Tag Archives: Animation

Inside Out (2015)

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In a weird way, the premise of “Inside Out” is kind of unnerving. Beings inside your mind that click on the control panel to trigger your emotions? Whatever happened to good old free will? It’s kind of a psychological dystopia for tweens (though in a universe where my emotions were living creatures who controlled most aspects of myself, they’d probably be doing a better job than I’m doing now- how’s that for unnerving?)

Take away the disturbing social and psychological implications of this deconstruction of free will (!), and you’ve got a typically delightful, touching Pixar film. The basic plot centers around Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias,) an eleven-year-old daughter of supportive, hockey-crazy parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) who is going through some tough life changes.

Her dad is having ever-present but obliquely mentioned financial problems, and her parents move her from her much-loved home in Minnesota to a small, shabby San Francisco pad. Luckily (?), the celebrity-voiced personifications of Riley’s feelings are there to help. Joy (Amy Poehler) runs the show, and under her watchful eye everything is mostly fun and pleasant, though  when Sadness (Phyllis Smith) interferes Riley’s mood transitions, predictably, from sunny to gloomy.

Anger (Lewis Black) fumes and rages while flames literally leap from his crimson head while Fear (Bill Hader) timidly and neurotically weighs the possible risk in any given situation. Disgust (Mindy Kaling) is kind of the queen bee of the group, adding a dose of much-needed snark.

Riley’s feelings are kind of a dysfunctional little family held together by the same circumstances (i.e. they inhabit the same brain,) but Joy fails to recognize that melancholy can a valuable, even healthy part of the spectrum that makes up the self until she and Sadness are inadvertently cast into the outskirts of the mind and Riley suffers a kind of an emotional shut-down.

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Tender and funny, “Inside Out” didn’t hit me in the feels as much as “Up,” an earlier effort and a personal favorite of mine, but it is an enjoyably creative adventure through an eleven-year-old girl’s mind. If the visuals of the dreamscape that Riley’s emotions inhabit was half as fun to create as they were to watch, then they must not have felt much like work at all as much as a veritable artist’s playground.

Aesthetically, Pixar studios has done it again. “Inside Out” looks gorgeous, both within Riley’s mind and out on the streets, school, and hockey rink she inhabits. “Inside Out”‘s success both visually and in terms of storytelling and pathos prove that filmmaker Pete Docter’s mastery of the craft in “Up” was not a fluke. There’s a lot of psychological jokes that most kids (and maybe certain adults) won’t get but there’s a distinct lack of the thinly veiled sexual humor that Dreamworks flaunts like a Harvard degree.

“Inside Out” has a pensive, melancholic quality that captures the insecurity and fragile uncertainty of adolescence which might go right over little kids’ heads, but they’ll be sure to enjoy the bright visuals and buoyant humor. Parents are likely to empathize with Riley’s parents’ financial and familial struggles without their woes overwhelming the picture.

A few parts of the film seem to drag along a little longer than they should, such as the abstraction sequence, but overall “Inside Out”is an outstanding film the young at heart or those who remember being young, when setbacks felt like crushing failures that seemed like they couldn’t be assuaged or mended with time, and life was made up by the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. This juxtaposition of jubilation and misery, through a child’s innocent eyes, is what makes “Inside Out” a truly singular experience.

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Watership Down (1978)

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This animated adaptation of Richard Adams’ classic novel proves to  be a slightly unnerving experience, since the anthropomorphic rabbits and early-Disney-esque visuals seem to say “Yeah, this is totally legit for kids,” while the subject matter tells you a decidedly different tale. I was intrigued by various online accounts of people being totally psychologically fucked by watching this as children. Oh the blood! The screams of the dying rabbits! I was sold. I had to check it out.

I had previously tried to read the book along with Adams’ ‘The Plague Dogs,’ but they were thick volumes with long chapters, and my interest in literature is admittedly a fluctuating thing. So I rented the movie, and I am pleased to report that this movie is a work of art, particularly in the visual sense. The watercolor-created landscape framing every shot is gorgeous and genuinely a masterpiece. This isn’t the cheap animation being flaunted in modern children’s films and Saturday Morning cartoons.

The artists had a vision, and they carried out that vision to stunning effect. The animation of the rabbit characters is impressive too. But damn, “Watership Down” is not only a grim movie and absolutely inappropriate for anyone under thirteen, it’s downright eerie at times, portraying the hostility of nature and the finality of death in a dark, unsettling way. This isn’t the kind of movie where a hip, sarcastic talking rabbit voiced by an A-list actor is seemingly injured, jumps up unharmed, and cracks a joke to a chorus laughs from the audience. It is dark, dark, dark. It portrays it’s rabbit protagonists with the grim earnestness of players in a Greek tragedy.

Rabbits Hazel (voiced by John Hurt) and his timid brother, Fiver (Richard Briers) live out a peaceful existence in a warren of coexisting bunnies. That is, until Fiver, who has the gift of foresight, declares that a catastrophe will shortly take place, causing the two siblings and a group of others to flee toward an uncertain future. Turns out, he was right. Real estate developers fill in the warren with piles of dirt, killing all the remaining rabbits except for one.

And with the only female in Hazel’s group promptly snatched up by a hawk, the weary travelers need women. Quite literally. But the Efrafans, a hostile, fascist warren of rabbits, are not willing to give up their dames, or come to a settlement, for that matter. The leader of the Efrafans, the frankly terrifying dictator General Woundwort (Harry Andrews,) tortures his subordinates to keep them compliant and in constant fear of their leader. Who knew seemingly docile bunnies could be such fucking assholes?

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I don’t know, maybe it’s different with rabbits (who screw around and thereupon breed like, well… rabbits,) but the Efrefan’s essential rape and prostitution of their women (they pimp out their ladies to bucks who wish to partake) paired with the protagonist’s blase insistence that women are needed to reproduce and continue their legacy (no mention of whether the girls want them) reminded me of the military men in Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” (” I promised them women.”)

Hazel and the gang can’t exactly be faulted- we are dealing with rabbits after all, who are more interested in procreation for the sake of procreation than wining and dining does. However, the treatment of women as babymakers is slightly disturbing (realize that by no means am I calling “Watership Down” a sexist film- the main priority here is survival, not romance.) As a modern woman watching it, it was a little creepy, although you definitely have to take it in context, as well as realize that “Watership Down” is basically a commentary on survival and warfare, and Warfare and rape and prostitution are often a package deal.

The inclusion of rabbit religion and a bunny political system was pretty awesome and creative and as mentioned before, the film was visually stunning but I wasn’t quite so enamored with the plot. It was not really so much what was wrong with the plot as that it didn’t transport me the way the world-building and animation did. The voice acting was excellent, with Richard Brier sporting a fittingly cagey inflection as the perpetually nervous Fiver while John Hurt provides sturdy backup as the strong, hearty Hazel.

On a final note, let me beseech you not to perpetuate the cycle of terror and adamantly avoid renting this movie for your kids. There is a scene where a rabbit, Bigwig, is caught in a snare and he is bleeding and foaming from the mouth and it is frankly extremely disturbing and gruesome. The movie is harrowing and sometimes downright off-putting, with lots of (animated) blood and rabbits killing and torturing rabbits. The BBFC (what’s up with them) rated this U for all ages, which is absolute insanity considering the children who were scarred (not joking) by this movie.

For adults, “Watership Down” is a contemplative and inventive film. But, not even kidding, kids who watch this are going to have a fear of rabbits for the rest of their lives. Going in a pet store might be tricky, and paying your kid’s therapy bills for the rest of your natural lives is no fun either. I credit all my remaining sanity to the fact that I never watched “Watership Down” as a child. I recommend “Watership Down” to adults who are interested in films with a slightly different and uncanny vibe that are visually stunning and thematically unsettling.

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Frozen (2013)

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To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to “Frozen” when it hit theaters. The advertisements offered (as far as I could tell) corny jokes, typical animation, and the antics of an annoying comic-relief snowman. Cynical? Maybe. But that’s the way I felt, until I actually saw the movie and became a convert. Frozen is an adorable movie, and one that children are likely to love. For some reason expected Elsa, the ice queen to be some kind of deranged psycho, but I was was immediately compelled by her story. Even Olaf, a sidekick I’d been thoroughly prepared to dislike, had his moments.

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Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) is hidden like a leper for her volatile magical powers that make objects she comes into contact with turn to ice. Afraid of hurting her sunny and bewilderingly naive sister, Anna (voice of Kristen Bell,) she sits in a solitary room until tings go terribly wrong at the royal coronation and she takes to the wild. Anna, who hitherto wasn’t aware of her sister’s strange powers, goes of to find Elsa, accompanied by  gruff working man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff.) Kristoff loves his reindeer, Sven. Like, a lot. Anthropomorphic snowman Olaf (voice of Josh Gad) comes along, happy for the attention. Meanwhile, Hans (Santino Fontana,) Anna’s recently acquired crush guards the kingdom, and a permanent winter (which Elsa inadvertently caused) looms over the landscape.

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All the musical sequences were delightful with the exception of the ‘fixer-upper’ song performed by a group of mystical… trolls. That one just didn’t do it for me. Anna and Elsa were both well-written, but I was drawn more to Elsa, probably because I dig troubled characters. The animation was beautiful. The humor was a little hit or miss, but more often than not it hit it’s target. I love some of the little details like how Anna’s hair is a rat nest in the morning. Ever since I was a child I’ve been waiting for this- a princess who looked like a real person when she got up in the morning, before she put on her make-up, did her hair, and went out to face the world. Classic Disney princesses always look like they sleepwalked through the meadow to the beauty salon.

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The villain here is a little different as well, not only because he only reveals himself in the later portion of the movie, but because he isn’t the first thing people think of when they think of a villain. He’s handsome, well-groomed, and seems for all accounts and purposes to be quite charming. It’s never a bad idea to remind children that not all villains have moles and wild hair and yellow teeth, and feast on rat flesh in dark, dank dens. This movie isn’t one of the best kids’ films of all time, but it’s appealing, visually stunning, and sometimes even a little emotional. Find an excuse to see it, even if you have to take a friend’s kid to save your pride.

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