitive (and jumping to conclusions a bit).

Zvika said...

Oh lord, this reminds me of the essay written by someone in my English composition class which used Aladdin as a primary source that the US hates Arabs....But I digress.

Aladdin - no way, they all looked Arab or Indian. And anyhow, in the original story, Aladdin was a Chinese kid. That's rather "ethnic" if you ask me. But I don't see an issue. As for the other one, I don't know, I never saw it. However, I got the impression from the trailer that the bad guy was supposed to be really French, so I take it as making fun of the French, not being racist.

laughingwolf said...

too pc any more... they are now 'sanitizing' older cartoons, forgetting they were what was happening at the time they were made, racism and all...

why try to 21st century stuff from the early 20th... cuz they CAN???

gimme a break

if it 'offends', turn the channel, pop out the dvd, or leave the theater

no big studio deliberately sets out to make racist flicks, toons or otherwise

Anonymous said...

didnt notice in the slightest. more a mockery of the french then anything else.

M.R. said...

laughingwolf said...
no big studio deliberately sets out to make racist flicks, toons or otherwise [emphasis added]
If someone were trying to advance a "deliberate racism" argument, I'd just roll my eyes. But considering this on a slightly less "concious" level, I'd say Chana's on to something. The good guy is fit. The bad guy is fat. That's just the way it goes (usually). But this sort of observation suggests implicit racism to me; the sort that we don't like and of which we don't know we're prey. (Notice the barfy switch to first person, there). See implicit.harvard.edu

Anonymous said...

All I knew was that I was beyond disappointed in this movie. I love food and cooking, love my kids, love simple, non-threatening cartoon movies, but this and Cars just bored us all to death. Opportunities for humor were completely squandered. So, for me, racism wasn't the crime here, over-hype was. And--oh for the good old Toy Story days...

Anonymous said...

If someone were trying to advance a "deliberate racism" argument, I'd just roll my eyes

Don't be so quick to dismiss. I'm not saying that it happened in this case but there are many confirmed cases of deliberate "non family friendly" content being added in sub-frames to animated films.

Jack Steiner said...

I am not sure that I agree with you on this one. Have to think about it.

Tobie said...

I think the real reason is that villains have to be comic, while heroes and heroines can't be too funny looking. Hence one of the villains of the movie had a silly accent, was very short, and looked caricaturely-foreign, while the other was gaunt, looming, and vampire pale. It's just a relatively cheap and easy way of making a character funny to an American audience.

Erachet said...

"One seudah shlishit, my friends and I sat around and counted up the number of Disney characters who have lost one or both of their parents. The total was astounding. Why is that most Disney protagonists are orphans? What does Disney have against parents?!"

So first of all, most Disney movies are based on fairy tales and mythology where the characters don't have parents, which is why the Disney characters don't have parents. And the fairy tale characters don't have parents because, ages ago, people died pretty young from diseases, etc. and it was actually really common for kids to have step-parents or to be missing a parent.

Also, Chana, in Aladdin, Jasmine definitely looks Arab, with her slanted eyes and everything.

I think the deal is, villains are often somewhat ugly looking, either fat or with a huge mustache or just SOMETHING, because the animators are trying to show that evil=ugly while good=beautiful. Now, I don't completely agree with this, because people can take it to mean ugly=evil and beautiful=good, which is very, VERY different from evil=ugly and good=beautiful, but it's all for the sake of animation and entertainment, really.

However, I do agree that there are often subtleties within kids' movies that are not so kid-friendly, like all the little things in Disney that everyone misses unless you know they're there...

Anonymous said...

Side point:

This was one of the reasons I liked the original Shrek so much. Dreamworks took the entire Disney formula and mocked it from top to bottom.

Anonymous said...

I have had the parent thing conversation about Disney movies as well, even in the ones WITH parents, it's usually only one parent, not two -- Little Mermaid, Aristocats, etc. . .

Simba had two parents, but then one died, Bambi had two parents but one died, Dumbo had one parent who was then jailed . . .

is 101 Dalmatians the only disney classic with two parents?

Does Andy in Toy Story have a dad?

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's a very nice little film. I found it full of optimism and hope for tolerance, mutual understanding etc.

But immediately I saw the Skinner character, it worried me: he looks decidedly maghrébin, i.e. North African. It's a problematic identity within France, which still hasn't come to terms with its colonial past and multi-ethnic present.

Such a shame that, by inadvertence or design, this unfortunate element seeped in to mar an otherwise enjoyable film.

Anonymous said...

Yeah even I got a strong feeling that Skinner had arab ethnicity, his accent and the way he looked gave me such an inkling. I can't believe people at pixar whom I hold in awe could be so scurvy at heart. Shrek rules... he's an ugly ogre, but he's valued in the movie because he's good at heart, and even though farquad's really charming, he's delineated as evil. Cursed be people who try to demonize a particular group, even if it's a kids movie!!! Something as fun and enjoyable as cartoons is also being acerbated with such stuff.

Anonymous said...

lol... i love toy story... no racism there. no offence, but werent these movies made when racism was a BIG thing? dont you think that should be a humongous factor there.... cant cange the past.. but you can change the futur . sheesh.. just call them and give them a piece of you mind instead of ranting on websites.

Jordan said...

Yeah seriously about aladin the song in the beginning and the hole you stole something I'll chop off hand thing later in the movie, doesnt the movie take place in ancient middle east with hamurabis code and stuff like that. i think if people were more educated they would respect the history in that movie. oh and with the hole skin color and accent things idk, idc honestly the movie was entertaining it didnt warp my mind into thinking that all arabs are terroist. it just entertained. how come in kung fu panda basically the opposite happened? {(basically) Im talking about the turtle and the rat and i think his po's father too, and the monkey but then again the parrot in aladain didnt speak with any arabian accent. or the fat short guy that hung out with jafar.

So what Im saying is, i dont think aladins racist at all

Anonymous said...

HMM. not racist, but the original lyrics were:

"Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face/It's barbaric, but, hey, it's home" ????

it's something.

Anonymous said...

Well, I happen to think that all the characters in Aladdin, good and bad, look Arab and they should because the film is set in Arabia. What do you think it means to look Arab anyways? I happen to have a lot of Arab friends who look just like me and I am as white as they come.

What I did notice that the evil characters tend to have more angular features. Probably because it looks scarier. These movies are for children...they need to have some way of depicting evil. So they tend to be angular and be cast in dark lighting.

As for Ratatouille most of the characters had French accents. The bad guy wasn't more French than anyone else, he just had angular features which could be why he reminds you of Jafar. Having been to France I can say that most French people do not have dark skin. There are even French people with red hair.

As for the accents of the main characters being American, perhaps it is because the films are marketed to American children. They have an easier time understanding their own accent, so it makes sense that the majority of the dialog would be in American English. The accents are just for effect.

Anonymous said...

I thought Linguini looked like a total Jew. (Curly red hair, freckles, pale skin, big nose, lanky build). He was cute, though. :) The movie didn't have any real villains though, Skinner was an antagonist for a while, but he was just silly. And Ego found happiness. The villain in the film was ignorance and prejudice- which has no color, size, or shape.

Anonymous said...

So you are saying that only white people can be villains??? Now it is considered racist when a non-white is the bad guy and a white is the good guy?

Political correctness is going mad!