Tag Archives: Pixar

Full Review: “Inside Out” Ranks Among Pixar’s Best

Inside Out Sadness and Joy
via Collider

by Gabriel Valdez

#Note: I’m still writing for AC, but I’ll be focusing more on social and political commentary there, so more of my movie reviews will be appearing in full on this website again, starting with this one:

There’s a famous montage in Pixar’s Up that tells the life story of a man and woman, from their meeting as children to his losing her of old age. It never fails to draw tears from any viewer.

Imagine zooming in on that montage and watching a briefer piece of it. It has the same effect for viewers, but the story’s in much more detail. This is what happens in Inside Out, which many are calling a return to form for the studio that created Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Toy Story, and Wall-E. I’ll go one step further: this is one of Pixar’s best films. Inside Out meets and perhaps even surpasses some of the movies I just listed.

Pixar always has a way of getting at the emotions housed inside of certain stages of life. Here, those emotions become characters. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust operate 11 year-old Riley’s brain. Joy (Amy Poehler) runs the crew because up until now, everything has gone pretty well having a childhood focused on happiness.

But Riley’s family is moving from the open, rural wilds of Minnesota to the cramped confines of San Francisco. This coincides with Joy and Sadness getting swept out of headquarters, leaving only Anger, Fear, and Disgust to cope with being the new kid at school, figuring out the new town, and trying out for the local hockey team.

Inside Out Riley looking scared
via Pixar Post

We see glimpses of Riley’s life, particularly in how her relationship with her parents worsens. Most of the film focuses on Joy and Sadness’s journey back to headquarters, through places like Long-term Memory, Imaginationland, and even Dream Productions.

By speaking about the imaginary things we lose and by focusing on the tug-of-war between Sadness and Joy, Inside Out actually begins to recall the bittersweet messages of 80s fantasies like Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, or The Last Unicorn. Those were films that dealt with the loss of childhood and innocence in a similar way: by threatening the metaphorical with real repercussions. Although the style is completely different, Inside Out has many moments that would fit very neatly into those films, including a few that may make you cry. The 60 year-old biker with the tattoos and motorcycle jacket to my right cried. The six year-old and his mother to my left cried. I cried.

Inside Out works. It really, really works because it feels like the rare film that arrives straight from a storyteller’s heart. That Riley is compellingly realized, that it’s filled with slapstick humor, that the animation is filled with color and imagination – these are delightful bonuses. At its core, Inside Out could work without any of them, and it could do so better than any other Pixar movie. I won’t call it the best of their films – I’m not sure that it is. I will call it their most honest one.

In part, this is because Inside Out takes place on a much smaller scale than most Pixar films. It’s not humanity that’s at stake, or even a loved one’s life. All that’s at stake is the emotional wholeness of a young woman. And yet, directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen give those stakes more importance, tension, and emotional impact than all the worlds that have been saved this summer put together.

Inside Out Fear Joy and Disgust
via Collider

Is Pixar back? That’s a silly question; they never left. When most major studios have two or three subpar films in a row, it’s called a rough month. Since Pixar only makes a feature film every year or two, what would be the blink of an eye for most studios is for Pixar turned into a narrative about how far they’ve diminished.

Call Inside Out what you like – a recovery, a comeback, a return to form. Just make sure you call it a masterpiece.

It’s a great film for kids, especially because it doesn’t shy away from the kind of complex, emotionally involved storytelling that kids really do love. Sometimes we simplify children’s stories much more than we have to. We underestimate just how invested they can become in a movie that demands their full attention. Oftentimes, they’re even better at it than adults are – they don’t have to break through walls of cynicism to treat what’s happening on-screen as important. Inside Out puts faith in children’s ability to comprehend what’s at stake. It also speaks to the way children analyze emotions and deal with the world around them.

Adults will be taken back to emotional struggles we had at that age and – let’s face it – sometimes still experience. Children will get the first film in a long time that treats their emotions as something complex and worth talking about. And it all happens in a colorful, energetic cartoon that may be Pixar’s funniest yet.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section uses the Bechdel Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film. Read why I’m including this section here.

1. Does Inside Out have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Riley is voiced by Kaitlyn Dias and her mother is voiced by Diane Lane. Joy is voiced by Amy Poehler, Sadness is voiced by Phyllis Smith, and Disgust is voiced by Mindy Kaling. A variety of other characters and their emotions are voiced by Paula Poundstone, Paula Pell, Rashida Jones, and a sizable supporting cast of professional women voice actors.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. There are some hilarious moments when boys and men are discussed by emotions, but aside from that it’s really all about the women. It’s a credit to lead screenwriter Meg LeFauve (Josh Cooley and Pete Docter also contributed) that each of the women in this film seems whole. Even the emotional homunculi (the characters inside Riley’s head) who are portrayed by women are more than simple caricatures.

I can’t speak to many experiences or pressures as a young woman growing up that this film may address. I can say that Riley and her emotions are some of the most fleshed out characters that Pixar has put to film, and it manages this through more than just the dialogue. Not only is the screenplay incredibly layered, but the animation is nuanced enough to ask you to read each character on multiple levels.

I also appreciate that Riley is a complex character. This takes place with surface elements: she dreams about unicorns and she kicks butt at hockey. It also takes place on a number of deeper levels: Riley struggles with her own emotions but can occasionally manage those of her parents in ways that defuse their loss of emotional control. She has expectations and struggles with anger when those expectations aren’t met. She can revert into her own private world. She is caught in the midst of becoming more independent. This is a complex portrayal of a young woman, which is something we don’t get to see very often on film.

“Big Hero 6” is This Year’s “Frozen” (and might be even better)

Big Hero 6 flying

by Gabriel Valdez

There’s a moment in Big Hero 6, Disney’s new animated superhero film, when I was reminded why I like watching movies with live audiences instead of in critic screenings. Young Hiro has just flipped the switch on his sweet, rotund, inflatable robot Baymax, turning him from a friendly caretaker into a killing machine. In order to exact vengeance, Hiro momentarily erases any conscience the robot has. The next time Hiro tries this, Baymax refuses. You see, Hiro’s lost someone very close, and Baymax tries to teach Hiro to cope in a healthier way than just getting even.

It’s a touching scene that offers a glimpse into how deeply emotional something as silly as a computer-animated superhero comedy can be. I glanced around the theater. Critics would have been furiously scribbling in their notebooks. Instead, I saw a mother wipe away tears and a father badly pretend not to. I looked further and saw this reflected across the entire theater. Families leaned a foot closer to a screen 80 feet away and cried. I’d already given up on wiping away my own tears.

As an adaptation from a Marvel comic, Big Hero 6 is hilarious and full of creative action. It’s colorfully, brightly animated, written for both children and adults, and let me repeat: it is incredibly funny. It’s also a tremendous film about coping with loss, one of the most difficult subjects to talk about with children.

Big Hero 6 mid

Hiro is a child prodigy. He invents robots in a California-Japan mishmash of a city called San Fransokyo. He’s content to hustle robot fighting leagues until older brother Tadashi inspires him toward college. Hiro is putting it all together until one key cog comes loose, and everything is taken from him. All Hiro is left with is a clue about the man responsible, and his brother’s robotic personal healthcare assistant Baymax, as large and squishy as he is well-meaning.

The two follow the clue, recruiting help from Hiro’s inventor friends and, once they realize they’re out of their depth, recasting themselves as a team of superheroes with Baymax at the center.

If you’ll follow me on a tangent, Disney (like Pixar) runs a short animated film before each feature. Big Hero 6 gives us a treat with “Feast.” It’s the story of a dog rescued off the street who changes the direction of a man’s life. It is easily the best pairing of animated short and feature film either Pixar or Disney has ever made – “Feast” sets the theme and level of emotion for the bigger film that follows. What is Baymax, after all, if not a rescue? Take away the central mystery and the villain and the superheroics, and the emotional effect Baymax’s innocence and unconditional loyalty have on Hiro’s life are much the same.

Big Hero 6 hairy baby

Let’s get to that headline, though. How is superhero adventure Big Hero 6 like fantasy musical Frozen? There’s no singing, there’s no dancing, no talking snowmen or ice palaces. And yet, I felt the same way coming out of both of them. Endorphins had been kicking in the whole movie, I felt happier coming out than when I went in, and I’d been taken on a very complete emotional journey. I’m still feeling overwhelmed and incredibly charged by Big Hero 6 even as I edit this a day later.

Neither Disney film is a cinematic marvel, and they each lack the polish of a Dreamworks (How to Train Your Dragon) or proper Pixar (Brave) movie. Yet Big Hero 6 and Frozen are both more rough-and-tumble creative propositions, less finely tuned and more willing to make mistakes. They each bite off more than they can chew, yet find a way to rise to the occasion. They each make up for some occasionally simplified animation with well-defined characters, improvised elements, and plots that are incredibly full of heart. If there were an Oscar for Best Crowd Pleaser, the two Disney animations would walk away with it two years running.

The Big Hero 6 by the way? That team consists of African-American, Caucasian, Japanese, Korean, Latin-American, and robot characters. Three men, two women, one robot. Including more diverse casts of characters not only provides a wider range of role models for children to look up to, it’s also one of the easiest ways of making the world of a film feel bigger and more real. It’s one less suspension of disbelief rested on an audience’s shoulders. Given the response I saw, I’d say it works.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does Big Hero 6 have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Two of the heroes are GoGo, voiced by Jamie Chung, and Honey Lemon, voiced by Genesis Rodriguez. (They all have silly names like that. The hero’s name is Hiro, for godssakes, although that’s lifted from Snow Crash). There’s also Hiro’s guardian, his Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph).

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. They talk about science and technology, plan how to foil a villain, and argue over whether they’ll make it out of precarious situations. They also engage in group conversations in which women and men address the group at large.

As I was researching the film, I found an early interview indicating GoGo and Honey Lemon would have a petty rivalry over the boys’ attentions. Somewhere along the line, that got ditched, and I couldn’t be happier. Who are they without that petty rivalry? They’re both inventors, geniuses, technically apt, and good in a fight. GoGo is a laconic daredevil, Honey Lemon a stylish nerd.

When they become superheroes, GoGo uses magnetic levitation roller blades and hurls discs at enemies as if she saw Tron and took it as a challenge. Honey Lemon enters chemical formulas onto a keypad on her purse, which then dispenses the correct concoction. She can toss a ball of ice, sticky goo, or hardened shields at a moment’s notice.

As for the men, Wasabi has energy swords and Fred can jump high and breathe fire. That’s fun and all, but the women are far more exciting. GoGo’s scenes offer a lot of high-speed movement and stunts. Since Honey Lemon uses chemical reactions to fight, you don’t exactly know what she’s going to do – that always makes for an intriguing brand of action. Yeah, she uses her purse, but a purse that creates chemical reactions at will to let you fight as you want? Hell, I walked out of the theater wanting one of those.

Big Hero 6 GoGo

I’ll admit, GoGo is now one of my favorite superheroes. At one point, she tells a fretting Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) to “Woman up.” This later becomes a catchphrase she uses when she does something especially superheroic. I imagine my niece running around and shouting, “Woman up,” treating the phrase as the absolute essence of toughness and bravery. That is an incredibly big deal.

Additionally, on that diversity I mentioned earlier – Big Hero 6 is based on a Japanese comic in which nearly all the characters are Japanese. Obviously, that’s going to change in an American adaptation. It’s just what happens, and the same thing happens in reverse when American material is adapted in other countries. There’s nothing wrong with that. Cultures adapt and cast specifically to speak to their own demographics.

In this adaptation, however, Hiro’s family is Japanese, GoGo is Korean, Honey Lemon is Latin-American, Wasabi is African-American, and Fred is Caucasian. Where Frozen tackles issues of gender equality head-on and makes it an issue for certain characters, in Big Hero 6, no one ever has an attitude that someone can’t do something because of ethnicity or gender. It’s never even mentioned.

Both approaches are valuable. Frozen forces audience members to confront the way in which traditional media presents women as weak, helpless, and in need of saving. In Big Hero 6, equality just seems an everyday normality, and you get to spend two hours experiencing what that world is like.

That in itself is a powerful statement, and I can’t applaud the multitude of writers, directors Don Hall and Chris Williams, and casting director Jamie Sparer Roberts enough for how they designed this cast and these characters.

As moving as the film is itself, it’s even more extraordinary when you take into account how rare an approach to casting and character treatment this is in something that cost $165 million to make. I can’t recall a big-budget film ever doing diversity this well. Period.

Big Hero 6 team