On TikTok, Fans Are Making Their Own ‘Ratatouille’ Musical
With Broadway and theaters across the country idle because of the coronavirus, some actors, producers and prop designers have found an unlikely outlet for their talents: a musical version of the animated film “Ratatouille” that is playing out in exuberant 60-second increments on TikTok.
Starting last month, thousands of TikTok users, including many with Broadway credits, have paid homage to the 2007 Disney Pixar film, about a rat who dreams of becoming a French chef, by creating their own songs, dances, makeup looks, set designs, puppets and Playbill programs.
The result is a virtual show unlike any on Broadway. There is no director, no choreographer, no stage crew. It has come together organically on TikTok, where users have only a minute to catch people’s attention.
In the film, Remy the rat follows the example of a famous chef who says that “anyone can cook.” It is in that spirt that professionals and amateurs alike have taken up the “Ratatouille” musical challenge, said Brandon Hardy, a puppet designer whose Broadway credits include “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Pee-Wee Herman Show.”
“He never limited himself on his vision,” Mr. Hardy, 30, said of Remy. He added, “We just fell in love with this, and we don’t want anyone to stop us.”
The project began in August, when Emily Jacobsen, 26, a schoolteacher, Disney fanatic and theater lover from Westchester County, N.Y., read about a “Ratatouille” ride that is scheduled to open next year at Walt Disney World in Florida.
As she was cleaning her apartment, she started singing a song about Remy. Adopting a high pitch, she recorded what she described as “a love ballad” for the rat — “Remy, the ratatouille / The rat of all my dreams / I praise you, my ratatouille / May the world remember your name” — and posted a video of the tune on TikTok.
Daniel Mertzlufft, 27, a New York-based composer, orchestrator and arranger, was tagged in Ms. Jacobsen’s video. Last month, he used a computer program to enhance her original ode to Remy, adding a French horn, trumpets, vocals and strings to create a big Disney-style finale for a “Ratatouille” musical.
Mr. Mertzlufft said he had been inspired by the music Alan Menken composed for “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and other classic animated Disney films.
Since Mr. Mertzlufft posted his video in mid-October, thousands of others have shared their own contributions to what has become something of a virtual “Ratatouille” musical. In the last few days, Disney signaled that it had been paying attention, quoting Ms. Jacobsen’s lyrics on Instagram and Twitter. It even made its own TikTok rap at Epcot, where the “Ratatouille” ride is being built.
“We love when our fans engage with our stories,” Disney said in a statement, “and we look forward to seeing these super fans experience the attraction when it opens at Walt Disney World next year.”
Kevin Chamberlin, whose Broadway acting credits include “The Addams Family” and “Seussical,” revisited the “Ratatouille” movie before recording his own contribution to the musical. It was the Chef Gusteau character, and his observation that “anyone can cook,” that spoke to him, he said.
A theme of the movie, Mr. Chamberlin said, is that even the clumsiest among us can find talent deep inside ourselves. Inspired, Mr. Chamberlin sat down to write while his husband rushed out to get him a chef’s hat.
Once in costume, he sat at his piano and sang: “Anyone can cook / All you have to do is look inside yourself.”
Only the coronavirus pandemic could have brought out a virtual show like this, Mr. Chamberlin said. “What’s really interesting about all this is that, during this pandemic, art is pushing through because we can’t get on stages and in front of audiences.”
Other contributors echoed that sentiment, adding that the “Ratatouille” musical project had given them reason to hope during a dark time.
“If it can bring joy to people, and it seems like it has, then that’s the best feeling in the world,” said Tristan McIntyre, 22, a Los Angeles actor who helped choreograph a rat dance for the show.
RJ Christian, 21, a vocal performance student at New York University, said he had been inspired by the movie’s acerbic food critic, Anton Ego, for the solo he contributed. He said he wanted embody Mr. Ego with “weird chords, spicy harmony and creepy-crawly kind of music.”
For Blake Rouse, 17, of Fort Collins, Colo., the “Ratatouille” project gave him an outlet after the pandemic forced the cancellation of his high school’s production of “Newsies.”
He contributed several songs based on scenes from the movie, including a tango between two chefs and a duet between Remy and his brother.
“This is no longer a niche TikTok theater joke,” he said. “This is kind of a thing that people care about and are starting to keep up with.”
The contributions go beyond performances. Mr. Hardy, the puppeteer, made some masks and small puppets for the virtual show, even using garbage to create some of the elements.
“We’ve created something that’s engaging to people at every level,” he said. “People of every age group are fascinated by this and want to contribute to this. As far as I’ve seen, there really hasn’t been a show or musical in history that’s sort of operated that way.”
And Christopher Routh, 30, of Chatham, N.J., used boxes to create elaborate miniature set designs for the show, complete with lighting and a Lego robotics set to move the pieces around.
“It’s such an incredible trend on how our community can come together like this and create a musical out of nowhere,” he said. “And it all started with one girl.”