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‘Rat-Hat Roonie: The Movie’ puts the rat back in the hat of Boston’s film scene

Bianca Oppedisano
A poster for “Rat-HatcRoonie: The Movie.” Illustration by Bianca Oppedisano / Mass Media Staff.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for “Rat-Hat Roonie: The Movie”

In a ferocious roar of glory, the rows upon rows of spectators clambered to their feet. The energy of the theater was nearly palpable, the joy of the audience infectious. I wanted to hold on to that moment for as long as possible, but as with all great things in life, the credits would finish rolling, the 16-minute standing ovation would end and we would file slowly out of the room with our 20-dollar, limited-edition popcorn tins in hand and our lives forever changed. It’s been a long time since a film has had such a monumental effect on its audience, but “Rat-Hat Roonie: The Movie” was no mere film: It was a cinematic achievement. It was a new societal standard.     

After only a few days since its Nov. 22 release, “Rat-Hat Roonie: The Movie” has already ascended past the typical indie film pinnacle of “cult classic” and into the furrows of genuine Hollywood-level success. Smashing even the most optimistic box office predictions, at this rate, “Rat-Hat” is on track to become this fall’s highest-grossing production, and after seeing the film myself, it’s no wonder why. 

Weaving a delicate narrative of Ronald Ronaldi, a directionless delivery boy who desires nothing more than to play baseball for the Boston Red Sox, the film quickly ventures off into the far reaches of the absurd by introducing Roonie, a small, gray, talking rat, who sits underneath Ron’s hat and gives him the ability to do anything he can imagine. It’s an underdog story for the ages, and if you’re a fan of “Spider-Man,” “The Social Network,” “Dragon Ball Z, “When Harry Met Sally” or “The King of Queens”—and have an appreciation for the Avant-garde—this is the movie for you. 

What’s even more impressive than the film’s Oscar-worthy story is the fact that the entire production took place over the span of just two weeks. This includes the birth of the initial idea, the writing of the screenplay, pre-production, filming, post-production and distribution. Never in history has such an ambitious project been completed so fast, and what’s more is that the film’s writer, director, editor and leading actor is a UMass Boston alumnus, Isidoro Jeep, who I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with to discuss the film. 

“I just wanted to make a nice, warm, melts-in-your-mouth kind of movie just like Mama used to make,” replied Jeep when asked about his inspiration. “I’ve always dreamed of being a filmmaker, but UMass Boston only offered cinema studies as a minor. I felt completely helpless in an industry full of celebrity Toms. Hanks, Hollands, Hiddlestons; how am I gonna compete? Then one day it just sort of hit me—I’ll just make the greatest film of all time!”

Jeep’s words may prove to be true if legend Martin Scorsese is to be believed, whose only response to seeing the film was an astonished, “This is cinema!” But what about “Rat-Hat Roonie: The Movie” makes it so great? 

A wise Ben once said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” It’s the foundation for one of humanity’s most ancient inner conflicts, and with “Rat-Hat” this conflict is front and center as Ron must choose between responsibility or irresponsibility. Will he do the right thing and stop his vile roommate, Darren, from creating his own meta-style online hub of  NFT trading called D-World—where you can be as big a “D” as you want to be—or use Roonie’s powers to become the new God of the multiverse? It isn’t often in modern-day cinema that a character is allowed to make decisions that could impact their own development—looking at you, “Indiana Jones 5.”    

Other than the film’s deeply intellectual themes and conflicts, the special effects must also be discussed. First things first, the fact that all of the effects for this film were done by Jeep alone in the span of two weeks is nearly unbelievable, but looking at the quality of these effects, they are potentially the most artistically impressive and realistic use of VFX and CGI that I’ve ever witnessed. It truly puts the MCU and DCEU to shame. 

When Ron and Darren tap into their purified-rat-synergy in the film’s epic final battle, the very fabric that holds our reality afloat melts into disarray. When Ron punches Darren through the core of the Earth and out the other side, you feel it. When Darren grows into a massive, three-mile-tall behemoth and uses his dark rat, Roodie, to raise the dead from their graves to destroy Boston, it’s believable. 

What’s most impressive is the film’s conclusion, which sees Ron use Roonie’s full power to recreate the universe from scratch, erasing Darren’s evil influence. It’s a jaw-dropping spectacle that sees the entirety of not just human history, but intergalactic history, flawlessly and accurately recreated using life-like computer imagery within the span of roughly two seconds. It’s a real blink-and-you-miss-it moment, but it just goes to show Jeep’s devotion to detail.    

While “Rat-Hat Roonie: The Movie” is well on its way to becoming a cultural phenomenon, not all critics are equally impressed, with some ignorantly claiming that it’s somehow a rip-off of Pixar’s 2007 masterpiece, “Ratatouille.” It’s a criticism that Jeep is all too familiar with.  

“People want to hide behind their screens in the safety of their mommy’s basements and say that I’m ripping off ‘Ratatouille’ because what? I have a rat in someone’s hat pulling on their hair and making them do things. Please! Give me a break! It’s a Rat-Hat movie, what did you expect?”

What many of these detractors fail to realize is that the genre of Rat-Hat has existed within the film industry long before Pixar. If anything, it’s a genre that’s been around since the very beginning of film with 1894’s “The Arrival of the Rat.” Since then, Rat-Hat movies have maintained a rare but steady representation with notable works including Charlie Chaplin’s famous “Rat-Hat Tramp” in 1935, Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Rats” in 1965, and who could forget the independent short film that would lay the groundwork for his subsequent feature-length debut, Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Rats.” 

For those, like myself, who have long been fans of this elusive genre, “Rat-Hat Roonie: The Movie” acts as the culmination of over a century of creative ingenuity, giving rise to what is perhaps the quintessential Rat-Hat film. For those who are newcomers, Jeep’s “Rat-Hat” could represent your first foray into the world of rodent-based cinema. However, if one thing’s for certain, it’s that the simple premise of a rat under a hat has captivated audiences for as long as people have been around. I mean, it was only a year ago that UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco banned hats on campus out of fear of students hiding rats to help them cheat on final exams. 

While fiddling with the baseball cap he’s been wearing the entirety of the time I’ve been talking to him, man of the hour, Isidoro Jeep, reflected one last time on his cinematic achievement. 

“If there’s anything that I’ve learned throughout the long and grueling two weeks of single-handedly producing ‘Rat-Hat,’ it’s that, as Roonie so eloquently puts in the film, once you go rat, there’s no going back.”    

About the Contributors
Joe DiPersio, Humor Editor
Bianca Oppedisano, Illustrator