It is a rare thing for a Marvel origin movie to be a resounding success. I mean, out of our introductions to current titular superheroes Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Ant-Man (2015), Doctor Strange (2016) and even the recent Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) very few have left audiences both impassioned and awe-inspired. You see, it’s a hard combination to create, at least the first time around, with the studio usually more interested in carefully crafting the characters for their star-studded team-up flicks. Perhaps this is why Black Panther (2018) works so well, with director Ryan Coogler spending less time introducing us to his restrained and dignified main man following his launch in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and instead focusing his energy and expertise into bringing one of Marvel’s most beautiful realms to life. Here, he breathes life into a myth, building a groovy world worthy of the big screen and the landmark acclaim it is gaining.
We start in the aftermath of King T’Chaka’s death, as royal heir T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his technologically advanced homeland to take up the mantle of its monarch. Following a primordial challenge from the land’s four other tribes, the Prince emerges as Wakanda’s rightful leader and warrior. But just days into his reign he is forced to bring the nation’s greatest villain Ulysses Klaue to justice – a feat his father was unable to achieve for more than 30 years. It’s no wonder then that blood and betrayal run deep in the movie as it shifts to South Korea for its stylish and slick second half. Here our protagonist, his protector Okoye (Danai Gurira) and his feisty ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) take on their foes in a polished casino-heist style scene. No Marvel movie would be complete though without an all-out car race, this time sweeping through neon-streaked streets and providing the perfect opportunity for the Prince’s tech-savvy sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) to shine. But it’s mercenary Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) who takes centre stage come part three, putting a dampener on the ruler’s plans by challenging his right to sit upon the throne and causing the series second civil war to break out.
Visually the film is stunning. Gorgeous cosmic colours swirl through ancestral worlds and bleed into the gorgeous country of Wakanda. There’s a similar vibe in the music too, with an original soundtrack from Kendrick Lamar combining wild drumbeats with flourishes of frenetic hip-hop. It makes you want to get up and move, pulling viewers into the film and transforming them into more than just oblivious observers. Part of what makes the film great though is how seamlessly it blends the traditions of old with the technology of new. This is a country that exists with the greatest advancements in life - from hover trains to metal-balls that can save people’s spines - yet continues to conduct ritual bloodfights for its governance. Culture is important and no matter how far its people may progress, the sanctity of their customs and their desire to prove you can have it all sets them apart.
The star-studded cast are a step-above, but one wouldn’t expect any less from those who have mastered funk legends, slayed zombies and won Oscars. Boseman brings a serene presence to his King, funnier than we have seen him before, but still duty and honour bound. He is the wise leader, forced to understand how failure is crucial to making a great leader. In opposition, Jordan brings a reckless, snarky-ness to his scarred villain Killmonger. Yet despite his flaws, he is one of the most well-rounded and empathetic antagonists the Marvel universe has produced - his unwillingness to give-up on his beliefs demanding credit. Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker and Winston Duke all provide solid support in roles that could easily have been extended, but it is hard not to see how it is their actress counterparts that really make a mark in the film’s two-hour run.
Women are incredibly powerful in Coogler’s world, with their representation here among the best in Marvel’s history. While T’Challa may serve as King and hero, females form the brunt of those closest to him. His mother Queen Ramonda is a guiding force in who he becomes. His sister Princess Shuri provides the smarts behind his advantage over foes. And former flame and spirited badass Nakia is not afraid to challenge and push to be a better person. Then there is the King’s guard – the Dora Milaje - an all-female group of shaven-haired warrior women led by General Okoye. Little girls have long waited for Marvel to get their act together and give them someone more than just Black Widow and Scarlet Witch to aspire to, and here Coogler cocks his head and says screw waiting until Captain Marvel (2019). You want to be a cool scientist? Then study hard and do it. You want to be an activist and stand up for what you believe in? Make people hear your voice. You want to be someone other than the damsel-in-distress? No-one is stopping you. Not anymore.
Above all, race is the most crucial element here, there’s no denying it. Never before has there been a superhero movie with such a triumphant African-American cast, directed by an African-American visionary and with a budget this big to throw around. And Coogler makes it clear from the get-go that identity is at the heart of his blockbuster, whether that be a hesitant son trying to live up to his father’s name or a beefed-up outcast hitting back at the home he was never invited into. Our movie-maestro has been commenting on these themes for a while now, from his incredible introduction Fruitvale Station (2013) to his powerful follow-up Creed (2015). But everything about Black Panther (2018) makes it feel like he has simply been gearing up for an ultimate chance to comment on the politics that so deeply divide us. So, it’s no surprise he is keen to finish on a note of unity rather than division. It’s a representation that will make generations sit up and pay attention. And maybe one day, we’ll realise that difference isn’t something to be afraid of, but something to embrace.
Rating: 4 Wakandan Warriors out of 5
Ever since it was released back in the nineties, Disney’s tale as old as time has enraptured the hearts and minds of little girls everywhere. Sure, it’s no Moana (2016), pushing the feminist theory that women can be leaders without a man by their side. And its soundtrack never quite hit the same viral level that Frozen’s (2013) epically overplayed track Let It Go did. But for everyone who grew up with Beauty and the Beast (1991), it was not just a classic romance, but an enduring piece that made us believe everyone, regardless of looks or personality, could one day find the thing we crave so dearly - love. So, with the legacy of those children’s hearts and souls on the line, it’s safe to say that there was a lot riding on how well the studio pulled off their live-action version of the film, over 25 years later. For me, a girl who unabashedly knows every line to the ensemble act Be Our Guest, it was also about whether it could reclaim some sense of the magic the film brought to my childhood. The magic I’ve lost as I’ve grown up. And damn, if it didn’t turn out to be so much more I had planned.
The 2017 live-action update is a larger-than-life piece, pitched as a scene-by-scene remake of the original. We begin with the Prince’s prologue, detailing his narcissistic tendencies and cold heart. Turning away an old hag because of her appearance, he and his court of onlookers are left aghast when she transforms into an enchantress, cursing everyone inside the castle. Back in town years later, our pretty protagonist is dreaming of adventure, while shirking the brutish Gaston and his eager advances. After her beloved father goes missing while headed to market, Belle sets out to find him, trading places with the artist after he is captured and leaving her life in the hands of a hardened creature. As she gets to know the transformed inhabitants of the castle, including fan favourites Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs Potts, Chip and Plumette, as well as new characters like Cadenza, she discovers there may be more to her new world than she first believed. Bonding with the Beast over their love of books, the pair’s connection blossoms into a romance, as they visit Paris through the pages of a bewitched novel. When Belle’s father falls into trouble again, thanks to Gaston’s dastardly ways, the Beast sets her free and she runs to his rescue once more. But as the villagers learn of the terrifying monster so close to their town’s walls, they lead an uprising, which ends in a showdown between man and monster, and finally, the much-awaited expression of love between Beauty and Beast.
Many critics have claimed the biggest failing of the film is that it does little to update the original’s story. What was once a tale of a feminist girl singing about a world outside marriage but settling for a Prince is still, in essence, the same thing. There are no great revelations about Belle transforming into a 21st century woman. No actual adventures in the great wide somewhere. About the closest we come is a throwaway line to our beauty’s headstrong nature. But I have to argue that this is not a flaw. Like I mentioned earlier, this isn’t Frozen or Moana. It’s not even Mulan (1998) or Pocahontas (1995). Part of feminism is accepting that some women can be strong and independent while still wanting love to define them. What’s important is that it’s a choice, a decision the woman gets to make. And for all the Stockholm talk, some of it justified, some of it not, Belle makes her decision after she is given the freedom to do so. After she has fled the walls of her ‘prison’ and after she has every opportunity to leave her relationship as merely a friendship. Disney is all about the happily ever after’s, and sometimes, we must accept, the happily ever after’s involve love. Belle is an educated and fearless woman. She is a dreamer and an inventor. She is someone little girls should look up to, not just because she wears a gorgeous golden gown and dances under a starry sky. But because she knows what she wants and chooses not to settle.
The casting is exceptional, taking two-dimensional characters and realising them in human form. Luke Evans and Josh Gad are a dynamic duo as Gaston and LeFou, riffing off each other and providing most of the comedy for the film. Evans’ strong tenor resounds in his solo numbers, as does his physique when he impressively lifts two cast members mid-song. In this version, he even receives a back story to help explain his violent demeanour. Gad meanwhile, turns in a stellar performance in a role he was born to play. What was a snivelly, downtrodden servant becomes a misunderstood, compassionate and redeeming character, who might finally get his own happily ever after by the time the credits roll. Watson is gorgeous as ever as our leading lady, inhabiting the wonder and awe of her original counterpart perfectly, while balancing it with her own grace and intellect. About the worst one can say about her is that she seems somewhat disinterested as the film begins. Too timid. Too indifferent. But just like the prince, by journey’s end her Belle has morphed into the person she truly deserves to be. Speaking of the beast, I’ll admit, it did take a while for me to warm to Dan Steven’s portrayal. Perhaps it was his jarring representation in the prologue, or the fact he was a CGI monster for 95 per cent of the film. But by the time his long-overdue solo song comes along in Act Three, there was not a dry eye in the house, or a heart left in one piece.
The film is not without its faults for sure, and to claim it had none would be an injustice to all the things it did right. The fact they are so few and far between is what sets it apart from other productions. Visually it is a juggernaut, everything from the Swarovski encrusted gowns to the jowls of the beast beautifully created and envisioned on screen. Among this though, the newly designed Mrs Potts stands out as a sub-par construction. Not just because her new ceramic side-face appears slightly disconcerting, but also because Emma Thompson’s voice never quite reaches the great heights Angela Lansbury’s did. Similarly, while the songs are expertly crafted in the new film, adding something to their originals rather than detracting from them, one in particular comes across as far too overblown. Be Our Guest was an intrinsically feel-good moment of the original animated feature, but in its recreation it becomes nothing more than a stunted, jumpy production aiming high and falling low. Had they chosen to run the song from start to finish it could have been saved, but by allowing multiple beats for the music to swell and soar and the Fantasia (1940) elements to take place, it impedes the rhythm and detracts from the wonder.
The real question fans want answered before they fork out their hard-earned cash for yet another Disney remake, is whether the film ever truly become the glorious spectacle it promised the world it would be. Or whether it is just another bastardised version like Alice in Wonderland (2010) or Maleficent (2014). The answer is a joyous yes, full of fluttering butterflies, mysticism and grace. The animated original has long been heralded as a ‘classic’, making it hard to believe any film could even come close. But here we are, with a transporting piece, full of flourishes and lacking in gimmick. It’s pure, unadulterated fun, toned up for the nineties babies who are now in their mid-to-late twenties, but still charming enough to win over a new generation of little girls and boys. It’s fresh, unforced and unequivocally grand. It really is a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme. It’s a beauty and a beast.
Rating: 4.5 Roses out of 5
About halfway through Disney’s latest epic animated adventure Moana (2016), Dwayne Johnson’s cocky demi-god Maui quips; “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” The moment is unabashedly tongue-in-cheek for the house of mouse studio, who, ever since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), have built a global juggernaut status around women being the homemaker, saved by the kiss of a beautiful man. Showing just how far they’ve come, the film’s stubborn and strong-willed protagonist is quick to set the record straight that she is not, in fact, a Polynesian princess, but rather Moana of Motunui, the daughter of the village chief. The distinction is an important one and something that defines the rest of the magical and moving 100-minute journey. As by reshaping their once stringent parameters rather than destroying them completely, the studio craftily creates what could easily be their best film to date.
Drawing on familiar notes of Disney princesses of old, Moana follows a young girl trapped on an island where nobody leaves, imbued with dreams of a bigger and better life. Longing to set sail on the sea, when her island begins to darken and die, Moana’s grandmother tasks her with finding the famed demi-god Maui to make him return the heart of Te Fiti, the mythical Mother Earth goddess. Like those before her, she finds it is no easy task, with the plucky protagonist forced to battle the cute coconut Kakamora pirates, a giant self-absorbed crab and a monster of volcanic proportions, all while plagued with a pretty big case of identity crisis. To offset some of this despair, Moana is aided in her quest by a comical animal companion, her somewhat stupid and clumsy chicken Hei Hei. While Disney-verse sidekicks usually provide help and assistance, Hei Hei bucks the trend with his continual near-death experiences, which would be rather alarming if they weren’t so hilarious, thus making for a refreshing and un-formulaic experience. Adding to the reinvigorated feel is the lack of romantic interests, instead providing us the selfish yet redeemable mentor Maui to assist Moana’s character progression.
With destiny at the film’s forefront and bravado in Moana’s soul, it is hard to argue that our hero’s journey bears significant difference to those that have come before. When looking at the smaller intricacies employed however, including the visuals utilised, it is well and truly in a league of its own. Whether it is the ultra-realistic glisten of the ocean or the trippy The Road to El Dorado (2000) nature of Maui’s solo song, the film frames itself as an incredible piece. Co-director’s Jon Musker and Ron Clements’ years of experience are clearly on show, as they enhance the familiar hand drawn imagery with the endless possibilities the latest CG technology presents. A film set almost entirely on the open ocean can easily become tedious, so it is a testament to the animators that even the smallest movements and motions ebb and flow rather than stagnate. Best of all, the briny deep becomes an entity all of its own here, saving Moana and her pet chicken countless times and reminding us there is a moral to be learned about respecting the climate we call home.
That respect translates to the Polynesian culture at the heart of the film too, from the lush tropical wilderness, to the coconuts and tribal tattoos that abound. Drawing on the teachings and traditions of her ancestors, as Mulan and Pocahontas did before her, Moana reminds us that we should be proud of our heritage no matter what that is. Stereotypes be damned, we are told to embrace and celebrate culture, not hide from it. Bearing curves to kill for and beautiful tanned skin, Moana is a strong-willed, stubborn and true leader, never afraid to give up. Best of all, such a role is treated like nothing out of the ordinary, represented in the moment her father Chief Tui speaks of their village’s patriarchic history, yet never blinks in mentioning her as the obvious successor. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho imbues the character with her own Hawaiian history and effortlessly ensures her bumbling nature, innocent dreams and youth are instantly likable. With her maturity and kindness, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are big things in that kid’s future, be it in show business or not.
Turning to the music, Lin Manuel Miranda ups the ante once more here after his incredible run with the hit-musical Hamilton, alongside fellow composers and craftsmen Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina. Their songs are fresh, summery and downright catchy, imbuing each line with the sea-breeze and a strong heart. From Dwayne Johnson’s jazzy show-tune You’re Welcome, to the more sombre moments of Know Who You Are, viewers will feel as natural an affinity with the melodies as Moana does with the sea. Then there’s the powerhouse piece How Far I’ll Go, which rolls and breaks into the resounding I am Moana, with both pieces bound to resound with anyone who has ever lived by the ocean. Music is the soul of such movies and ever since Let it Go became the pop-culture phenomenon it did, we have been waiting for a new film to challenge its stance. I’m proud to say, any of the pieces here provide just as strong a message and they do it in a far less annoying way.
While many viewers will likely expect to leave the theatre drawing comparisons between this and Disney’s other delights, the real joy is in how this addition never shies away from its forbear’s problems, but embraces them to become better. While no-one may remember how Brave (2012) paved the way for a more relaxed and independent Disney princess, there should be no doubt in the knowledge that Moana will go down in the history books as the one that helped such an idea become mainstream. A worthy addition to Disney’s ever-expanding gallery of magical movies, it reminds us to find our calling inside ourselves and trust that we are worthy of it. And maybe, just maybe, if you listen to that voice inside you, one day you’ll know, how far you’ll go.
Rating: 4 Clumsy Chickens out of 5
Finding Dory Review - Disney and Pixar deliver a fun fishy sequel, which just keeps swimming right into our hearts
Nineties kids are a bit judgemental when it comes to Disney films. After all, we were the generation that lived through iconic classics Aladdin (1991), Beauty and the Beast (1992), The Lion King (1994), and Mulan (1998). So when it came time to make a sequel to our beloved Finding Nemo (2003) almost fourteen years after the aquatic crew first swam into theatres and our hearts, many a flag was flown about the potential problems that could ensue. However, those eagerly awaiting Finding Dory (2016) can finally breathe a sigh of relief, because despite our worst fears of another disappointment when it comes to Disney Pixar’s precocious sequels, this time round the studio manages to deliver a fun, fresh and fantastic fishy film.
The piece kicks off with the most heart-breaking sequence since 2009’s Up, teasing Dory’s beginnings in the Jewel of Morro Bay, California. The adorable young Blue Tang is being taught by parents Charlie and Jenny about how to deal with her disability, before an accident sees her lost and alone in the big wide blue. From this flashback we come full circle as Dory grows up, gradually forgets them, and meets Marlin one his way to find his son. Skipping ahead one year, Nemo is back in his anemone home safe and sound as Dad Marlin and best-friend Dory settle into life as usual. That is, until the stingray migration hits town, reminding Dory that her new family might not be her only one. The intrepid trio soon set off in search of her long lost (and long forgotten) parents, winding up at the Marine Institute of California. But with challenge after challenge and no parents to be found, Dory has to dig deep and remember that there really is no place like home.
Finding Dory certainly swims familiar waters, playing out as the reversed narrative of the first film, whereby the lost child seeks out the devastated parents. Sadly, the picture is relentless in its desire to pull on the heartstrings and elicit emotion. Instead of sadness, we receive loneliness, and instead of courage we receive fear. While co-directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane smartly tap into these feelings, tearing our hero down only to build her back up again, it just doesn’t have the same ease or endearing quality it did the first time round. Similarly, there is a distance form the first film, with only a handful of returning characters like Mr Ray, Squirt and Crush, who receive far too brief a moment in the spotlight to actually shine. One of the other let downs is the increased reliance on bigger and bolder actions. While it is feasible that a bunch of fish can roll their way to freedom in baggies, it is not quite as believable when a septopus steal a delivery truck and drives it off a cliff.
The newcomers make up plenty of ground though, proving fantastic additions to the elaborate undersea world. Ed O’Neill’s Hank is the breakout hit, as a hilariously cantankerous septopus so hell-bent on living in his own little bubble that he forgot how to have a family. Similarly, Bailey the Beluga and Destiny the Whale Shark are both wonderfully constructed, with humour and heart aplenty. Idris Elba’s Fluke and Dominic West’s Rudder might skew the storyline but they also steal the show, thanks to their brash humour and interactions with silent stars Becky the Loon and Gerald the Sea Lion. What is great about them though is the part they play in helping the film tackle a sensitive subject – that of disability. Not only is there Dory’s iconic short-term memory loss, and Nemo’s bad fin, but this time around we have the disfigured and dumb sub-characters; Becky the literal loon, Gerald the sea lion who never speaks a word, Hank the seven-armed octopus, and of course the pair of sight and sound challenged whales.
So, while at times the film feels as lost as the titular blue tang herself, flitting from one moment to the next, when control is exercised we can truly see why Pixar are a step above the rest. Great care has been taken, for instance, to make sure the Californian water appears notably different from the bright blues and crystal clear imagery we are used to. Similarly, as we delve underneath the surface of the Kid Zone pool we see a war like battle ground erupt, as fishy friends thrash for cover and hands reach down to touch, poke and grab. Just as fish are friends, not food, in Finding Nemo, this surreptitious sequel reminds us they are not cute and cuddly pets either, and should not be treated as such by parents letting children run amok.
Lessons are, of course, the heart and soul of film. From teaching us that even those with disabilities can live life to the fullest, to reminding us we can always find our way back home. However, the most endearing message the film promotes is the idea that it’s okay not to plan your life out. It’s okay to forget things, find a new family in your endeavours, and just go with the flow. For a child struggling to figure out what they want to do with life (or even us nineties kids), nothing could hit home more. So, just like the titular character herself remarks, remember to just keep swimming.
Rating: 4 Fishy Friends out of 5
Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky. And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die. As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk, the law runneth forward and back. For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack. That is the poetic and endearing lesson Disney’s new live-action jaunt The Jungle Book (2016) teaches us. It is not, however, the only lesson one may be lucky enough to learn by the end of the one-hour-and-forty-five minute sprawling CGI fest.
Re-imagining the 1967 animated classic, Jon Favreau’s story follows the tried and tested tale of Mowgli the man-cub, played by Newcomer Neel Sethi who owns the screen as the only live action performer. Raised by Raksha and Akela as part of their wolf pack, the young boy is forced to leave his wild Indian home when fearsome tiger Shere Khan threatens his way of life. Under the guidance of grandfather-esque panther Bagheera the man-cub sets off, meeting many a familiar face along the way. There’s Baloo the bear, a gender-swapped Kaa, and the monstrous Gigantopithecus King Louie. In the end though, despite his long-winded travels, Mowgli’s is a journey of self-discovery, facing not only the inevitable show-down to prove whether man or beast will rise victorious, but whether man and beast are really that different.
Visually the film is untouchable, with its grand scope and intricate attention to detail heralded by only a handful of other epics, such as James Cameron’s Avatar (2009). Blades of grass flicker, animals scamper, and water rushes through reeds with such believability you’d swear that you could simply reach out and touch it. Despite its April release date it would be a crime not to see the film nominated for a special effects gong come the 2017 Awards season. Interestingly, such visuals prove once and for all that you can create wondrous life-like portrayals without using animals, with director Jon Favreau receiving the PETA’s innovation in film award for not harming (or using) any animals during production.
The film also heralds a wonderful balance of homage towards the beloved animated original, while reiterating that, like Mowgli, the new film too must tread its own path. New twists and turns lie around every corner, from the incredible renditions of ‘The Bare Necessities’ and ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ to changes to the story involving characters such as Akela and Shere Khan. This is a more adult version, certainly, having drawn on tones from Apocalypse Now (1979). But it does not neglect its classic Disney routes either, with a strong link to The Lion King (1993) thanks to a thundering wildebeest stampede, a fallen father, a special ‘gathering’ rock, and a villainous feline with facial disfigurements. And as if you needed further proof, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment from the final fight scene, a Meerkat even rises onto its haunches beside a boar.
The core of the film though comes from the morals it instils within us, old and young alike. To respect our parents, whether they be our biological bearers or not. To value the friendships we form, no matter what obscure forms they come in. To protect the environment. To stand up for what we believe in. To not fall to greed, expectations, or trickery. Simply, to be ourselves. In this day and age it’s near impossible for a remake can outdo its predecessor, but with a focus on honour that’s exactly what The Jungle Book achieves.
Boasting a stellar ensemble cast of three Oscar’s winners and one nominee, the animals burst to life as characters and not simply plot devices. Bill Murray’s Baloo is a lovable larrikin that may not be the best rendered creature, but is one of the most memorable. Praise must also be heaped on Sir Ben Kingsley’s Bagheera, who channels every fed-up parent who's ever rolled their eyes at their mischievous child. On the more disappointing end are the one-dimensional villains, such as Idris Elba’s Shere Khan. While you cannot fault his menacing appearance, and thundersome deep British brogue, he is never fully fleshed out to the truly terrifying beast he could have been. Kaa the slippery and seductive snake also marks a fantastic equality change from the 1967 original male persona to Scarlett Johansson’s husky tones. However it’s a shame that she feels so seriously underused.
It is hard to find fault with a film so finely tuned. You could say that it’s 'just another remake'. You could say that some of the fight scenes are too darkly lit to enjoy the tension and action. You could even say that there are moments were the plot drags a little. But, if after twenty minutes you can only come up with three examples, then maybe it really is just a good, old-fashioned family flick. So, if you do yourself the pleasure of watching the film, take note of the book in the closing credits. It’s the same one that opened the 1967 animated film, and which intriguingly never closed it. Here, it finally receives its last hoorah, acknowledging how the story of a young boy who unites the jungle can really transcend time.
Rating: 4 Protective Bagheeras out of 5
Inside Out Review - Disney Pixar craft a wondrous world of mixed emotions in this stunning animation
After watching the beautiful short, Lava (2015), the type which always precedes any feature length Pixar piece, one could be fooled into thinking that the cinema experience couldn’t get any more heartfelt or poignant. It does. Welcome to the beautiful, transcendent and touching experience that is the world of Inside Out (2015).
The film takes us on a 90 minute journey traversing the inner workings of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) - our young protagonist’s - brain and psyche, notably how her central emotions; Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and Fear (Bill Hader), impact how she lives and remembers moments of her life. From her first instants as a newborn baby, to her passion for hockey, and her loving family, Riley's life has mostly been a joyous one. All five of her glowing yellow core memories reflect this. But as she verges on the last days of true childhood, her family decides to pack up and move to San Francisco from their home in Minnesota, leading to a conflict between her emotions on how best to handle the situation. As she struggles to find herself in a new city, school and home, her first sad core memory develops, and inside the Headquarters that are her brain, the ensuing scuffle to fix this sends both Joy and Sadness out into the depths of her Long Term memory. As things go awry in Riley’s real-life, so to do things begin falling apart inside her head, memories begin turning blue as Sadness touches them, and the islands that define aspects of her personality begin to crumble. If Riley is ever going to be Riley again, Joy and Sadness need to find their way back and remind her who she really is.
Firstly, the film is filled with countless inside nods to how our brains work, but are simplified exquisitely for the young audience. The emotions themselves are representative, each a different colour, and charged with a different role. Whilst you could expect Fear or Disgust to be mainly negative emotions, they instead play a crucial role in keeping Riley safe. Outside of these portrayals however, there is also a stunning use of common ideas we often overlook. There is a literal ‘train of thought’, a brain freeze, the easy ability to confuse facts with opinion, Déjà vu, long-lost imaginary friends, a gated subconscious, the Dream Production Studios (which make features such as ‘I Can Fly’, and stars actors such as Rainbow Sparkle Unicorn), and Déjà vu. Whilst some of these aspects will surely go over children’s heads, the stuff that does sink in makes for an important educational tool.
To lighten the mood, sprinkled generously amongst the film and its gloomier moments is a humour that delights both old and young. We finally receive an understanding of why annoying commercial jingles play on repeat in our heads, by way of memory sifters who take pleasure in continuously throwing the recollection to headquarters. Or why we only ever remember ‘chopsticks’ out of four years of piano lessons. But better than that, we get an observant and hilarious look into the minds and emotions of other characters, such as Riley’s Mum and Dad. This happens by way of an elaborate scene placed almost half-way through the film which, arguably, is a point that makes the movie. When her mum asks her how her day has been, and she receives an unhappy response, she cues Riley's father to talk to her. Snap into Dad’s brain, and all his emotions are too busy reminiscing on a sport game, that he doesn’t quite grasp the question; “Is it Tuesday? Did we forget to put the bins out again? Oh no, did we put the toilet seat down?” The scene plays out as a gorgeous interaction of the varying ways people think, jumping back and forth between Mum, Dad and Riley’s brains, and utilising fantastic writing to make lines such as “was that sass?” and “the foot is down” so noteworthy.
Inside Out is a film rich in its expression and understanding of things. Down to the rather nuanced DNA-structured ladders used to reach the long term memories, and the synapse structure of the brain's headquarters, the film is constantly endeavouring to teach kids things without them realising it. For those that say the messages and education the film provides is too complex, and may go over the heads of the young intended audience, such critics are not giving enough credit to the subliminal and subconscious power our brains have, something the film impressively conveys.
Above all, Inside Out is Pixar returning to its best, reaching both children and adults alike with its wonderfully fashioned, thought-provoking, and utterly heart-wrenching tale. Whilst Pete Docter’s story and direction is a straightforward one, it is a surprise that the message and theme has not been tackled before. When depression and other changes in emotions are often disregarded or demeaned in conversation, it’s a refreshing change to see someone finally discussing them. Its triumph therefore lies in convincing kids that it’s not about trying to joyous all the time, but rather, how important it is to strike a balance. How, in the end, it is okay to have mixed emotions about life.
Rating: 4.5 emotions out of 5
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