The Menu and Ratatouille are not the best back-to-back features for a movie night, but the two films actually have more in common than you might initially expect. The former is an eloquent criticism of elitism and class dynamics whereas the latter is... also an eloquent criticism of elitism and class dynamics. Though these two movies share similar themes and messages, that connection is likely difficult to be seen because of how they are presented. The Menu is a thriller meets satirical dark comedy starring the one-of-a-kind yet personable Anya Taylor-Joy, while Ratatouille stars a rat voiced by Patton Oswalt, so the two films don't exactly lend themselves to comparison with one another. However, the heart of each movie is deeply similar to each other as they both present relatable protagonists, a critique of wealthy entitlement, and a deeply personal affection for food and cuisine.
The Menu and Ratatouille Focus on Overlooked Outsiders
The Menu stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot Mills, a self-assured escort taken to a mysterious and exclusive restaurant surrounded by the wealthy and obnoxious elite. Ratatouille stars Remy, a rat from a rural French village who aspires to be a great chef despite his existence as a rodent. Put these two heroes next to each other, and they seem like completely un-similar entities. Margot is played to be elegant yet grounded in realism, unlike the other characters in her film. Remy is an anthropomorphization of the least beloved rodent on the planet. He only stands out from his family because of his absurd sense of taste and smell that drew him to his love of food in the first place. These two protagonists are obviously very different, but as both films illustrate, their characters go deeper than what is on the surface.
The real connection between Margot and Remy is how they choose to define themselves, despite the labels others thrust upon them. At their core, Margot and Remy are relatable outsiders that have been constantly underlooked and taken advantage of because of the nature of their existence. Yet against each attempt to belittle them, they prove that they are strong, resilient, and good people worthy of success. Margot is overlooked because of her station. Her client, who is initially presented as her date, constantly undermines her opinions and ignores her discomfort and fear. The rest of the dining guests are the wealthy elite as Margot dines alongside deceitful finance bros, a self-aggrandizing actor, and even the most pompous food critic put to the silver screen. She is a fish out of water, a rat in a restaurant.
And this characterization is why Margot pairs well thematically with Remy. Remy likewise exists as an out-of-place guest at his restaurant of focus. Rats are the literal antithesis of fine dining, as their very presence could shut down a restaurant. Even if we ignored his actual animal existence and chalked it up to being a children's movie, Remy is still an outsider to fine dining because of his status. He was from rural France with no opportunity to learn about cooking from any well-respected institution. Take away the animated goofiness and the heart of the story remains intact: Remy is a character of lower class and that status was a primary reason he was excluded from the world he so deeply loved. Remy and Margot were both uninvited guests that were completely out of place among elitist company but were nonetheless the heroes of each story.
The connection between Margot and Remy is further supported by the resilience they demonstrate despite their outsider status. Remy sneaks into his hero's restaurant, befriends an untalented garbage boy, and works tirelessly against all obstacles to achieve his dream. Margot's dream during the film is different from Remy's, as she is simply trying to survive the night and escape from the sadism surrounding her. But she succeeds by staying true to herself, refusing to participate in the pretentious display of self-importance that the other guests fall prey to in their own individual ways. The head chef even confronts her because of her refusal to eat, but she firmly and simply refuses because she was, "not hungry." Remy and Margot both demonstrate fervent loyalty to their self-identity. Remy's desire to be a chef is a simple dream, much like how Margot's lack of appetite is a simple instinct. Yet because of the adversaries in their way, these goals seemed insurmountable. Simplicity does not equal ease and the way that Remy and Margot remain grounded in themselves despite attempts to uproot them makes them heroes that are easy to root for and unintentionally inspirational.
Remy and Margot Oppose the Industry Itself
The heroes of the two films also face off against similar opposition, further deepening the connections between the two. It initially appears as though the villains of each story are represented by Julian Slowik and Anton Ego. Slowik was played by the incomparable Ralph Fiennes and Ego was voiced by the legendary Peter O'Toole. Both Ego and Slowik are portrayed as eerily composed, ominously elegant, and ferociously influential. They are cynical of the worlds that they inhabit, despite having reached professional peaks that others so desperately want. However, though Ego and Slowik are the faces of villainy in their respective stories, they are not the actual antagonistic force. The Menu and Ratatouille both critique elitism and exclusivity, with a particular focus on how it has corrupted the food industry. The systems and structures of fine dining snobbery are highlighted as flawed, exploitative, and self-destructive. The clash of ideals between perpetuators of the system and the protagonists highlights how inequitable classism is the real antagonist of both movies.
Slowik, Ego, and a plethora of other characters are simultaneously victims and accomplices in the greed of their industry. Their descent into villainy illuminates the failings of the food industry and the inequity that comes from classism and wealth. Ego and Lillian Bloom, the pompous food critic in The Menu represented an aspect of self-destructiveness in the culinary world. They were lawmakers in the field who left destruction in their wake, with their words tarnishing the livelihoods of countless in the industry. Ego's reviews led to the death of Remy's favorite chef and Bloom's actions affected Slowik's descent into insanity.
Slowik monologized about how the field had devolved into corruption in greed, sharing how he lost love for his craft and forgot what cuisine truly meant. He remorselessly identifies each layer of selfishness that pushed him down this path. Slowik was angry at the investors whose gluttony and self-service turned the food world into a cutthroat world reliant and focused on wealth and power. He was disrespected by self-absorbed guests who never bothered to remember the name of the dishes he so meticulously crafted. He was used by food critics who took advantage of his talents to bring themselves acclaim, stringing him alongside them for as long as he was useful to their needs. They are a smorgasbord of selfish individuals.
The actions they take are reactive to the actions of those who exploited the system for their own advantage. But through their own selfishness, that exploitation is perpetuated. The industry has devolved into something inhospitable, a place that is cutthroat and harms every individual that participates. Ignoring the MPAA ratings of these movies helps illustrate how their criticisms are shockingly similar as they address the self-destructive cycle that the dining industry has fallen into.
The True Meaning of Good Food
The Menu and Ratatouille comparisons are clearer now, as their protagonists share the same qualities as outsiders in an exploitative system. When these opposing forces are pitted against one another, the overarching messages that are emulsified from their confrontation are nearly identical. In the climax of each film, both protagonists are in dire straits. Anton Ego demands a perfect meal, lest the restaurant be shut down from poor reviews. Julian Slowik is committed to his plan and all the guests inch closer to their inevitable deaths. What do Remy and Margot do? They remain grounded in themselves, break the established norms, and use love for food as their means of success. Remy chooses to make ratatouille, a stew that has a reputation as peasant food. Margot orders a cheeseburger, the most basic American meal that can be found in even the lowliest of settings.
Each of these films is a love letter to food that expresses deep affection for cuisine at its core and the scenes in which these dishes are prepared exemplify that dedication. Ego is rightfully enamored by the stew Remy makes, scarfing it down as he forgoes meticulous etiquette. We flash through his mind, seeing a memory from his childhood that is illuminated with soft lighting to elicit feelings of comfort and nostalgia. He is reminded of his childhood and rediscovers a pure love for food that he had lost during his time in the industry.
In The Menu, the climax also features a passionate tribute to food. When Margot requests a cheeseburger, Slowik is thrust into the past like Ego. He is reminded of his days flipping burgers as a cook, and that nostalgia is reflected in the way his face softens and his eyes glisten as he prepares Margot her dish. The nostalgic connection to his roots and his original passion give him the only glimmer of positive emotion he had displayed in the entire film. Slowik was a man who was so lost and damaged by his obsession with his craft that he sought violent retribution. But in this scene, he is reminded of his original love for food as he flips the burger with the precision of a master chef, but the heart of a cook who loves good food. Though Slowik and Ego are stoic faces of cynicism, their hearts are softened by Margot and Remy respectively.
Remy and Margot stand out because they are outsiders, but it is their understanding of the core meaning of food that helps them succeed. They understand that food is about nourishment and passion: you eat to be filled, and you cook to share love. Cheeseburgers and ratatouille are peasant foods made of simple, inexpensive ingredients. Though both movies approached cuisine with reverence, the most passionate and positive displays of emotion are reserved for dishes made for the everyman. The themes are blended into the story and brought out by the strong characterization of their protagonists: Simplicity is not a shortcoming. Being different is not a disadvantage. Amidst selfishness and greed, a nostalgic home-style meal can be the most nourishing.