Skip to main content

Boo! Pick a plotline!

Inside Out
(2015)

(SPOILERS) The near-universal acclaim greeting the all-but latest Pixar offering is mostly warranted. It’s certainly their best feature in years, years that have been replete with a cash-in sequels and not-quite-there, increasingly rare, original outings. I have to admit I was sceptical, with Inside Out’s familiar high concept premise having been explored before, in movies, TV and animation, and what appeared to be a dubiously patronising approach to the workings of the mind (you know, for kids!) Yet, while Inside Out is sometimes a little rocky in terms of structure and plotting, it is mostly persuasively irresistible in character, and often hearteningly inventive. It might not be quite up to the standards of Pixar’s peak period, but Peter Doctor’s animation suggests such days aren't yet behind them.


Initially, the distillation of emotions into the handful that comprises Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust seems reductive and arch. Added to which, there’s a sense, not uncommon with Pixar fare, that this is a movie made by parents trying to relate to and understand their kids, rather than being a movie actually, you know, for kids. That feeling still lingers at times, and the lesser aspect is undoubtedly the uncanny valley of aesthetically-challenged parents and child. Like Toy Story (fortunately, the humans aren't quite so unnerving as the specimens there), the animators limit themselves to a milieu of domestic mundanity and attempt to eke out something creative therein. In both cases, the kids themselves aren't really a part of the vibrant aspect of the scenario, don't get to embrace it; Pixar’s children reflect the restricted reality of their mobility-challenged parents, wedged behind computer screens banging out code all day.


But Pete Doctor, whose Monsters, Inc. I didn’t find overly impressive, unchanged by repeat visits, has nevertheless tapped into an infectious cause-and-effect here. While the emotions’ designs are nothing particularly special, they’re undeniably effective. Joy’s struggle for control of her host’s diminishing sense of positivity, as she is uprooted and moved to San Francisco, may be a little hard to swallow as a new thing for an eleven-year-old (everything has been Rainbow Unicorns, the odd interlude excepted, it seems we are supposed to think), but the give-and-take as other emotions, particularly Sadness, wrest control, and Joy learns empathy through Sadness (sadness can be a positive emotion!), is a tidy and measured metaphor (leading to an obligatory family hug which is, at least, as Doctor points out, something different from the usual fireworks finale).


The internal logic of Riley’s state of mind, with Joy and Sadness excised from the control room, did give me pause, since it’s difficult to swallow that, in her uprooted and distressed state, Sadness wouldn’t also be getting a look in amid the Anger, Fear and Disgust, and I found the islands of personality rather a banal visual device (smacking too much of a “how your brain works” documentary), ditto Joy’s attempts to retain perceived vital core memories. But Joy and Sadness’ attempts to navigate their way back to Headquarters is confidently paced, and occasionally even dazzles.


Imaginary childhood friend Bing Bong, marvellously voiced by Richard Kind, is a splendid creation, mostly candy and part-cat, part-elephant, part-dolphin, who even cries candy (and whose departure from the picture is truly touching). 


And the further the picture strays from its central purpose, the more creatively engaged it becomes, the highlight being a flight through abstract thought, in which the characters break down into cubist and two-dimensional forms. The dream production factory is also quite smart (the I’m Falling for a Very Long Time into a Pit poster, styled on Vertigo), although this also highlights a tendency to take easy, rather than less travelled options; a scary clown? Again? Really? Hatred of broccoli? Likewise, the imaginary boyfriend, which seems more about writers lost for ideas than congruent with their character.


One might argue the representation of the internal workings of the adult minds also indulges lazy stereotypes (dad is always thinking about football, mum is constantly on-message, except when she is daydreaming of the guy she could have been with instead of her husband, which is slightly off; perhaps they should have showed dad surfing porn sites too, while they were at it?), something underlined by the inferior Riley’s First Date? short (it’s what you’d imagine the picture would be like if everyone was taking a lot less care than Doctor). Essentially, though, this gag-based shorthand is effective and funny, designed to evidence our comparable inner processes, rather than something to get too worked up over.


The voice cast, led by Amy Phoeler, acquit themselves with honours, although it’s a case where you wonder – as ever with modern animations – what names like Kyle McLachlan and Diane Lane brought to the table when unknown vocal artists could surely have got the job done just as well. I’d read mixed things about the Lava short that preceded screenings of Inside Out, but I found it charming; probably its standing rests on whether you go for the simple, catchy tune, which I did. Inside Out already seems to have been lent perspective by the subsequent nose-dive that is The Good Dinosaur; hopefully Pixar press forward with its successes in mind, rather than taking the back foot due to its failures. They desperately need more Inside Outs, and less Cars 3s and even (much as I’m intrigued to see them, I also think they’d have been better left as stand-alones) Finding Dory and The Incredibles 2.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You're waterboarding me.

The Upside (2017)
(SPOILERS) The list of US remakes of foreign-language films really ought to be considered a hiding to nothing, given the ratio of flops to unqualified successes. There’s always that chance, though, of a proven property (elsewhere) hitting the jackpot, and every exec hopes, in the case of French originals, for another The Birdcage, Three Men and a Baby, True Lies or Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Even a Nine Months, Sommersby or Unfaithful will do. Rather than EdTV. Or Sorcerer. Or Eye of the Beholder. Or Brick Mansions. Or Chloe. Or Intersection (Richard Gere is clearly a Francophile). Or Just Visiting. Or The Man with One Red Shoe. Or Mixed Nuts. Or Original Sin. Or Oscar. Or Point of No Return. Or Quick Change. Or Return to Paradise. Or Under Suspicion. Or Wicker Park. Or Father’s Day.

What about the meaningless line of indifference?

The Lion King (2019)
(SPOILERS) And so the Disney “live-action” remake train thunders on regardless (I wonder how long the live-action claim would last if there was a slim hope of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod?) I know I keep repeating myself, but the early ‘90s Disney animation renaissance didn’t mean very much to me; I found their pictures during that period fine, but none of them blew me away as they did critics and audiences generally. As such, I have scant nostalgia to bring to bear on the prospect of a remake, which I’m sure can work both ways. Aladdin proved to be a lot of fun. Beauty and the Beast entirely tepid. The Lion King, well, it isn’t a badfilm, but it’s wearying its slavish respectfulness towards the original and so diligent in doing it justice, you’d think it was some kind of religious artefact. As a result, it is, ironically, for the most part, dramatically dead in the water.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his …

Would you like Smiley Sauce with that?

American Beauty (1999)
(SPOILERS) As is often the case with the Best Picture Oscar, a backlash against a deemed undeserved reward has grown steadily in the years since American Beauty’s win. The film is now often identified as symptomatic of a strain of cinematic indulgence focussing on the affluent middle classes’ first world problems. Worse, it showcases a problematic protagonist with a Lolita-fixation towards his daughter’s best friend (imagine its chances of getting made, let alone getting near the podium in the #MeToo era). Some have even suggested it “mercifully” represents a world that no longer exists (as a pre-9/11 movie), as if such hyperbole has any bearing other than as gormless clickbait; you’d have to believe its world of carefully manicured caricatures existed in the first place to swallow such a notion. American Beauty must own up to some of these charges, but they don’t prevent it from retaining a flawed allure. It’s a satirical take on Americana that, if it pulls its p…

Kindly behove me no ill behoves!

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
(SPOILERS) It’s often the case that industry-shaking flops aren’t nearly the travesties they appeared to be before the dust had settled, and so it is with The Bonfire of the Vanities. The adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s ultra-cynical bestseller is still the largely toothless, apologetically broad-brush comedy – I’d hesitate to call it a satire in its reconfigured form – it was when first savaged by critics nearly thirty years ago, but taken for what it is, that is, removed from the long shadow of Wolfe’s novel, it’s actually fairly serviceable star-stuffed affair that doesn’t seem so woefully different to any number of rather blunt-edged comedies of the era.

Is CBS Corporate telling CBS News "Do not air this story"?

The Insider (1999)
(SPOILERS) The Insider was the 1999 Best Picture Oscar nominee that didn’t. Do any business, that is. Which is, more often than not, a major mark against it getting the big prize. It can happen (2009, and there was a string of them from 2014-2016), but aside from brief, self-congratulatory “we care about art first” vibes, it generally does nothing for the ceremony’s profile, or the confidence of the industry that is its bread and butter. The Insider lacked the easy accessibility of the other nominees – supernatural affairs, wafer-thin melodramas or middle-class suburbanite satires. It didn’t even brandish a truly headlines-shattering nail-biter in its conspiracy-related true story, as earlier contenders All the President’s Men and JFK could boast. But none of those black marks prevented The Insider from being the cream of the year’s crop.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.