Headline of the Day: Vietnam cracks down on hamster craze

Born to be mildFrom next Monday, anyone possessing or trading hamsters faces stiff fines of up to 30 million dong (1,875 dollars), the Vietnam News daily reported, citing a new agriculture ministry directive to enforce a ban imposed last month. The communist government aims to end a youth craze for the fast-breeding animals, which were previously only imported for scientific research, but which have now spawned online hamster forums and real-life hamster clubs.

Apparently the Year of the Ratatouille is to blame for the popularity of the rodents. The government is afraid that they could spread disease and destroy crops.

This crackdown seems to have hit the blackmarket hamster trade very hard: “Amid the stern warning, the state-run Vietnam News reported, the street price of hamsters, many smuggled from China and Thailand without licenses or quarantine checks, has already dropped from over 20 dollars to less than 10.”

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Year of The Rat is restaurants’ marketing jackpot

The Ho-la Diner and the Jiashing restaurant opposite have run five or six rat eateries out of town over nearly six decades of business to become the top two ahead of the Year of the Rat, which begins on February 7. Both display hairless rat carcasses in their kitchen windows before chopping off the heads and throwing the pint-sized bodies and tails into pots with basil and sweet, black sauce.

Putting the rat back in ratatouille.

RatSomeone call Remy, I sense an endorsement deal.

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Fortune blunders in its year-end list of business blunders

Surprisingly, I am not the only one to chronicle the year’s dumbest business moments. The folks at an obscure little publication called Fortune have also put out a list and it’s one I must quibble with. By and large it’s pretty good… Eli Lily marketing Prozac for dogs, Merrill Lynch giving CEO Stanley O’Neal $161M for retiring after overseeing some of the worst losses in company history, the Cartoon Network fiasco … but nestled in at #9 is one that is just flat out wrong:

Ooh-la-la, gross! The French daily Le Monde calls Ratatouille, Pixar’s movie about a rat in a kitchen, “one of the greatest gastronomic films in the history of cinema.”

Ummm, guys and gals, DID YOU SEE THE MOVIE? Ratatouille (best movie I saw this year) was indeed one of the greatest movies ever made about the love of food and cooking. The only things that come close to it IMHO are Tampopo and maybe Eating Raoul. Sheesh. What’s a rat got to do to get a little respect around here?

(BTW, Thanks to AdFreak and SoundBite Back for mentioning CD along side the Fortune list.)

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Pixar brings plague of pet rats to Paris

First it was dalmations, now it’s rodents. When Disney’s remake of 101 Dalmations came out it caused such a frenzy for dalmation pups that local animal shelters saw a marked increase in the number of spotted pups being turned in. Now Pixar, owned by the Mouse, has done it again. Thomas Huxley reports in his wonderful blog Upcoming Pixar that:

Gerald Moreau who runs a group which promotes rats as pets has said that hits to his website have risen 40% since the release of Ratatouille in France.

Sadly it is far easier to dispose of a rat one doesn’t want…

Mr. Huxley goes on to ask if anyone not in France has been bitten by the rat (pet) bug.

I must say, Non, but only because Big Brother SSG Collateral Damage had one when we were kids. I was quite fond of John Rat (actual name) but I’m holding out for a different pet … a b-lld-g or two.

BTW, here’s a link to my review of Ratatouille.

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Chinese still don’t “get” capitalism: Gov’t calls for ban on “sexist and sexually suggestive” ads

 “Advertisements that contain sexual hints or flirtatious language are easily seen on some local television channels,” CCTV said on its Web site.

You say that like it’s a bad thing …

Elsewhere in the case of China v. Capitalism, Beijing has tried to cash in on the “Ratatouille” craze by shipping rats to restaurants. OK. That’s a lie. But it would explain why

Live rats are being trucked from central China, suffering a plague of a reported 2 billion rodents displaced by a flooded lake, to the south to end up in restaurant dishes.

Here in Boston we don’t have to ship rats to our restaurants. They come of their own accord.

Ratatouille: A love story

1Earlier this year I saw Paris J’Taime, 22 short films by 22 directors (Gus Van Sant, Alexander Payne, The Coen Bros., Gerard Depardieu, etc.), all about love and guess what city? They were trifles, mostly, as they should be. Pleasant and touching looks at the City of Light — if it wasn’t commissioned by the Paris Tourist Bureau then they just got a freebie. What I remember most is Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara and Fanny Ardant (right) and Bob Hoskins. Not only are they great actors but they were all portraying something almost never seen in American movies: Passionate crazy love among men and women of certain age.

rat2Paris J’Taime is postcards from Paris. Ratatouille is the novel. Its story and sense of place is both deep and surprising. Unlike other Pixar movies, this was actually a movie I’d never seen before. I love Pixar and think they have made some of the best movies I’ve ever seen but the others were all riffs on familiar themes. Toy Story is a buddy movie — a great buddy movie to be sure — but still we knew going in that the Woody and Buzz were going to wind up as friends. Finding Nemo is a superb story of love, loss and letting-go, but even so I’d seen its basic idea before (for more of my thoughts about Nemo go here). Ratatouille, the story of a rat who becomes a chef, could easily have been another “fish-out-of-water makes good” movie but it isn’t.

(WARNING: Lots of spoilers below)

It never takes the obvious route. It is never hack (which is comedians’ name for the easy and cliche). It isn’t “HEARTWARMING.” Every choice made by the people involved is true to the story and the characters and not just what the audience expects. As a result it gives the audience so much more than mere easy laughs. The big challenge that our hero (voiced by the wonderful Patton Oswalt) overcomes is not will he become a chef, it’s how to make peace between being a rat AND being a chef. When his family comes to his aid it’s not a big sweeping emotional moment, it’s a much more realistic “yeah we’re family and this is what family does even when they’re angry at each other” moment. In other words: It’s a true moment, not a Hollywood one.

One of Ratatouille’s greatest strengths is that it never forgets that rats and people eating food are not something that go together. Even when the rats ride to the rescue and run the kitchen, the movie is smart enough to include a stomach-jarring shot of rodents swarming. If this had been made just by Disney Ratatouille would have had an ending where the restaurant is saved, the rat and the human both get the girl and snoooooore. That sort of happens, but not in the predictable way that ruined so many of Disney’s later animated movies.

Also it’s hard to imagine the later Disney movies including the scene where our hero and his father walk by the exterminator’s shop in the Marais whose window is decorated with dead rats in traps. (I’ve been by that store a number of times, it is quite wonderful.) Pre-Pixar animation at Disney long ago gave up being willing to actually upset the audience. For all that Lion King was willing to show the father’s death, it did it without the terror and darkness that makes Pinocchio one of the greatest and scariest movies I’ve ever seen.

ratdollThe only complaint I have with the movie has to do with its marketing. Disney/Pixar missed out on the perfect tie-in: A celebration of the wonderful Musée des égouts de Paris, the museum of the sewers of Paris. It is a truly unique place and the only museum in Paris whose gift shop already had plushy rats in stock.