This article is a One Room With A View first – the ‘scene stealer’ performance coming from an animated film, with Peter O’Toole’s voice-acting rendition of Anton Ego. Ten years after the release of Ratatouille, the food critic is no less memorable. Of course, a large part of the credit should go to the talented team behind-the-scenes. Ego’s well-designed, gaunt features wholly reinforce his arrogant claim to not swallow any food he does not love. Yet it is the voice of late, talented Peter O’Toole – one of the greatest actors of his generation – that is the ultimate cherry on top.
O’Toole’s theatrical experience paid dividends in this meaty vocal role. The critic’s acerbic and imperious wit strikes believable fear in those dependent on his critical praise. However, it is Ego’s complete character transformation from haughty to humble that hammers home the democratic core of Ratatouille. He realises that genius and improbable heroes can come from anywhere (including Ego!). At either extreme, the few scenes in which Ego appears are some of the most pivotal and powerful of the film.
His is the first main-character voice we hear in the film, disparaging Chef Gusteau’s adage that ‘anyone can cook’. This vein continues later, communicated in a deep, weathered and distinguished British accent. A perfect marriage of culture with disdain. O’Toole utters Ego’s contemptuous lines with varying and unnerving smooth and staccato inflections. One such example occurs as he interrupts the height of Remy and Linguini’s initial success. At the celebratory press-conference, it is Ego who steals the scene. Here, O’Toole used a mix of clipped tones and consonant-heavy drawl to underline his threats and onomatopoeia. “I don’t like food… I lllove it. If I don’t love it, I don’t swwallllowww”. Later, as Ego prepares to critique ‘Gusteau’s’ Restaurant, O’Toole uses the same devise: “Tell your Chef Linguini that I want whatever he daaares to seeerve me…. Tell him to hit me with his best. Shot.”
The truly movie-stealing moment occurs during Ego’s revelatory dining experience. Of course – thanks to the perceptive magic of Pixar’s animation – Ego’s humbling taste of ratatouille takes place with no words required (see: the first clip). Remy’s skill and Ego’s love for food, illustrate its conjuring power as the critic remembers a childhood meal. The silence of this usually verbose and powerful speaker makes the scene, and what follows, all the more powerful.
It is Ego’s fearless and momentous restaurant review – in voice-over only – that reveals his change of heart. This section is one of the highlights of the film.
“Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from an unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core.”
In wonderful prose, Ego analyses the role of the critic, the brilliance of his meal and the epiphany that a great artist can come from anywhere. It is an authentic, selfless and moving statement – shiver inducing when read by O’Toole. His altered voice – soft, enigmatic and husky – as well as the stately pace, enunciates each word with musicality and gravitas. O’Toole also brings a fresh and captivating vulnerability, as well as charm, to the character. He was smart to emphasise only key phrases to make clear the depth of feeling; “they have rocked me to my core” is the most punchy and guttural phrase.
O’Toole’s voice becomes more fluid as the praise builds towards a joyous conclusion. At this point he falls on each word and consonant – humble Remy is “nothing less than the finest chef in France”. “I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more” is said with such gravelly relish that he brings Ego’s infectious passion to the fore.
Ultimately, Ratatouille is about unlikely genius. It is the voices of the animated characters that is absolutely crucial to the emotional dimension of this narrative. Indeed, the vocal performance is the foremost reason Anton Ego is the ultimate scene stealer of Ratatouille. In O’Toole’s practised hands and through his sumptuous voice, Ego’s wise words come to life.