Disclaimer: Don’t put your ideas and pitches out on the internet for free like I’m doing here. I am a professional rat pitch wrangler with years of experience under my belt.
Throughout 2020, many thoughts have skittered across my brain. I have failed to hold on to most of these, but I finally laid down some sticky paper and caught a few. These thoughts all ended up being “ideas for rat movies.” Most of them came to me all in one day last week, but that doesn’t disqualify them from being the most important thoughts I’ve had this year. They squeaked in right at the end, like rats do.
For my gratuitous annual “best of” list, I decided to rank the nonexistent rat movies in my head based on the Rotten Tomatoes score I’m pretty sure they would have gotten if they’d been executed faithfully to my vision. That’s never a guarantee in this industry (“Big Rat Movie” as we insiders call the lobby), but this is all speculative anyway so we might as well have some fun.
First, my process: I thought of a rat movie then I wrote a synopsis of the rat movie. I checked to make sure I wasn’t subconsciously stealing some other rat movie, suppressing its origin, and passing it off as my own. I did this by looking up “popular rat movies.” I really don’t trust this Wikipedia category of “films about rats” because it fails to mention Ratatouille, a seminal text of the genre.
The Google search for “popular rat movies” yielded more reliable results, including such rat bangers as The Secret of NIMH. In any case, just know that if I accidentally invented a rat movie that already exists, it’s because I wasn’t aware of it. I don’t mean to steal from other creators without at least changing it a little to avoid being sued. Otherwise I don’t care that much. That’s the rat race, baby.
Anyway, here are the top five rat movies I thought about last week that I think would work, ranked in order of worst Rotten Tomatoes score to freshest. If you disagree, know that you’re wrong and no one asked. Worm. Here we go.
Well I’m going to start out small with Ratz, a film that set out to be a fun, tongue-in-cheek critique on how we market products to young girls but got tampered with along the way. It’s Bratz, but instead of humans the girls are rats. Their high school is in the sewer and they love trash and shopping for little rat clothes. Unfortunately, some exec caught the idea in one of those humane rat traps and turned the movie into an earnest Hasbro marketing pitch.
More devastating still, at least for dedicated creators invested in the integrity of the rodent film movement, the marketing pitch was a runaway success and now young gay kids all want a Rat Barbie under the tree for Christmas. If you’re curious as to what the Ratz look like, imagine a rat wearing a blonde wig. The rats come in different pastel colors as well. Honestly, they’re pretty cool.
As you can see, the film barely matters anymore because it had no real plot. For parallels, consider the new Smurfs movies, why not. I’d say Trolls, but, well, it wishes. It’s not all bad news, though, as the Ratz manage to transcend their tacky origins and go on to enjoy an iconic run as toys, lunch boxes, and merch. Possums and raccoons get added to the mix later in the Trash 2 Treasure: The Garbage Friends series.
I’ve seen enough: Ratz is the worst rat movie I came up with last week off the top of my head, and the critics agree. 22%. Shameless cash grab that fails as a movie but succeeds in establishing a line of cute, rather subversive toys for the little kids of our future climate dystopia. Some decent think pieces on “if you loved Ratz as a kid, you’re gay now” to be published in 2043.
This is obviously the gritty, live action Speedy Gonzales movie nobody wanted. Sure, Speedy is technically a mouse, but the word for mouse in Español is ratón. Plus every time I moved to take it off the list it felt vaguely discriminatory.
I think the first draft of this story would be problematic. After some disastrous rewrites and failed focus groups, the people involved become too close to the project to realize how racist the first version is and they’ll decide to run (¡ándale, ándale, arriba!) with it out of desperation. Here’s how I think that story would shake out.
Speedy Gonzales, the lovable Mexican mouse of famed velocity, will star in a kind of KIDZ BOP American Dirt. If you don’t know what either of those are, lucky you. I’ll put it another way: What if Narcos, but instead of cocaine it’s cartoon cheese and instead of Pablo Escobar it’s a kingpin cat character with a mustache?
So Speedy (Latinx) has to stop Gato Escobar from getting all the mice in Mexico hooked on this special addictive cheese he and the other cats cooked up that makes the mice really stupid and easy to catch. The cats get to profit while also eating their customers, the mice (los ratónes).
It thinks it’s making salient commentary on American plutocracy and consumerism but unfortunately it has too many metaphors going on. Speedy is simultaneously the CIA in Colombia and an everymouse trying to bring down the system. Its unwitting parallels to the war on drugs and the opioid crisis are also handled rather clumsily.
We haven’t even discussed Chicita Ratita, the spicy girl mouse who wears red lipstick and ends up being a double agent. She concludes her character arc by becoming Speedy’s girlfriend after making some sort of self-sacrifice that culminates in Gato Escobar throwing her into a mouse trap during the climax. “MENTIROSA!” he probably shouts while tossing her by the tail. She’s fine, just broke a few mouse ribs.
In summary: Super fast mouse solves conflicts using incredible speed. Can’t run away from all his problems, like the burden of community. 39%. Condemned by multiple activist and human rights orgs.
We have an arthouse piece here for good measure. Rat Girl is a movie about a girl living in New York City and she has a long rat tail. It’s sort of a “Geryon’s wings in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red” situation where like, yes, she has a long, actual rat tail, but it’s not remarked upon much. People note it at times but no one freaks out.
Anyway, this is a dimly lit slice-of-life movie about a millennial girl living a relatively normal life in Brooklyn where she’s a waitress (fired in Act One), an intern for a social media company, and has a small, shitty friend group that makes fun of each other all the time but has no apparent redeeming qualities. The whole time, her whiplike tail is undulating about.
The film is try-hard commentary about the rat life of a disenfranchised generation, living in their little holes and scurrying around underfoot while the rich and powerful stomp around, so huge they are essentially invisible. Faceless.
I would add more but that’s really the gist. Vulture probably runs a piece with the line “there’s a good movie crawling around beneath the floorboards of Rat Girl, but it never actually surfaces.” In summary: Millennial parable slightly misses the mark, but at least it’s ambitious. 61%. Lots of memes, not many viewers.
Legends of the Great Below
This one is a Fievel-Goes-West-style animated movie with a sort of Owls of Ga’Hoole, Arthurian “Knights of the Round Table” flair to it. So, you know, cartoon rats in shiny helmets fashioning weapons out of the junk humans throw into the gutters. Definitely a clothespin dagger being wielded by a dextrous tail somewhere in here.
This is one of those movies where the characters live in an underground world and use terms like “The Above Place” in reference to the bustling streets of New York City that they perceive as a forbidden land of danger (astute).
Our rat hero has a quest: It’s a rite of passage to journey to The Above Place and bring back a treasure in order to be knighted, which she (that’s right, GIRL rat hero! DIE mad about it, incels!) wants to do because her dad went missing (presumed killed) on one of these missions on the cusp of his knighthood.
Ideally, there would be some British rats. One could be portrayed by a powerhouse like Ian McKellen or Ewan McGregor. The rat could be clearly drawn to look like them, and maybe the actor is firing on all cylinders because the script reads as somewhat Shakespearean and when they recorded they couldn’t have known it would end up as a “pretty good for DreamWorks” tier kind of gig.
Pleasant surprise! The villain isn’t an evil cat prince or anything like that. We keep it in the community by having a rat villain. And uh oh! Oh no! Turns out our hero’s dad actually abandoned her and is a villain living in the The Above Place working with the main villain who is really just campy decoration for the heart of the conflict: our hero having to reckon with the fact that her idea of her dad was just a myth (oooh ties in so well with the medieval folklore thing) and now she needs to let him go and find her own reasons for being a knight (the treasure she brings back from her mission!).
In summary: Sword fights. Rat queen. Girlboss moment where rat queen knights girl rat hero. Mead hall. Big climactic fight in a two-bedroom apartment in Hell’s Kitchen where the protagonist has to get creative with everyday objects, probably utilizes a hairdryer to turn the tide of battle. Subpar comedy unfortunately brings the whole thing down from “great” to “good.” 74%. Wholesome fun for the entire family. The coloring book slaps.
Have you watched The Dark Crystal? Okay, well that’s the visual style we’ve got going on for Gym Rat, or, as I’d pitch it, “What if Ratatouille but instead of cooking it’s powerlifting and instead of Paris it’s New Jersey?” Yes, that’s right—scrawny rat wants to get ripped. So I guess it’s not like Ratatouille at all, really.
Still, our protagonist, whose name is Jim (Get it? Jim Rat? Gym Rat?) is working some sort of beta rat office job that he hates. He lives in a crappy rat apartment (with a mom he calls “Ma!” and who cooks good trash spaghetti) and feels like the world is always pushin’ him around. Probably some sort of flyer for a human gym hits him in the face (or I guess his entire body since he’s so small) and it’s advertising a “GET SWOLL QUICK” program or something along those lines.
Anyway, that’s how he meets Vinny, portrayed by actual Vinny from Jersey Shore (this movie is his big acting break and critics will rave at what he brings to the role) who after some screaming and swatting around with a broom and some “I’m talkin’ to a rat over here!” statements of disbelief agrees to train Jim. Oh, also, Vinny had to get mega shredded for this movie like some kind of Marvel hero. Vinny starts training Jim. But you know what actually gets stronger? Their bond.
Yeah, so Vinny’s “get swoll quick” thing never attracted any clients except for a rat I guess which is never a great sign for your business. It sucks for him, because he’s got family back in Sicily he’d like to support and a girlfriend who is about to leave him for being a bum. Jim probably does one of those emotional lines where he’s like, “At least you got a girl, man. Girls ain’t ever even looked my way.”
Vinny is probably like, “What? Man, you’re a catch, bro. I don’t believe you.” And Jim is like, “I just can’t believe you’ve got so many problems. I mean, look at you! You’re ripped, man! If I was as strong as you, I wouldn’t have nothin’ in my way. It’d be smooth sailin’.”
“There’s more than one way to be strong, my guy,” Vinny would say. “And you know what? I might have guns, but I’m starting to realize I forgot about my heart.” Oscar! Yes, hello, Mr. Oscar? I’ve got something here you might want to take a look at, call me back when you get this!
Anyway, yeah, the end is incredible with Vinny and Jim moving in together after their body-posi fitness movement takes off (the message is an “anyone can be strong” type of beat) and we get to imagine all the fun they’re probably having as roommates. “Ma!” is there, making her world famous trash spaghetti.