On the first day of 2021, the year many hope to be a new dawn of peace, health, and unity, TikTok showed the world that the first step in that direction is singing about a rat chef. With Gen Z at the helm, the future is weird, wonderful, and strikingly provocative, and their influence is on full display in Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical.
Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical debuted virtually on January 1 as a manifestation of a movement catapulted into the mainstream by short-form video social media app TikTok and based on Pixar’s 2007 film directed by Brad Bird. For the uninitiated, the sensation began as a simple TikTok created by Emily Jacobson singing about Remy the rat. It soon went viral and sparked a chain of countless other users creating their own Ratatouille-inspired songs and performing them in-character as various members of Pixar’s ensemble. Cut to January 1, and it’s opening night for a fully realized, virtually hosted, celebrity-cast Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, a project born from the fan community in the middle of a pandemic.
The production, clocking in at just under an hour, is essentially the entire story of the movie, with the signature songs that TikTok users by now know and love, accompanied by a 20-piece orchestra and produced in partnership with Seaview Productions and TodayTix. We’re talking Broadway-caliber talent, all performed fully committed to the role without a hint of irony. When Remy, played by Titus Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), sits on a Parisian rooftop and sings of his longing for the world to remember him, it’s as authentic of an “I want” ballad as Ariel singing “Part Of Your World.” The moment Andrew Barth Feldman (Dear Evan Hansen) becomes Linguini, it’s clear to all this was the role he was born to play. The production embraces its limitations and takes itself seriously, a risky approach when parody may have been easier or even expected but nonetheless the right decision because the end result is fantastic. There have been a handful of times a non-musical animated film has been adapted as a musical stage show, and this feels just as genuine as any of those. Costumes are minimal (save for Wayne Brady who went all-out as Remy’s dad) and, yes, it’s clear that this was produced from home, but we’re used to that by this point in the pandemic. Frankly, this show pulls off the “remote production” vibe better than most primetime televised events do, with appreciation for it heightening all the more when remembering this all started from a single, seemingly “ordinary” person, one TikTok user –– and that this entire collection of songs began as user-generated content.
Therein lies the true radiance of Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical; it exists as an embodiment of Ratatouille‘s famous adage, as spoken by Chef Gusteau: “anyone can cook.” We learned quite a long time ago that great content can emerge all by itself on the Internet without the backing of a major studio or company. That has certainly never been truer than the past 10 months, a hell-ridden dystopia when some of the brightest moments of everyday life have been found in the ways creators think inside the box to share with the world content that brings us that spark of joy we’re currently missing from in-person connection. Great content can come from anywhere, and particularly when so much of the world is shut down and Broadway itself sits with empty theaters, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, a seemingly absurd concept, is an example of not only the vibrancy of the theater community but also of the extra layer of purpose that quarantine-era media production has to bring joy to people in a time of sadness.
As a movie, Ratatouille was never really overlooked; it got rave reviews, performed well at the box office, and won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Still, it never got the same long-term traction as some of its franchise-driven Pixar siblings, and the buzz it’s currently receiving feels akin to when a cult classic takes off. This moment will most certainly be what an entire generation associates Ratatouille the film with for the rest of their lives, and there’s a specialness in recognizing that as it’s unfolding.
It’s fascinating to realize this isn’t a Disney-sanctioned spectacular. It’s a bit surprising Disney would allow this to move forward without interference or licensing drama, no doubt due to the current social climate, the sheer force this movement has become without Disney’s involvement, and the simple fact that at the end of the day, it’s all free publicity for a Disney property poised for a comeback. EPCOT at Walt Disney World is preparing to open Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure later this year, a family ride that previously debuted at Disneyland Paris. In fact, hearing about the ride’s opening was what inspired Jacobson to write the original TikTok song, and Disney has since hosted her for an onsite construction tour of the ride, which is currently receiving its finishing touches. It’s a win-win all around where Disney’s place in it is concerned and smart of them to let it be.
When looking at the bigger picture, the notion of an EPCOT attraction inspiring a generation of youth to create something that so seismically shifts into mainstream culture is remarkably on-brand for the park. EPCOT is all about uniting people of different backgrounds to build a better future, and the park’s slogan is “the magic of possibility.” That’s pretty much everything Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical exemplifies, and while EPCOT is not widely recognized as being the motivator for the movement, it’s the most relevant the park has been in the achievement of its purpose in decades, perhaps since its Millennium Celebration graced the Super Bowl halftime show in 2000.
In a time when content has taken on all shapes, from Taylor Swift delivering surprise albums to movie studios releasing major films on home-streaming services, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical stands out among the spirited list of COVID-era productions for being overwhelmingly charming and outstandingly executed by the passion of a community. Even when the pandemic is behind us, Remy needn’t worry. We will remember his name.
This review was posted the night of the virtual production’s premiere, January 1, 2021. At the time of this writing, the show is available for on-demand viewing for purchase to benefit The Actors Fund for the next 72 hours via TodayTix.
Have you seen Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical? Tell us your opinion of this musical’s amazing journey!
Blake is a scriptwriter at Elevation Church, where he develops documentary shorts and creative elements as part of the film team. He graduated Appalachian State University studying Electronic Media Production and is an alumni of the Disney College Program. Blake’s favorite films are Mary Poppins, The Lion King, and Toy Story 3. You can find him on Twitter (@blake_242) and visit his blog at blakeonline.com.