Live Review: San Francisco Symphony Performs Ratatouille in Concert

Ratatouille is far from my favorite Pixar movie.

I say that not to open the can of worms that is debating which of the now-Disney owned animation studio's films are the best — because we'd be here all day — but for a bit of context. I was not going to the Sunday afternoon showing of the San Francisco Symphony performs Ratatouille in Concert as a fan of the film, but probably more so the opposite; the tale of Remy the rat and his attempt to become one of Paris’s top chefs just never did much for me. Never really liked it.

But, put those pitchforks down. Just doing some scene setting. My dislike of the film should, I suppose, give the following a bit more weight: The San Francisco Symphony took a movie I've never held affinity for and made it one of the more enjoyable orchestral performances I’ve seen of late.

For the performance, the score of the movie was played live by the orchestra, while the film was projected on a giant screen. Pulling off this type of show is tricky for myriad reasons, not least of all that the orchestra has to stay exactly in sync with the film, but also has to balance its own sound with prerecorded dialogue and sound effects. Big mistakes in either of those categories and the whole thing just falls apart. Everything has to be precise and meticulous and match with what's happening on-screen. It isn't like the conductor can just slow the movie down or rewind if something goes awry.

Luckily, much like Remy’s own signature ratatouille, this performance was top notch: it was one of the best such live-orchestra-with-a-movie performances I’ve seen. The balance between the film and the orchestra was nearly perfect (save a few very minor spots), with the orchestra loudly supplementing the film with its Academy Award nominated score.

The live score added another layer of flavor to the film, and scenes like the rats escaping from the crazy gun-touting lady at the beginning, or the chase around the kitchen, were given a heightened sense of emotion, pulling me further into the adventure. Again, I couldn't have named any of the songs or melodies from the film — and probably still couldn’t, its score, like the movie, never stuck out to me — but I still found myself tapping my foot along and really enjoying all the ingredients coming together live.

I was also quite happy to see that the orchestra brings out an accordion (the film’s score pulls from its French setting), but could have used it louder in the mix, especially in the scene where the rat band is playing in the sewers: I initially almost thought the accordion was prerecorded given how faint it was amidst everything else. But, I'm just glad the orchestra went the extra mile to bring in some non-standard orchestral instruments to really flesh everything out.

Again, I was coming at this as more of a movie-score and orchestral fan than a Ratatouille aficionado, and it was also my first time seeing the San Francisco Symphony. Now, I have much higher expectations to see what the symphony can do with music and films I actually am a fan of.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll have to revisit my prior dislike for Ratatouille.

Critic's Notebook:

—Director/screenwriter Brad Bird and composer Michael Giacchino were also present (and did a pre-concert talk), which made this show even more special. Not every day, I imagine, that either gets to hear the movie they worked on performed for a live audience.

—I’m not sure if the San Francisco Symphony does movies like this every summer…but something like this but with Aladdin or Lion King? Gimme gimme gimme.

—Why are reviewers always portrayed negatively in movies? Do people really perceive us like Anton Ego? I've never known a critic with a house so big, at the very least….

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