Because the opening of the Ratatouille ride at Walt Disney World on October 1 is as good a reason as any, here now, a weeklong exploration of the 2007 rat-infested Pixar classic, Ratatouille.
A gig at Disney World must be a dream for set designers. Whether you’re stepping into Wendy, John, and Michael’s bedroom before boarding the Peter Pan ships, touring through a museum-level exhibit of yeti lore ahead of the Expedition Everest roller coaster, or browsing a market inside a dark temple within Epcot’s Mexico, Disney achieves a level of escapism that’s difficult to rival.
It’s a repellent to some — Disney’s brand of earnest, fanciful, corny, expensive make-believe. But for the fans, the Disneyphiles (hi there), those extra touches and details are the hook.
In that regard, there’s plenty to appreciate with the Ratatouille-themed expansion of the France Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase and the Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure ride, opening to the public on October 1. They’ve doubled the size of the pavilion, adding a new street with a waterfront evoking the Seine, a creperie inspired by classics in Brittany, a plaza with a rat-topped fountain (garnering lines for photos even before the attraction officially opened), and a full replica of the starring restaurant in Ratatouille, Gusteau’s, which holds the ride — what I suspect is the only kitchen brigade-inspired children’s theme park ride in the country.
Through the magic of landscape architecture, they’ve deftly hidden the sheer size of the building (massive if you peek at Google Maps) holding the ride behind a quaint storefront. Inside in line — because Disney lines are never just lines — riders weave through rooms inspired by the movie, including a studio apartment with animated paintings and a rooftop overlooking Gusteau’s. The movie’s accordion-heavy theme song pipes through the lines, where it’s forever twilight.
And once you’re done waiting you basically ... go inside the movie.
The ride consists of rat-shaped trackless cars that weave through different scenes and spaces as you and Remy are chased through the restaurant of the film. For anyone unfamiliar with the trackless ride experience, that alone is a bit of a thrill, as you’re not tethered to a visible path or linked to the cars nearby as you maneuver through various, high-energy scenarios.
Meanwhile, 3D imagery across various screens is sharp, and superfans will appreciate experiencing new material from the Ratatouille world, as Linguini ushers you into a hidey hole or Skinner’s finger gets caught in a mousetrap. There’s not much in the way of plot, but the 4D elements — heat when you’re under the broiler, misty water droplets from a mop, the pungent, actual smell of wafting cheese in the kitchen — combined with the set design of the pantry (giant onions! enormous sausages!) and a post-chase rat picnic make for a fully immersive and incredibly fun few minutes. My 5-year-old was beyond amazed. (And, according to him, “Only a little bit scared.”)
In the end, it’s a 4 minute and 40 second ride that is a replica of one in Disneyland Paris and based on a movie that’s 14 years old in a park that’s every kid’s least-favorite.
But for me, a Ratatouille fan, Disney aficionado, a lover of pretty much any amusement or theme park ride that goes the extra mile — and perhaps more importantly, a former restaurant worker — I came out with a dumb smile on my face. So many of us fell in love with this movie because it was able to capture the danger, thrill, and passion involved in kitchen work. To escape into the cartoon version of that world so fully for a few moments — feeling the heat of the stove, smelling the fragrances of the ingredients, and experiencing that weird, extreme dissonance between the chaotic, clanging kitchen and the serene show of the dining room — was a real thrill, even for someone (especially for someone?) who worked inside an actual restaurant. Which, let’s face it, is also a ride that sometimes involves screaming and rats.
I immediately got back in line to ride it again.