The internet has not been a happy place in 2020, but never in a million years would we have thought that an unofficial musical inspired by Disney’s beloved 2007 animated film Ratatouille would rescue us from our doomscrolling.

TikTok brought us something that no other social media platform has delivered before: a full-blown Broadway production, thanks to creators who combined quarantine, their best efforts, and their collective love of the story of Remy. (Remy, of course, is a rat who dreams of leaving the trash pile to become a chef in Paris; he teams up with a hapless garbage boy, Linguini, to take the fine dining world by storm and blow open people’s ideas of who can cook.) 

The original Pixar film sold $47.2 million in tickets, enough to make it the No. 1 movie its opening weekend when it first hit theaters in 2007. But how, over 10 years later, did the movie take over TikTok? BuzzFeed, Vulture, and NBC have all covered the phenomenon, but here trace exactly how a single video by an elementary school teacher launched an entirely new crowdsourced cultural product.

Emily Jaccs’ original song

In April, looking for ways to stay busy, Emily Jaccs downloaded TikTok. The elementary school teacher never even intended to make videos. But after a few months of scrolling, Jaccs started making up random songs and posting them. “In August, I had Disney on the brain, as I was in the process of cancelling and rebooking a big family trip to Disney World,” she explains over email. Inspired by the announcement of a Ratatouille-themed ride that would be opening soon, a new song came into Jaccs’ head. “I just started singing my own made-up song about the main character of the movie, Remy. I couldn’t get the song out of my head all day so I thought it might be a funny one to post to TikTok and send to some family and friends to annoy them.”

The song wasn’t an overnight sensation, but right away Jaccs noticed that a few people had started using the sound for their own videos. She thought that was the end of things. Fast forward to a morning in early October, when Jaccs opened TikTok to find hundreds of notifications. Viral star Brittany Broski danced to the song in her own video, and it already had over 2.5 million views.

@brittany_broski

#duet with @_victoriap17_ finally some good content on my fyp

♬ Ode to Remy - Em Jaccs

Were 2.5 million people actually interested in  a  helping piece together a Ratatouille musical? Sort of: TikTok is all about comedic riffing, and this was the perfect piece of content to build on. A song about Remy from Ratatouille implies an entire musical, so why not join in?

More and more people shared the video, and the sound eventually caught the attention of composer Daniel Mertzlufft.

Daniel Mertzlufft’s Broadway makeover

Mertzlufft first went viral on TikTok with a Broadway parody called The Grocery Store Musical. He was looking for inspiration for his next viral hit when a friend sent him Jaccs’ song.

“I’m a composer, arranger, and orchestrator, so Broadway is my life!” says Mertzlufft over Instagram direct message. “When I heard Emily’s song, it immediately gave me Act II Disney finale vibes; so I drew from The Little Mermaid, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Beauty and the Beast.” He took the original—now referred to by fans as “I Praise You, My Ratatouille”—and arranged a Broadway cast-worthy version of the song, complete with a string section, “choir” (made up of himself, one friend, and some deftly recorded vocal stacking) and an ovation-worthy ending. Mertzlufft’s arrangement sent TikTok into full Broadway show planning mode.

The musical comes together

Soon, collaborators from around the world began submitting their ideas to the collective creative process, including Playbills shaping the namesake dish into the silhouette of a rat, costume designs reflecting the mindsets of main characters, songs utilizing dialogue from the film, and orchestral composed so movingly they’d bring a tear to your eye all began circulating on the app. 

“I’ve loved seeing everyone use their talents again [during the pandemic],” Mertzlufft says. “All artists have been so deprived during this time and I think everyone just saw the opportunity to do what they love again.” 

The songs are charming, emotive, and well-written. The visuals, including miniature models and drawings of what the prospective rat backup dancers would wear, are stunning. Without a single real-life meeting or organized brainstorming session, Ratatouille the musical developed a clear vision.

@aaacacia_

#duet with @blakeyrouse sorry for the lack of enthusiasm but i was trying to remember it #WeWinTogether #fyp #ratatouillemusical #musical #singer #fyp

♬ original sound - Yay Blake Rouse!!

Gabbi Bolt expands the vision

“So this is my contribution to the Ratatouille musical,” says one TikToker, before breaking out into a tune that would not be out of place on Broadway or the West End. Gabbi Bolt, better known by @fettucinefettuqueen on TikTok, first saw Mertzlufft’s arrangement on her For You Page and was instantly filled with ideas of songs for the movie’s many characters. First writing the lyrics and then “haphazardly whacking a composition together on Logic Pro,” the New Zealand musician recorded the vocals, mouse ears and all, about 10 minutes before rushing off to work.

“Trash is our treasure, it’s all that we need. Why ask for better when we’re comfortably finding the good in the garbage?” she sings in character as Remy’s father Django, as he tries to convince his son to be content with the life of a rat. The video has garnered almost a million views and been duetted in countless collaborations from dancers and designers that put the total number of people who have heard Bolt’s song well into the multi millions. She has since added additional verses and started scoring “The Life of a Rat” as well as a reprise poetically titled “The Death of a Rat.” 

While Bolt is skeptical that Disney would ever get on board with a TikTok-produced musical interpretation of one of their films, she thinks the end result doesn’t matter as much as the process. “I honestly think it’s one of the most wholesome things I have ever been a part of,” Bolt says over email. “The sheer amount of undiscovered TALENT coming out of the woodwork in the name of a fake rat musical is just so joyful! If anything I do hope that the spotlight is shone on smaller creatives for a chance to pursue their creative endeavors professionally!"

A real (rat-sized) stage

One stand out contribution came from an account called ShoeBox Musicals, which created set designs for the hypothetical Broadway show. Preferring to remain anonymous and let their work speak for itself, they explained how they first started designing miniature paper sets for their favorite musicals in high school as a hobby. Their process starts with a song. One of their most viral designs is set to Bolt’s “The Life of a Rat.” The rotating stage, cinematic lighting, and moving set pieces, caught the attention of the rat himself—or, at least, the guy who played him in the movie.

@shoeboxmusicals

#Duet with @fettuccinefettuqueen Thank you for the amazing song! Here’s the scene to match! #ratatouillethemusical #stagemodel #theater #setdesign

♬ original sound - Shoebox Musicals

Is Pixar watching?

“My...God…” tweeted Patton Oswalt, who voiced Remy in the original Ratatouille (and tagged the film’s director, Brad Bird). “Have you SEEN this?!?!?” Oswalt first shared a collaboration between ShoeBox Musicals and Bolt, but has since promoted numerous other contributions to the musical on Twitter, singing the fictitious production’s praises. It is a full circle moment the musical’s collaborators never saw coming.

“I’m not sure that it could have happened if it were not for the overall climate of the global pandemic,” Jaccs says. “The pandemic has brought on so many types of struggles for all people. Having to quarantine in homes and having a lack of natural social interaction has been mentally taxing. When this idea of creating a Ratatouille musical started to go viral, it offered an opportunity to contribute to something. The pandemic has highlighted the fact that the internet alone cannot entertain us forever.” To borrow some lyrics of Bolt’s:TikTokers have truly found the good in the garbage.