Inside Out (Movie Review)

“Wanna put my tender heart in a blender, watch it spin around to a beautiful oblivion…”

(This has nothing to do with anything, but another reason why this post is so late, besides Father’s Day, is because my piece of shit McAfee software keeps sending pop-ups that turn off my Google Chrome tabs. I got seven hundred and fifty words into the review on Sunday and Monday before McAfee struck. It’s partially my fault for not saving frequently, I suppose, but still, fuck McAfee.) 

I got out of my French diploma at ten-thirty on Friday. I’m not usually one to compliment Edmonton weather, but late Friday morning was absolutely gorgeous, with beautiful mid-20’s temperature (That’s Celsius for those of you unlucky enough to live in a Fahrenheit realm, or whatever) and the slightest of cool breezes.

Before I gained a barely steady cash flow, I might’ve sought out my friends, or gone home to play catch with my brother. Now? I went on my own to an air-conditioned movie theatre, where I watched a movie aimed at children, where I was the only person in the theatre who was neither a six year old, nor a parent of a six year old.

Needless to say, the minutes leading up to the movie starting were not the most comfortable for me.

 Inside Out

Directed by: Pete Docter

Produced by: Jonas Rivera

Screenplay by: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley

Story by: Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen

Genres: Animation, Comedy, Drama

Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Richard Kind, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Kaitlyn Dias

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Plot: Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) is more or less your typical eleven-year old Minnesotan girl. She loves her family, friends, the great sport of hockey and couldn’t be much happier with her lot in life…. That is, until her dad’s job forces the family to move to the relatively hockey-unfriendly (Unless we’re counting San Jose) city of San Francisco, throwing the cartoon emotions inside her head into disarray.

See, when that happens to a Pixar character, it’s “kid’s movie material.” When it happens to me, it’s “A violent schizophrenic episode.”

Oh, right, the cartoon emotions. Almost forgot about that tiny detail that’s also the premise of the entire movie.

Any smug hipster scrambling to proclaim that this is a rip off of fucking Herman’s Head should probably go ahead and blow their brains out right about now.

The five emotions that guide Riley through her tumultuous life are Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader) and, when shenanigans ensue because of the move to San Francisco, the emotions have to work together to get Riley through this ordeal emotionally and physically unscathed.

God, this movie is fucking awesome.

I’m not going to surprise anybody when I say that I love Pixar. At this point, they’ve influenced pop culture to almost, if not the same, extent as their parent company, Disney.

That being said, I’m also not going to pretend that they’ve had a perfect go of it. In fact, since Toy Story 3, Pixar has released, at best, Brave, a movie directed by two people with different visions (And boy does it show!!!) and at worst, Cars 2 or Monsters University (Unbefitting of their predecessors. Well, actually, Cars kinda blows, but Monsters Inc. holds up beautifully).

So, I don’t know if I can really be blamed for not being all that excited about Inside Out when the movie was announced. Sure, it was an interesting concept, and the fact that Pete Docter was director, and the concept was intriguing, but… I dunno, the character designs seemed kind of lazy to me, and I thought that child psychology might be a bit of a lofty aspiration, even for a generally smart studio like Pixar. Sure, I get that they’ve done very smart movies before, but… I dunno, as deep as they’ve gone in Up, for instance, I don’t know if you could really call it as profound as, say, the psychology of a prepubescent child.

…I stand corrected.

And then they announced the voice cast. Holy crap, was I ever on board. The casting director for this movie deserves a lifetime supply of coke and hookers. Or, y’know, whatever it is that people besides myself consider to be sources of joy.

You could not ask for better personifications of joy, fear, sadness, anger and disgust than Poehler, Hader, Smith, Black and Kaling.

Huh. I just realized that every main cast member besides Poehler and Black appeared on The Office in some capacity. Cool.

I guess you could make the argument that Kaling, Smith and even Black are underused, but they don’t receive that much less time than Poehler and Smith, and they’re still terrific. So are Poehler and Smith, who do receive the most of the screen time. Off the top of my head, I would say that Smith as sadness is my favourite, although Lewis Black could pull ahead, the more I think about it.

How the hell did Disney ever green-light hiring Lewis Black?

Inside Out delivers on every level that you could ever want a great Pixar movie to deliver on, at least before Larry the Cable Guy voicing a tow truck was considered par for the course Pixar. The animation? Terrific. The score from Michael Giacchino? Terrific. The character design? Actually, despite my reservations, they work incredibly well during the movie, as, while the designs themselves may not be anything special, they’re animated (And voiced, and written) in such a way that gives them  way more personality than the designs let on. The comedy, drama and script in general? Well, it’s not laugh-a-minute, but it’s still a brilliant, touching script.

Also, Richard Kind’s character.

Homeless Snuffleupagus at a gay pride parade? I like to think so. 

Didn’t appear at all in the marketing (That I could tell, anyways), but contributes a lot to the story. He can come off as kind of annoying, but  I guarantee that he grows on you.

What I appreciate the most of this whole movie though, is the fact that, not only does it handle the deep elements inherent to a movie about goddamn child psychology, it also refuses to talk down to children. Too often, I think we’re seeing kids’ movies cater more and more to the demographic of “adults who just want something amusing to distract their kids for two hours while the parents pop vicodin in the bathroom.” Instead of making great, inventive fun movies that still manage to teach a great lesson and leave an impression on the audience, it’s becoming par for the course to shit out a movie about cartoon animals and bright colours, load it with adult jokes that wink so hard and often at the adult  audience that they would be breaking a blood vessel if they were human, and cap it off with some half-assed, generic lesson that we’ve heard a million times before. It won’t leave any worthwhile long-term impression on the audience, old or young, but the studios won’t give a shit, because people are still going to see movies and because the idiot kids don’t know any better!!!

OH, FOR FUCK’S SAKE WILL ARNETT, HAVE SOME GODDAMN SELF-RESPECT!!!!

In that respect, Inside Out is the great redeemer for the recent slew of terrible family movies. Not only is this story all those positive qualities I mentioned above, but it’s maybe the smartest family movie ever made in a long time, and almost certainly one of the better depictions of the elements of childhood and growing up ever put to screen, capturing in ninety-four minutes what Boyhood couldn’t do in a million hours, or however long that fucking movie was. It’s joyous (Pun intended) but also bittersweet. It’s simple and carefree, but also confusing and difficult to get your head around. You can feel on top of the world one day and have it all crumble down in mere seconds. Multiple times. It’s good to see that Pixar not only rebounded from their rut, but rebounded with a movie that is going to mean so much to so many.

 …

That said, I don’t like the character design in The Good Dinosaur. Let’s see if Pixar makes me look like an ass again.

Overall: Brave is no longer the best Pixar movie since Toy Story 3. Thank Jeebus for that.

Rating: 9.5/10

Now, who’s excited for Ice Age 5???

Frozen (Movie Review)

“Suck on this, Iceman.”

Well, Pixar had a nice long reign as the dominant force of animated movies, but it looks like everybody’s favourite evil empire has finally reclaimed the throne.

The king has returned, bitches.

Let’s face it. It’s been a bit of a rough decade or so for Walt Disney Animation Studios in pretty much every single aspect of the film-making business that isn’t “making all the money.” The first Disney Renaissance is commonly accepted among people with too much time on their hands to have ended after Tarzan had its way with the box office in 1999. In the couple of years that followed, Disney kind of went through an awkward period, releasing such movies as Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur, The Emperor’s New Groove  and  Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

Can you guess which two of those movies don’t suck?

Obviously, one of them’s the one where David Spade voices a cartoon llama.

With the exception of Dinosaur (Which was just terrible), all of those movies were box office disappointments, especially for Disney, who, just last decade, had grossed nearly a billion dollars thanks to the masterpiece that was The Lion King.

After the introduction of the Academy Award for best Animated Movie (About a decade or so too late) in 2002, Pixar was bogarting center stage, winning seven Oscars, while Disney was just struggling to keep up, failing to win any of their nominations, especially when he nomination were as puzzling as the ones for Brother Bear and Treasure Planet, two movies you did not even know existed. Even when Disney quietly initiated their second renaissance with the release of The Princess & the Frog, they still remained second fiddle to Pixar. And rightly so, although somebody needs to explain to me why Tangled wasn’t at least nominated.

And then, something happened: Pixar shot themselves in the foot, thanks to a trio of terrible-to-non spectacular movies, and were left in a similar position to the one Disney experienced after the first Renaissance. And from the ashes of Pixar’s run of dominance, Frozen rose like a goddamn phoenix.

Good luck getting this song out of your head sometime in the next decade, by the way.

Now, despite the Fall Out Boy reference, I’m not a teenage girl, and, despite my complete and utter hatred of my existence on this godforsaken planet, I’m not the parent of a toddler, so I wasn’t exactly part of the main audience that this movie was aimed at. Besides, fuck this movie. It is the duty of a cultured movie critic like myself could easily destroy this cynical effort to feed some Disney execs’ cocaine habit, while singing the praises of some foreign film that nobody outside of Europe has ever seen, right?

Well, let’s just say there’s a reason I’m reviewing Frozen right now and not The Great Beauty.

 Frozen

 Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

 Produced by: Peter Del Vecho

 Screenplay by: Jennifer Lee

 Story by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Shane Morris

 Based on: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson

 Genres: Animated, Musical, Fantasy, Comedy

Voices of: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciarán Hinds

Music by: Cristophe Beck

Songs by: Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez

Oscar nominations (Wins in bold): Best Animated Feature, Best Original Song

Plot: The crown princess of the Scandinavian kingdom of Arendelle, Elsa, was born possessing the power to produce ice, frost and snow whenever she so desires, essentially making her, among other things,  the odds-on favourite to win any sort of Battle Royale between the Disney Princesses. Somebody needs to get on that, by the way.

One night, when playing with her little sister, Anna, Elsa accidentally strikes Anna in the head with a bolt of, um, ice magic that knocks her unconscious  and turns a part of her hair white. Anna is saved from further harm, and remains energetic and fun-loving as ever, but loses all memory of Elsa’s magic. Elsa, on the other hand, is immediately spirited away by her parents, the king and queen, to her chambers, where she is isolated from damn near everyone, including her sister, causing a rift between the two sisters. Elsa is trained as best as possible by her parents to control her powers with limited success, and grows up introverted and constantly worried about her powers hurting somebody else. As it turns out, locking a young girl in her room in order to prevent her from interacting with other people doesn’t exactly make a confident young woman. Who fucking knew, right?

When the king and queen die at sea during a storm, Elsa (Idina Menzel), the heir to the throne, is set to be declared queen once she comes of age. When the castle gates are opened for the coronation Anna (Kristen Bell), excited to meet new people after years of isolation, meets a charming prince from the “Southern Isles” or whatever named Hans (Santino Fontana). After the coronation goes off without a hitch, much to Elsa’s relief, Anna and Hans enthusiastically ask Elsa for her blessing of their marriage. Because she’s not insane, Elsa refuses, much to Anna’s displeasure, and an argument ensues and, in a fit of emotion, Elsa accidentally unleashes her powers and causes an eternal winter in Arendelle.

Big deal, I live in Edmonton. This is June for me.

Horrified, Elsa flees up the North Mountain, and Anna, with the help of a misanthropic Sami ice vendor named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven, heads up the mountain to find her sister.

While there are many things that can make or break a Disney movie, at the forefront must be the animation. Since the 1930’s, Disney has been at the forefront of animation, but they’ve been known to slip up a couple of times, which can take a pretty heavy toll on a movie like this one.

Thankfully, this movie surpasses all expectations. It looks incredible. Along with Tangled, Frozen, while still mostly CGI, also blends in elements of traditional hand-drawn animation, and while the former movie looked great, the technique is exploited to its full potential in this movie, especially in scenes where Elsa is using her powers. The scene during “Let It Go” when she’s building her castle is a sight to behold, especially. I don’t think that even the most jaded cynic wouldn’t look at that scene with the utmost reverence for how far we’ve come since the days of Steamboat Willie.

Or whatever the fuck’s going on here.

The only quibble that I have with the animation (And it’s more of an observation than an outright complaint, mind you) is that, for some reason, all the female character’s eyes are goddamn huge.  Not to take anything away from the animators, because the characters still look amazing, but did they feel like they needed to make the girls look extra pretty by blowing up their eyes or something? Kinda weird for a movie with otherwise relatively progressive themes, but I must admit Id be lying if I said I cared enough to really let it bother me.

Another staple of any classic Disney movie is the great soundtrack, and I’m pleased to say that Frozen doesn’t disappoint… Most of the time. The backing soundtrack from Christophe Beck does a nice job pretty much the whole time throughout of  ramping up or scaling down the intensity, even if you don’t really notice so until the end. The songs, written by the married songwriting team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone collaborator Robert Lopez and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, do pretty much a great job of setting the tone throughout the movie, and, I’d expect that kids would go pretty wild over them too, since they’re extremely catchy.  Hell, I haven’t seen the movie for a couple of weeks, and I still have all of the songs ricocheting through my head at the same time. This is not a good feeling.

My brain is imploding inside of itself! Somebody help me!!!

“Frozen Heart” kicks off the movie, and it’s a lot more aggressive, and kind of darker than what you’d expect from most Disney movies. It’s not exactly “Circle of Life”, and it wasn’t an integral component for my enjoyment of the movie, but hey, I’ll take it.

“Do You Wanna Build a Snowman” is one of the two really fantastic songs in the movie, and it’s also probably the most touching, which you wouldn’t expect from its upbeat beginning. It does a really good job of showing of the two main characters’ emotional states too. “For the First Time in Forever”, while a bit more formulaic, and not grammatically sound as a title,  is also a fun listen, and mostly showcases Anna’s personality: Energetic, klutzy, optimistic, yet lonely.

Also, who knew Veronica Mars could sing?

 “Love is an Open Door” is a cheesy song that would fail in any context outside of the movie, but gets by here thanks to the charm of Kristen Bell and Santino Fontana, and “Fixer Upper” is just the biggest piece of shit, but pretty much any flaw present in those two songs are immediately made up for in “Let it Go.” The one song in the entire movie that lets only the great Adele Dazeem Idina Menzel showcase her Broadway-honed talents, and has even people who hate this movie (Horrid as they may be) admitting under their venom-tinged that “this one’s pretty good”. I’m not gonna spend too much time on this song, because at this point, it doesn’t need to prove itself to anyone, so I’m just gonna go ahead and get to the voice cast.

So, I guess we’re just gonna go ahead and pretend that a dress made out of ice wouldn’t be insanely uncomfortable?

 While Idina Menzel gets most of the attention because of her singing (And the fact that Elsa is the most badass Disney Princess ever. Come at me, Mulan.), and Josh Gad is rightly praised for being hilarious as Olaf, the magic snowman, but stealing the show for me is Kristen Bell. I’ve never seen an episode of Veronica Mars, so I can’t really comment on her real-life acting ability, but I feel confident saying that nobody else could have played the part of princess Anna as well as Bell. A character that would’ve been a ditzy mess in the hands of anybody else….

Unrelated stock Kirsten Dunst photo.

… Kristen Bell injects so much charm and wit into the character that it’s hard to fathom somebody criticizing her performance.

Like I said, Gad is great, and Menzel, Fontana and Groff are fine in their respective characters, none of which seem to only be there to fill some bullshit stock character role, thank God. I guess you could make an argument that Olaf was kind of unnecessary, but come on, the dude’s hilarious. And that “In Summer” song? I love it. It’s so chock-full of not-so-subtle irony. Your seventh grade English teacher would love it.

SPOILER ALERT

I think the thing I enjoyed best about this movie is the ending. I’ll be the first to admit that the movie hits specific Disney beats. The “I Want” song, the romance (Although this one did surprise me and didn’t feel forced by any means), and, most importantly, the protagonist, a princess, of course, is helpless and is saved by, what else, true love! Oh spare me Disney, you schlocky asshole of a company! Why don’t you stick to buying every other film studio in the goddamn world, you sexist fucks!

Seriously though, keep buying the film studios. I love it.

Yes, true love does save Anna from an icy doom, but Disney wisely decides not to have Kristoff save both Anna and Elsa from their respective ends (As most other Disney movies would end) and has the girls save each other, not with the power of romantic love, that weird, undefinable emotion that compelled Prince Charming to make out with Snow White’s dead body, or whatever, but with sisterly love, which is proven, in this movie, to be just as strong. It’s a somewhat subtle touch, but it definitely won me over.

SPOILER END

What nominations/wins did it deserve?:

  • Best Animated Feature: Boy does it ever deserve that win. Hell, I would’ve lobbied hard for its inclusion on the Best Picture shortlist if I was a member of the Academy. One day, I guess.
  • Best Original Song (“Let it Go”): Believe the hype.

Overall: It’s not without some minor flaws, but Frozen easily merits the hype that has made it a global phenomenon (My little cousin is struggling to decide whether to be Anna or Elsa for Halloween this year). It’s not the best Disney movie ever, but it’s certainly the best one since the first Disney Renaissance. If nothing else, it has set the bar really high for Big Hero 6.

I, for one, am extremely optimistic.

Rating: 9/10