The Jurisprudence of Ratatouille: The Rat in the Machine, or, the Equivocal Taste of Égaliberté

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This article traces commonalities between the practices of visual animation and modern law through a political and jurisprudential reading of the animated film Ratatouille (2007). It contends that Ratatouille’s treatment of the ontological and anthropological problem of the human soul not only addresses the philosophical complexities inherent to animation, but also the ideological and material conditions that currently govern the practice of égaliberté in contemporary liberal democracies.

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  1. 1.

    “Things have a life of their own; it’s simply a matter of awakening their souls—the gipsy proclaimed with a harsh accent”. All translations are mine unless noted otherwise.

  2. 2.

    I emphasize the visual aspect of animation because this term can also be referred: (1) to soundtrack manipulation, musical scoring and sound-image narratology [8: 74 ff]; or (2) to scientific inquiries that attempt to synthesize such biological phenomena as life, evolution, and ecological dynamics within computers and other artificial media [63].

  3. 3.

    I understand the term uncanny in the classical Freudian sense (unheimlich), that is, as a terror that does not derive from something externally alien or unknown, but from something strangely familiar which defeats our efforts to separate ourselves from it [22: 219 ff]. In a similar vein, Tzvetan Todorov refers the uncanny as a literary genre to the collapsing of the psychic boundaries of self and other, life and death, reality and unreality [62: 49–57].

  4. 4.

    This short film was originally released along Ratatouille’s home video.

  5. 5.

    In Paul Well’s view, this misconception of animated texts obeys to the fact that “the amount of cheaply produced, highly industrialised cel animation made in the USA and Japan has colonised television schedules, and perhaps, more importantly, the imaginations of viewers” [65: 35].

  6. 6.

    See, among many other examples, [70, 72, 7378, 80, 85].

  7. 7.

    Alan Cholodenko claims in similar terms that animation is a form of writing in the sense that Jacques Derrida uses this term, that is, as the iterable representation of a signified by a signifier [11: 214, [14: 15 ff].

  8. 8.

    See [38].

  9. 9.

    On the notion of abjection as a disturbing breakdown in conventional identity and cultural concepts, see [34].

  10. 10.

    The movement between the opposite pulls of justice and law cannot be generated by a set of general preordained principles, but depends on contexts that are determined altogether through social institutions and systems, social agents, and art and symbolic forms in general. See [26].

  11. 11.

    This phrase gained wide public attention after Arthur Koestler used it as a title for a book on humanity’s tendency towards self-destruction that was published in 1967. See [33].


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Gómez Romero, L. The Jurisprudence of Ratatouille: The Rat in the Machine, or, the Equivocal Taste of Égaliberté . Int J Semiot Law 28, 843–866 (2015).

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  • Animation
  • Cultural legal studies
  • Subaltern
  • Égaliberté