11/13/2007 05:35 PM

Rat Fad

Activists Fear 'Ratatouille' Will Spawn Rodent Craze

Cartoon animals have been known to increase the popularity of their living counterparts as pets. Animal rights activists in Germany are attempting to head off a run on rats in the aftermath of Pixar's latest film, "Ratatouille."

Everyone loves Remy: France has seen a 40 percent increase in pet rat sales since "Ratatouille" hit theaters in July.

Everyone loves Remy: France has seen a 40 percent increase in pet rat sales since "Ratatouille" hit theaters in July.

Cartoon rat Remy, with his dopey toque and an oversized wooden ladle might look pretty cute on the big screen, but animal activists in Europe are warning parents to think carefully before buying kids their own version of the rodent chef.

"Ratatouille," the latest animation vehicle from Disney's Pixar studios, is the story of a cute Parisian rat with refined culinary talents. The film was released in Germany last month, and German animal advocates are urging parents to avoid the urge to get their children a real-life version of the animated vermin.

The Federation for German Animal Lovers issued a series of press releases this week stressing that pet rats are not as cute or as gregarious as their cartoon counterparts. A spokesman said the federation is hoping to head off a rat fad that could lead to a flow of rodents out of pet shops, into children's bedrooms and -- after the novelty has passed -- back onto the streets of Germany. "Someone who takes home a rat buys a pet for years, not a disposable commodity," said the spokesman. "There's a great concern that they will simply be abandoned later."

The group's fears are fuelled by a rat fad in France, where sales of the pets have increased by 40 percent since the film's release there in July.

"Since the film came out, rats have become a veritable fashion phenomenon," said Gerald Moreau of the Apra Association, a group that promotes rodents as pets.

The real life breed of rat whose bluish pelt and floppy ears most resemble Ratatouille is known as a Dumbo rat, and the German federation pointed out that they can cost as much as €50 ($73).

This wouldn't be the first time that Disney's knack for cuddly anthropomorphism has created a glut of unwanted pets in the real world. When a live-action version of "101 Dalmations" was released in 1996, sales of the film's namesake dog breed increased dramatically. But, the dogs' sometimes testy temperament landed many of them back in animal shelters. And in 2003, Pixar's animated film "Finding Nemo" caused a similar run on clown fish. In the aftermath of "Ratatouille's" release, activists are saying that the gap between the cute rodent chef and his trash-rummaging, real-life counterpart might prove especially troublesome.

"Someone who takes home a rat should consider that as a full-grown adult, with sharp teeth and a long, naked tail, they aren't as cute as when they were a baby," the Federation of German Animal Lovers said in its statement.



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