Archive June 2015
At this point in time Inside Out has received critical praise since before its premiere and has already smashed the record for an original opening weekend. This is for a good reason. Inside Out is everything we love about Pixar in one film. Creative ideas, new perspectives, memorable characters, and most importantly the emotional impact of a world shattering meteor.
As I watched Inside Out I was continually emotionally punched in the gut. Hence the “damn it Pixar” in the title. After all, I can only cry so many times in a film. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s first start with the cast assembled for this film. While there are numerous notable actors lending their voices, I’m going to focus on the five emotions. With comedy veterans Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling, you can’t really go wrong. Surprisingly, the film doesn’t seem to coast on the talent of its stars and is instead elevated to higher plain.
Amy Poehler channels more than a little bit of Leslie Knope (Parks and Rec) for Joy. Phyllis Smith absolutely nails Sadness and also seems to channel some of her character from The Office. Bill Hader plays Fear who could easily be replaced by Flint from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Mindy Kaling as Disgust is divinely inspired casting and a summation of all the cool people we’ll never be. Finally, Lewis Black as Anger is just about as perfect casting as you can get. With a solid voice ensemble, this film is definitely putting the right foot forward.
Beyond the voice cast, we need to talk about the story. Following the emotions of Riley, a girl moving with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. Struggling with leaving her friends and old life behind, she is forced to adjust to a brand new life. Of course this is an emotional time and sends Riley’s five emotions into turmoil. This is a story that everyone can relate to. Whether it was a move or some other life changing event that occurred when you were a child, everyone can think of something.
Through this story, which takes about two or three days, we learn the importance of each emotion. Fear keeps us safe from dangerous situations. Disgust helps to ensure are social survival. Anger helps us to stand up for ourselves. Joy steers us towards what makes us ultimately happy. Sadness helps us understand pain and how to ultimately process it. These are slight simplifications but I only want to delve deeper into the two central emotions of this film, Joy and Sadness.
From the get go, Joy acts as the leader of the group. After all, if we asked what was the most important emotion, how many people would say happiness or joy? What Inside Out does so brilliantly well is accurately depict the importance of all emotions to our development, including sadness. They accomplish this most effectively by having two worlds. The outside normal world and the one where Riley’s emotions are. This create a unique cause and effect relationship that helps to showcase why Riley acts the way she does.
It is done so well that you will not be able to stop yourself from empathizing with Riley. From my own personal experience, I could see myself when I was kid acting out in the same ways. The pain and confusion felt by Riley was very real to me. This emotional conflict drives the narrative and leads to some of the most heartbreaking and heartwarming moments in Pixar’s history.
All of this to say, I do not think that Inside Out is Pixar’s best film. It is definitely in my top 5 but not the best. Not for any one big reason but more just little things that subtracted a few points here and there. Really though, it’s apples and orange. Inside Out has earned a spot in Pixar’s greatest hits and has helped bring Pixar out of a creative slump. Not too bad after a two year absence from the box office.
I’m going to just state the obvious here, dinosaurs are awesome. If there is one fact that is the most universally accepted, it’s this one. If you weren’t aware, we recently got to revisit Jurassic Park as Jurassic World. It has smashed box office records and continues to rise. I don’t want to talk about that film. Instead I want to talk about Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur. Pixar’s own film of Jurassic proportions.
Pixar’s upcoming film is already getting rave reviews and is even being touted as one of their best yet. However, it’s not the only Pixar film this year. The Good Dinosaur tells the tale of what the world would look like if the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct. Not a bad premise and full of possibilities. Yet, with the first trailer I have my concerns. I’m not going to go into the multiple issues happening behind the scenes because we might frankly never know. Instead, it’s the premise that has me worried. I’ve talked before about what I think is the difference between telling a story and creating a world. Specifically how Dreamworks best work happens when they create worlds and Pixar’s is when they tell stories. So far, TGD seems to be a perfect example of why Pixar is bad at creating worlds.
As I’ve said before, the easiest way to create a world is to simply ask a question. In this case, it’s what if the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct. What would the world look like then? The short teaser trailer gives us just one or two glimpses of this. A T Rex running with buffalo and an Apatosaurus being ridden by a human. This isn’t a bad idea at all, the problem I have is that Pixar isn’t the right studio for the film.
Lets take a look at some of Pixar’s greatest hits. Films like Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life, Wall-E, UP, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc., and the entire Toy Story trilogy. What’s pretty much the only thing consistent about these films? They all take place in a world very familiar to ours. The only two slight exceptions I would consider would be Monsters Inc. and Wall-E. However, both are still in worlds immediately recognizable to our own. Monsters Inc. just substitutes monsters for people and Wall-E just speeds up the clock. The point is, all of these films occur in our world. It’s pretty much why the Pixar theory is even able to somewhat make sense. I know I didn’t list all the films but take any Pixar film and this idea applies.
Do you know which two films are considered the worst two Pixar films? Cars and Cars 2. What would you say is different about these 2? They were both directed by John Lasseter who directed Toy Story 1 and 2. They both had a pretty awesome voice cast and honestly had a pretty cool world around them. So why did they fall apart? There could be any number of behind the scenes reasons but my theory is that Pixar built a world instead of telling a story. The difference between interpreting the world through a different perspective and creating a world based on a perspective.
When you create a world, like in Cars, you lose that perspective. Toy Story is from the perspective of our toys and taking a look at growing up. Monster Inc. is from the monsters in our closet and that the things we fear aren’t all that scary. Finding Nemo shows how our personal actions could have unforeseen consequences and the importance of family and friends. Cars is about what the world would look like if cars were the dominant species. Do you see how that kind of falls flat? Sure, there’s an underlying message about what true success looks like but it gets lost by the need to show how this world looks and functions.
So far, TGD looks to show us what the world would look like if the dinosaurs were the dominant species. See why I’m having some concerns about TGD? Now, it is still far to early to pass judgement. Frankly, it’s a safer bet to just assume Pixar will be able to pull it off. It just looks like their going to fall into some old pitfalls. To Pixar’s credit, it does look like they are trying to avoid another Cars.
It doesn’t appear that the dinosaurs have built anything like our own human world. If they stick within the boundaries of a world we already know, then I think TGD has a good chance. Not only that but if they inject TGD with the signature Pixar emotional weight, it’ll be fine. This was part of the problem after all with Cars, Cars 2, and Monsters University. There wasn’t much if any high emotional stakes that usually helps Pixar films to transcend both child and grown-up audience.
All this to say, I’ll still be giving Pixar my money at the end of the day. But if the next TGD trailer shows dinosaurs riding buses, I’ll be very worried.