Ian Holm (1931-2020)

Sir Ian Holm died today at the age of 88, his agent confirmed this afternoon.

Thirteen years ago, the actor voiced the role of Chef Skinner in Disney/Pixar’s 2007 animated feature film, Ratatouille. (Skinner’s name is a nod to behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner, famous for his experiments with rats.) At a point in the story where the kitchen staff of a Paris restaurant have walked out, hero Remy’s rat clan – whom we have already met – take over. Chef Skinner and a health inspector called Nadar Kessard (the role voiced in part by Jamie Oliver), whom the chef called earlier, attempt to interfere. They are bound, gagged, and locked in the larder by the rats.

In his film review for The Guardian of 14.10.07, Philip French wrote:

“Rats have rightly had a bad press throughout history, carrying plagues around the world, terrifying Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four and universally loathed, though the puppet Roland Rat enjoyed a vogue on television after saving a crisis-troubled TV station from extinction, and Sinatra and his disreputable chums proudly called themselves the Rat Pack. Mice, on the other hand, have always been thought cute and lovable, idealised by Beatrix Potter and providing the Disney Organisation with its corporate symbol. The Disney company is popularly known in the film industry as ‘the Mouse’, so it must have seemed an amusingly subversive notion to make Remy, the hero of Ratatouille, not only a rat, but a highly sophisticated one. Moreover, he’s a native of that ‘Old Europe’ so roundly condemned by Donald Rumsfeld, and a citizen of France, whose most significant contribution to America’s fast-food cuisine was for a while redesignated as ‘freedom fries’.”

Xan Brooks wrote in the same paper two days earlier:

“The perennial cliche trotted out about Pixar movies is that they are smart and soulful enough to be enjoyed by adults as well as children, as though this is somehow a shock and not a quality shared by every great family film right back to The Wizard of Oz. True to form, Ratatouille contains plenty of exuberant set pieces (fraught chases along the Seine, some gaudy slapstick involving a visiting health inspector). But this riff on Cyrano de Bergerac also works as a heartfelt parable of illegitimacy and a passionate plea for the role of the outsider. The clue is in the DNA of the three main characters. Colette (voiced by Janeane Garofalo) is a talented cook struggling to find a niche in a male-dominated profession. Linguini is revealed to be the unacknowledged bastard son of a noted celebrity chef. And Remy, of course, is a rat and therefore reviled by polite society. The diners love his food but want him dead.”

Kirk Honeycutt had written for the Reuters website on 26.6.07:

“It seems old Gusteau has passed on to that kitchen in the sky. His sous chef, Skinner (Ian Holm), drawn to look like an evil and miniaturized Cantinflas, is content to coast on the restaurant’s name while crassly expanding into frozen food. When Linguini receives credit for Remy’s artistry, Skinner is forced to hire him as a cook. But Skinner challenges him to repeat his “accidental” soup recipe. When Linguini comes to the startling realization that a rat actually created the soup, he knows his goose, you should excuse the expression, is cooked.

But wait! Linguini and Remy develop a means to communicate. Through trial and much error (meaning much slapstick), Remy learns that by perching on the top of Linguini’s head under his chef’s hat and pulling tufts of thick hair to manipulate limbs, he can pilot Linguini through his food-prep station. Soon, Linguini/Remy have the old magic back in Gusteau’s kitchen, light a romantic fire underneath its sole female cook, Colette (Janeane Garofalo), have Skinner doing a slow burn, and attract the unwanted attention of the town’s haughtiest critic, Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole at his most imperial and majestic self)…”

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