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The direct cause of my question is this: Why did Remy (the rat from Ratatouille) cook Ratatouille at the end of the movie?

I can think of a number of works, from The Wind in the Willows to Flushed Away, from Watership Down to Ratatouille, that feature animals showing some degree of anthropomorphism.

Clearly, talking animals do not exist in reality, so they are, in a way, fantastic. But are they enough?

The answers here: Are children's literature and cartoons for children on-topic? seem to point in the direction of 'no'.

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    I seem to recall another meta discussion where the general consensus was that if the only fantastical element was a general conceit of the world (e.g. all dogs talk), that was not necessarily enough to count as SF/F. If only some of the animals talked, or they talked due to a spell/device, then it is more likely to be on-topic. – phantom42 Oct 12 '14 at 6:32
  • @phantom42 That sounds about right to me. Haven't found that discussion yet, though. – SQB Oct 12 '14 at 6:50
  • @phantom42 - can't seem to find it but I can confirm both the discussion AND your remembered conclusion exactly as you stated. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 15 '14 at 2:07
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    But why couldn't we say the same thing for time travel? Time travel doesn't exist thus we would accept the mere presence of time travel in a work as sufficient evidence of SF and Fantasy. – DQdlM Aug 20 '15 at 14:31
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    @SQB Just wondering: why did you accept Zibbobz's answer when Richard's was much more highly voted? That could become confusing, since consensus on questions like this is used to determine site policy; community consensus is expressed by votes, while only one person can accept an answer. – Rand al'Thor Mar 22 '16 at 20:03
  • @randal'thor That should be a question in itself (if it isn't already): am I obliged to accept the highest voted answer in meta-questions about policy? – SQB Mar 23 '16 at 9:10
  • @randal'thor I'll have to think about this and probably try to check the timeline (or SEDE) what the situation was when I accepted the answer that I did. – SQB Mar 23 '16 at 9:12
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    @SQB Nobody can force you to accept a particular answer. But since policy is decided by community consensus, Richard's answer here will be considered as the accepted one for policy purposes. The only difference you've made by accepting Zibbobz's is to confuse people who are inexperienced with meta and will think "it's accepted, it must be the right answer!" See also here. – Rand al'Thor Mar 23 '16 at 12:21
  • @SQB This issue has already come up on SFF meta too. – Rand al'Thor Mar 23 '16 at 14:11
  • @Randal'Thor - At least one higher-rep user has also been confused by the low-voted answer getting an acceptance; chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/30992810#30992810 – Valorum Jul 13 '16 at 9:16
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No. Anthropomorphic/Sentient/Talking animals don't, in and of themselves, make a film/book/TV programme/comic into a fantasy if the central conceit is that talking animals do already exist within that fictional universe. Stuart Little would be an excellent example of this.

That said, we would consider talking animals to be part of a fantasy if:

  • They had been uplifted in some way (either by technology or magic)

  • Their speaking was somehow fantastical to the other characters.

The talking rats in Ratatouille would certainly fall into the latter category. There's no specific evidence of how they became intelligent but it's clear from the scenes in the film that animal sentience certainly isn't a normal feature of that universe.

LINGUINI : I need this job. I’ve lost so many. I don’t know how to cook and now I’m talking to a rat as if you actually understand what I’m say--

(sudden realization)

--did you NOD?? You UNDERSTAND ME??

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    Animal sentience is a normal feature of the universe. What's new is that some humans are now aware of it. All the rats are intelligent, and they don't behave as though it's new or novel. The humans are the ones who are aghast that rats are sentient. – user1027 Oct 13 '14 at 13:25
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    @Keen - Based on the repeated attempts to kill the rats and the rat-catcher's window (as well as the special feature "your friend the rat") I would suggest that Remi's family appear to be unique among rat-kind. – Valorum Oct 13 '14 at 16:43
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    This reference to the central conceit makes zero sense to me. I'm having trouble even forming a question about it because it seems so unrelated and backwards. The advanced technology in Star Trek isn't fantastical to the characters, so should we consider that off-topic? – DCShannon Mar 31 '16 at 23:40
  • @DCShannon - No, because it's a well defined concept that we're all comfortable with. A doesn't have to equal B, no matter how many strawmen are present. – Valorum Mar 31 '16 at 23:44
  • What's a well-defined concept that we're all comfortable with? – DCShannon Mar 31 '16 at 23:47
  • @DCShannon - Science Fiction. – Valorum Apr 1 '16 at 0:18
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    I may actually be more confused than before. It sounds like you're saying that it isn't fantasy because you aren't familiar with it being fantasy, but Star Trek is Sci-Fi because we are familiar with calling it Sci-Fi. That can't possibly be your argument. – DCShannon Apr 1 '16 at 0:20
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    @DCShannon - No, I'm saying that films/TV with talking animals aren't necessarily fantasy. In order for it to be fantasy, it needs to be in some way fantastical that they can talk otherwise they're basically just (from a writer's perspective) human characters who happen to be animals. – Valorum Apr 1 '16 at 0:50
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    I have trouble believing you're serious with that argument, but apparently a good number of people agree with you, so I'll just agree to disagree. – DCShannon Apr 2 '16 at 0:38
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    @DCShannon is right here - your use of "central conceit" as your argument is flawed. There are tons of fantasy works where the "central conceit" is that magic is real, and the only thing that makes them fantasy is the use of magic. According to your argument, none of these works would be considered fantasy either. Your most recent comment actually makes me believe you don't really understand what "central conceit" means. – Charles Boyung Apr 18 '16 at 20:42
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    I'm not disagreeing with your argument that Ratatouille is not fantasy, but the argument itself is definitely flawed. – Charles Boyung Apr 18 '16 at 20:44
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    @CharlesBoyung - My point is that this is a scifi and fantasy site. We accept that magic (as a conceit) is acceptable because that's the kind of site we are. By contrast, if we allow talking animals in, it opens the floodgates to all sorts of shows and films that really have nothing whatsoever to do with scifi or fantasy, – Valorum Apr 18 '16 at 20:56
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    @Richard That is definitely a different argument than what you make in your answer here, then. Your argument is "Fantastical element A is considered fantasy because we want to include it while fantastical element B is not considered fantasy because we don't want to include it". Which is fine, but you are trying to use logic to support your case and the logic you are using in fact does the opposite. – Charles Boyung Apr 18 '16 at 21:04
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    @Richard Yes, I know that's your point. My point is that using the idea of "central conceit" as your argument for why this isn't considered fantasy is flawed. – Charles Boyung Apr 18 '16 at 21:35
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    Humans trapped in animal bodies? Definitely SFF! – user31178 Feb 3 '17 at 6:33
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I broadly agree with Valorum's answer, and his position on the overall scope of this Stack. In other words, I believe that merely having an anthropomorphic animal is rarely sufficient to make a story on-topic, and I mostly agree with Valorum about what the exceptions to this rule tend to look like.

However, I don't entirely agree with the reasoning that Valorum uses, so I'm going to explain how I came to that conclusion. Think of this as a concurring opinion, if you like.

TL;DR: Skip to the bold sentence and read from there to the end.


There are a wide variety of stories involving anthropomorphic animals. It is difficult to generalize over all of them, so I'm not going to try. Instead, I'm going to look at a few specific cases and try to divine a general-purpose rule.

Disney has had a rather significant level of involvement in mainstream talking-animal stories. While Disney's stories are not at all representative of other material, they are popular and likely to come up frequently in these discussions. Much Disney work involves adapting traditional folk tales into children's movies, and this often includes replacing the human characters with animal characters (e.g. Robin Hood, 1973). Other Disney stories are not directly adapted from folk tales, but still use animals as stand-ins for humans (e.g. everything involving Mickey Mouse and company). Other animators have done this as well; Disney is only getting name-dropped because they're popular and easily recognized.

I think we can all agree that most of the material I just described is off-topic. Sure, there have been some Mickey Mouse stories which involved magic or other obviously fantastical elements, but we're not going to admit every Disney story with talking animals. Merely replacing humans with animals is not sufficient to bring a story under the umbrella of speculative fiction,* if it wasn't already there to begin with. So, our first approximation is this: perform the reverse transformation, replacing animals with humans, and then ask whether 1) the resulting story would be on-topic in its own right or 2) the resulting story does not make sense. We need condition (2) to rule out stories in which the characters really are animals, and not just humans who've been written as animals.

But we can't stop there, because this first approximation doesn't always produce correct results.

One obvious example is Bambi (1942). In this story, the title character's mother is killed (spoiler alert) by a hunter because she is a deer. If she were human, the story wouldn't have made much sense. But I for one don't think Bambi is on-topic just because of this. Perhaps if you're going to replace the animals with humans, you also have to replace the humans with story-appropriate plot devices. Under this transformation, the hunter who killed her is replaced with some natural disaster or other calamity. The resulting story is entirely mundane, and clearly off-topic. Similar examples can be found in the Pixar canon (see particularly Finding Nemo, 2003) and elsewhere.

This is, however, not much of a standard, because if you allow arbitrary replacement, you can transform any story into any other story. You can replace werewolves with humans, lycanthropy with some real disease, and so on, and eventually arrive at a mundane story. Werewolves are on-topic, so this approach must be flawed.

Instead, I think it helps to examine the narrative focus of the story:

  • If the humans treat the animal like another human or like an animal, or both at different times, but the narrative does not really ask any interesting questions about that character's animal side (e.g. Scooby Doo), then the animal probably does not make the story speculative fiction (but it might still be SF by virtue of some other story element, as with the Scooby Doo movies that have real monsters and such).
  • If the humans treat the animal like another human, and this aspect of their relationship is explored extensively, it probably qualifies as speculative fiction. For example, The Elder Scrolls can be considered fantasy solely on the basis of the Argonians and Khajiit, because there is a lot of backstory involving political and military interactions between the Empire (in various incarnations), Black Marsh, and Elsweyr. It's already fantasy six ways to Sunday, though, so this may not be the best example.
  • If the humans are nonexistent, the story might still be speculative fiction, if it focuses on (for example) the interactions of different species with one another in a highly counterfactual setting (Zootopia, 2016), or if the main characters are aliens or fantastical beasts, or otherwise "obviously" speculative.

Our final criterion, then, is this:

If the animal's non-human nature has substantial narrative focus, then the story is probably on-topic. Stories that pass this criterion tend to ask and answer questions such as the following (not an exhaustive list):

  • What would it be like to be an intelligent [animal]?
  • How would a mixed society of humans and [animal]s work?
  • How would a mixed society of [animal]s and [other animal]s work?
  • What would an intelligent [animal] think of humans?
  • What would a human think of an intelligent [animal]?
  • Why are these [animal]s intelligent, anyway?

Stories that ignore or avoid these sorts of questions probably fail this criterion. Stories that occasionally touch on these questions for character development purposes, but otherwise ignore them (especially for plot development and broader world building purposes), are likewise probably outside this criterion.

These questions are meant as illustrative examples, and should not be used as a checklist. There may be off-topic stories that do touch on one or two of these questions, and there may be on-topic stories that hit different questions, or even reach topicality by some route other than anthropomorphism (e.g. Fantasia - the wizard's hat is fantastical, but Mickey Mouse isn't). Topicality needs to be examined carefully in each case. The best way to determine whether something is on-topic is to ask a meta question and tag it with and .


* "Speculative fiction" roughly means "science fiction, fantasy, and the stuff in between."

  • Would you then say that Animal Farm is on-topic, as it touches almost all those bullet points? – DCShannon Jan 31 '17 at 23:55
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    @DCShannon: Frankly, no. I don't think it talks very much about animals as animals. It talks about how "people" (not necessarily humans or animals) would behave, and happens to use animals to do that. – Kevin Feb 1 '17 at 0:19
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    That would seem to ignore the whole first part of the book where they kick out the humans, as well as the rest of the book where they slowly start acting like people. Pretty much the whole book. I remain mystified. – DCShannon Feb 1 '17 at 0:38
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    @DCShannon: As I recall, the story only used animals as a convenient label for "us" and humans as a convenient label for the other. At no point does it, for example, contrast animal culture with human culture, or ever really develop animal culture. It doesn't describe the sensual experiences of the animals in ways that set them apart from the humans (e.g. dogs have a good sense of smell). It does not, to my recollection, even mention the humans' collective reaction to talking animals. These are the sorts of things I am looking for, and I find them all utterly lacking in Animal Farm. – Kevin Feb 1 '17 at 2:15
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Let me offer some wisdom from a previous and similar question I answered.

The content of the material is not important - the content of your question determines whether it is on-topic...

And the question posted does not have to do with Science-Fiction or Fantasy. Regardless of Remy's status as a supernaturally intelligent rodent.

To be perfectly clear here, I am saying that a question about how they got that intelligence in the first place would be 100% on-topic, because that is a Fantasy/SciFi element of the movie. It would be on-topic...though I can't guarantee that SciFi.SE would be well-equipped to answer it, since it is plot-related material and comes from a source that isn't very strongly Sci-Fi Or Fantasy.

But asking a question about a work that has Sci-Fi or Fantasy elements, and justifying it as being Sci-Fi or Fantasy, does not fly.

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    Ah, but the answer may (or may not) have something to do with the fact that he's a talking rat. – Valorum Oct 12 '14 at 16:24
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    We have a close reason stating that "scientific solutions or explanations are off-topic unless they relate directly to a cited work of fiction". That implies that scientific stuff is on-topic if it does relate to a cited work, which in turn seems to invalidate your premise: the content of the material is important, and the intention is a good deal more subtle than a simple (and simplistic) binary distinction. – user8719 Oct 12 '14 at 16:50
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Wikipedia defines fantasy as

A genre of fiction that uses magic or other supernatural elements as a main plot element, theme, or setting.

Animals and humans do not speak to each other in real life. If they're depicted as doing so in a story, without further explanation, then that's clearly fantasy. On-topic.

If there is further explanation, then it might end up being Sci-Fi instead. Still on-topic.

Obviously, any particular question about anthropomorphic animals might be off-topic for other reasons, but not because it's not fantasy.

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