Inside Out (2015)

Released: June 19, 2015. Directed by: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. Starring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black. Runtime: 1 hr., 34 min.

The human mind is a complex thing to dissect. Trying to figure it out and portray it as a comprehensive subject to children, while also making it entertaining for adults seemed to pose to a challenge for Pixar with their latest film “Inside Out.”

And boy, do they do it well. It starts with a question of if we ever wonder what goes on in people’s heads. That’s a question that seems to spark the film’s premise – branching into an original and charming animated feature, where we follow 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and the five primary emotions in her head.

The concept honestly portrays the ups and downs of what an 11-year-old girl’s emotions might be like at a sensitive time in her life – uprooted from her home in Minnesota to a different San Francisco.

The reasoning for the emotions, or lack thereof, is when Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Joy (Amy Poehler) get sucked into a tube while trying to save core memories.

The tube’s purpose is to ship the day’s memories to long-term memory. Joy and Sadness have to adventure back to headquarters to make Riley happy again.

An interesting concept is that Riley’s core memories power parts of Riley’s personality – called personality islands. They include Hockey, Friendship, Family, Honesty and Goofball. With these hanging in the balance, the stakes complement the narrative with a compelling quality.

The controlling emotions left in headquarters are the hot-head Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Disgust is so nasty, by the way, she is shaped like a piece of broccoli. Their conflicting attitudes make for some funny scenes and their not-so-delightful attitudes make Riley snippy.

I think the film adds insight to how certain emotional problems start. Since Riley is so snippy, it makes me think that’s how mood swings are triggered. And when Joy and Sadness leave, that’s how you become unlikable – or if the personality islands start to crumble and you become emotionless, that’s how you become a psychopath like Dexter.

My favourite thing created in this world was probably Dream Productions, which puts on little television shows as Riley’s dreams. It’s like her slumber Hollywood. It’s cool. Pixar’s creative new world is something you’d probably envision as a kid, because imagination is so much fun. I think that’s why this is attractive to kids, but also entertaining for adults. The beautiful poignancy at play and the film’s heartfelt narrative could sporadically offers chills, as well as tears, throughout.

The characterization in the film is also great. Riley’s natural reactions and the way she is portrayed is so realistic, she feels like someone you would know. I thought the casting for the emotions was pitch perfect, and their conflicting opinions made for awesome good-spirited humour. The film’s message of not always having to be happy to live a joyful life is also lovely.

Lewis Black’s comedic delivery is anger, and his character is like an everyday dad who reads the newspaper every morning, which has a lot of clever headlines of what’s going on in Riley’s life. Bill Hader has a delivery that suits fear; he’s that one guy who is afraid on his own shadow.

Mindy Kaling’s sarcastic delivery matches her emotion of disgust very well. Amy Poehler’s likable personality and happy-go-lucky delivery is also very entertaining. I thought Phyllis Smith was born to play Sadness, being the most convincing out of the five. The character is like a gentle aunt who wears turtlenecks. Richard Kind offers a delightful performance as Riley’s imaginary friend called Bing Bong. If a man would have played Joy, Richard’s surname certainly could have helped win him the job.

Score: 95/100

Monsters University (2013)

Monsters UniversityRelease Date: June 21, 2013

Director: Dan Scanlon

Stars: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi

Runtime: 110 min

Pixar is one of this century’s most consistent studios; but they are fallible. I’ve seen 10 out of 14 of their movies. Cars 2 is apparently the runt of the litter, and I haven’t seen that, or the original. Brave (my review) is a good animated movie, but I’m not so big on the story and I haven’t (nor has anyone else, I doubt) forgiven it for winning that Oscar for Best Animated Feature yet. Monsters University is the fourteenth film out of Pixar’s creative cannon, and their first prequel.

From the moment Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) met, they couldn’t stand each other. Monsters University brings us a look at the relationship between Mike and Sulley when they weren’t exactly two peas in a pod.

Many people, mostly critics, have set their expectations for Pixar movies too high after the release of Toy Story 3. They’re a studio, they’re going to make a mistake. Their movies won’t be near-perfect or beloved each time. Deal with it. I’m here to tell you that this time around, Monsters University is deserving of being called one of Pixar’s best movies in years. I’m sure it will become a classic one day. It’s a great animated movie and a great Pixar movie. I’m not going to mention any other Pixar movie (excluding Monsters, Inc.) from here-on-out in this review. I want to review it as a Pixar movie, and not as a Pixar movie in the shadow of other, possibly better Pixar movies. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t a Pixar movie, because that just isn’t possible, and a disservice to Pixar. It also isn’t possible because their exemplary animation is present.

This is the most creative, the most charming, and the best, animated movie of the year so far. It’s heart-warming, moving, and funny. Everything here is top notch. The story features great entertainment and a whole lot of heart. The animation is beautiful, and the creativity put into this is prominent. The stakes are high during the movie; because of a situation caused by Mike and Sulley’s feud. Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), is a frightening monster who, in some ways, is reminiscent of Henry Waternoose from Monsters, Inc. Thankfully, and impressively, this Dean is a completely different character. One might get the vibe that this franchise teaches University deans and bosses cannot be trusted.

I love how Pixar can create movies that both children and adults will love. The humour isn’t always cutesy, it’s usually extremely clever. The plot is also smart and rather enthralling for an animated family feature. The last thirty (or so) minutes is an amazing final act, and one of the best and most memorable in Pixar’s filmography. Even people with the smallest bladders should hold their urine like there’s no god-damn tomorrow. This is set at a university (hence: Monsters University), which might play a part in the appeal to older audiences. This isn’t set where it is purely because of marketing to older audiences (because Monsters, Inc. definitely would be enough to bring fans back to the theatre to see this). This is set at a university because it’s the best time for these two monsters to meet. It’s when people meet their lifelong friends. It’s where their feud makes sense. This wouldn’t be set at a pre-school, mostly because their feud could be over petty things like a crayon or Teddy Graham crackers (even though those are really freaking tasty). The creators really know what they’re doing, and how to give each of these characters depth.

You better believe this little guy is the cutest thing about the movie.

You better believe this little guy is the cutest thing in the movie.

There’s a new slate of colourful and inventive characters. This university looks like a great place to go to school. (And since Mike and Sulley can attend university, it makes me think I can do it, too!) This is part coming-of-age tale because the fraternity house crew, Oozma Kappa, that Mike and Sulley fall into, are a group of misfits who cannot scare, but they do have a lot of heart. The gang, and Mike, must find it within themselves to let out their scariest and mightiest roars.

One of the main criticisms this movie might receive is that “it doesn’t need to exist”. Justin Bieber doesn’t need to exist, but some people like him. (Yes, I did just compare this to Justin Bieber. If Monsters U is going to go up against Justin Bieber, MU is going to win ten times out of ten.) If you do feel MU didn’t have to see the light of day, you’ll be glad it gets made. As a fan of Pixar, a lover of movies, and a lover of Mike and Sulley, I’m estatic this exists. This movie is so entertaining, and I love it. It’s a great opportunity to see beloved characters in a new light.

They get new layers. Mike is a student who knows everything about everything, but he hasn’t always felt like he belongs. Sulley is a student who thinks he can get by just because of his family name. We see these characters in new, more vulnerable situations. We get to see these two monsters become an inseparable pair. We also get to see how Randall Boggs came to hate this dynamic duo. We also get to see some hilarious cameos. And for those opportunities, I will always cherish this fantastic film. I will always watch this with a big smile on my face. This is an impressive prequel to Monsters, Inc., and an impressive Pixar movie.

90/100

100th Review: Brave (2012)

Brave

Release Date: June 22, 2012

Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell

Stars (voices): Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson

Runtime: 93 min

Tagline: Change your fate.

Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.

Considering that this took six years under works, one would think this would be a little better. The story is just lacking, and it isn’t enough to be entertaining throughout the whole 93 minutes. Where it lacks in story; it makes up in message, characters and laughs.

Merida is the first female protagonist of a Pixar film, and she’s a promising first attempt. She is headstrong and very ambitious. She feels that her fate is carved in stone, but she wishes to alter it somehow. When she does try to change it, however, it comes with drastic consequences. When she gives her even more headstrong mother a potion (in the form of a cake), made for her by a witch shop owner, Merida has no idea her mother will turn into a bear, the very animal her father hunts. This situation causes many problems, like her father and castle guests sent on a wild bear hunt, but also causes Merida and her mother’s relationship to prosper. With this situation, they are able to see life through the other person’s eyes. Also, the father is a great character, he is quite funny. The voicework from everyone involved is pretty great, everyone has funny moments and they offer jokes that are great for all ages. Merida’s three brothers are pretty cute; not anything special, they’re just cute. They’re practically mute, so they’re just there to lighten the mood a little.

The message is pretty great – honour your parents and communicate well with them, and cherish family. It’s a message all children should learn and hold dear, because family is a great support system. Though, this message isn’t anything a child’s parents can’t teach them.

The sequences of archery and other action sequences are quite great, but some scenes can get somewhat frightening for younger viewers (maybe anyone under the age of 4 or 5).

I’ve seen many better stories in animated features. The whole ‘undo a curse’ premise feels quite reminiscent of Shrek. Sure, this is quite original, but Shrek did come to mind while watching this. Maybe it felt reminiscent of Shrek because Shrek has a Scottish accent… Anyway, back to the story. The pacing is decent, but it isn’t a story that works well enough to fill ninety minutes. This is Pixar’s first period piece, and even though the story isn’t superb, the mythology was intriguing. Regardless of the story, the animation is very beautiful. It is some of the finest I’ve ever seen, and some of the finest animation of the year. The Scottish scenery is really beautiful and it really complements the animation. Also, it really portrays Scotland as a beautiful place, and it portrays its people as beautiful. Some may seem like lumberjacks, but they seem so cheery – it’s hard not to like them. All the Scottish accents in the film are sort of contagious, and when one quotes or explains the film, it’s hard not to talk in that dialect.

Brave offers some great characters, some fine animation, and a very mediocre story. Compared to great Pixar stories like Toy Story or Monsters, Inc., it pales in comparison. Brave does a great job of mixing beautiful animation with great Scottish scenery, and it makes for an experience that is worth checking out. It might not win Best Animated Feature of the Year (my “money’s” on Wreck-It Ralph), but it certainly deserves a nomination.

70/100