Review: Inside Out

How do you measure happiness?

The latest Pixar movie makes a convincing argument, pitched at wavelengths that should be easily received to both to children and adults, that periods of sadness, be it mundane or profound, are crucial to living a full, exuberant existence on this remote little ball of mud spinning through the void of space. Inside Out offers a specific, universal, and staggeringly emotional journey that is the rares of birds, a bonafide family movie. There is no light without shadow, and all that philosophical, spiritual paraphernalia is packaged into the easy to digest tale of moving to a new place and struggling to acclimatize to new surroundings.

Riley is on the verge of turning 12, a single child with affluent, doting parents (at this moment I am certain there is a queue online to chew on white privilege, but I will not be one of them). Her inner-self, represented by anthropomorphic emotional avatars of Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness and Joy dwell in the construct of her developing brain. The latter rules the roost in a chirpy, but passive-aggressive, dominant manner, wanting everything to be happy all the time for Riley. There is even a way for these emotion characters to quantify their success: Every memory Riley makes is represented as a coloured crystal ball, a single-shot 360 degree video unit shaded in the hue of the emotion attached to it. Her memories are almost entirely hued yellow. Presumably Riley’s parents want also this perpetual happiness for their daughter as well. It’s a fools errand and we all race on this treadmill!

The bulk of the memories, at the end of each day, are pneumatically delivered to her brain’s storage archives and compartmentalized via a Brazil-like bureaucracy. A detail that I love about this representation are the various departments working at odds each other, be it clock-watching transport engineers, an over enthusiastic disposal crew (“She won’t need these phone numbers anymore, they’re stored in her phone.”) or the fact that there are simply memory spheres lying between shelves and in the nooks and crannies all willy-nilly. In this bright Pixar world, a way was found to make biology look messy and kudos for that.

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: The Peanuts Movie

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I was cynical when I first heard about the development of a modern animated incarnation of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. Who can blame me? Other classic cartoon characters revisioned for modern audiences have turned out mostly abysmal.

Needless to say, it looks like I was wrong. If the trailer is any indicator, The Peanuts Movie is not going to be Alvin & the Chipmunks or Smurfs.

It’s been 35 years since we’ve seen the Peanuts gang in a feature length film and, while the earlier films do hold up, perhaps it was time to revisit the characters for a new generation of kids. Charles Schulz’s very own sons helped write and produce the film and they even used archival recordings of Bill Melendez (who died in 2008) for the voices of Snoopy and Woodstock.

Yep–I’m sold. The Peanuts Movie hits theaters on November 6, 2015.

Teaser For Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur

It happened with the WallE teaser, that made everyone think that it would be a future Short Circuit, as well as recently with Inside Out, which felt like TV sitcom, “Herman’s Head.”

All I can think of Pixar’s ‘what if the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct’ animated feature, The Good Dinosaur, at this point is “Yoshi – The Movie.”

A Clip from Pixar’s Inside Out

After getting the chance to see the first 10 minutes of Pete Doctor’s Inside Out, the Pixar animated film told from the POV of inside a 12 year old girls subconscious, a few weeks ago, I have been rapidly raising my anticipation levels for the film after its middling first trailer.

Because the film was announced as part of the 2015 Cannes line-up today, Pixar offers this treat, a short scene from the film, on how anthropomorphisized feelings prepare for the first day of school.

Trailer: Pixar’s Inside Out

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Oh how the mighty Pixar has shrunk. I know a trailer is not indicative of potentially complex tone or emotional depth, but if this warmed-over sitcom level entertainment, with its lazy humour, is how the animation-company wants to represent their new film to the world (via the UK), then so be it. There was a time when each Pixar project was met with excitement and anticipation by kids and adults alike. Not today. I hope the trailer-cutters or other marketing brain-trust execs have been sacked.

Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. As Riley struggles to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, inner turmoil ensues on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.

I had imagined that the ‘inside-the-mind’ POV would be limited only the the main character, the young girl, but it looks like the film will be spastically jumping in and out of all her family members minds, with each of the emotions getting a moustache, girly headbands or mom-jeans to tell whose inner-thoughts belong to whom.

VIFF 2014 Review: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

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Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the work of Isao Takahata but he was never a director whose work I make a priority. Yes, Grave of the Fireflies is spectacular but I can only handle so much heartbreak in any given year and in any given festival and the day before The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was supposed to screen, I seriously considered leaving it off my schedule. By some miracle, I went ahead with the screening only to come out the other end completely wowed.

Like many of Takahata’s previous works, Princess Kaguya is a cautionary tale, on the surface a beautiful sort of fairy tale with a message. The story opens in a remote village where a bamboo farmer, living a quiet life with his wife, is blessed for his hard work with a miniature bamboo princess. He takes the creature home to his wife and suddenly the princess disappears and is replaced by a baby girl who begins to grow faster than average children. Much further down the line, the bamboo farmer, now blessed with piles of money he believes he should be using to transform his daughter into a beautiful princess, moves the family to a newly constructed palace in the city where the young girl is slowly transformed, against her will, into a respectable young lady ripe for marriage to any prince.

Takahata’s film isn’t only memorable for the beautiful animation which is unlike anything I’ve seen of late but for the message of its story. Here we have a free spirited young woman who is forced to change who she is to fit society’s version of the ideal woman only to discover that in doing so, she wasted away a large portion of her life. Not satisfied with only one angle, Takahata also explores themes of true love and the often complicated relationships we have with our parents.

The movie lags a little in the middle when the princess sends her potential suitors in search of priceless (and in some cases non-existent) artefacts as a way to prove their love but the scenes also allow for some wonderfully charming moments. Princess Kaguya made me laugh and it made me cry. It also reminded me that animated features can be more than what Disney has to offer and left me wondering why we don’t see more sophisticated animated stories like this one.

It doesn’t end badly but the final scenes of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya might require a little explanation for the little ones more used to Disney’s fairy tale endings. A really wonderful film.

The of the Princess Kaguya opens in limited release on October 17th.

First Image from New Pixar Film, INSIDE OUT

Inside Out

We do not often post this kind of news on this site, but after Planes, Monster University and Fire & Rescue, I’m just very happy to see an original Pixar movie happen. Inside Out is directed by Pete Doctor (Up, Monster’s Inc.) and is going to be released June 2015.

Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.”

Teaser: The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

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The unconventionally animated film from Studio Ghibli, The Tale of Princess Kaguya will very likely be the last feature directed by either of two Studio Ghibli founders, in this case Isao Takahata. (Hayao Miyazaki’s eulogy-like came out last year.)

It played very, very well to Cannes, and will also be playing TIFF, and the couple Ghibli-philes that I know have both declared it a masterpiece. In light of it coming to North American soil, here is the dialogue free teaser-trailer for Anglophones. Have a look.

Mamoru Oshii and The Sky Crawlers

Mamoru Oshii’s criminally under-seen existential ariel-combat science fiction film, The Sky Crawlers, recently screened in Toronto as part of Techno/Human retrospective on the master animators body of work. Oshii was on hand to discuss the film prior to the screening, which I captured on video, and subtitled via the interpreter. If you are a fan of films like Blade Runner, Code 46, Solaris and Never Let Me Go, than consider picking up the BLU. I will let the director give to you skinny on the ideas and craft behind the film, which was animated by Production I.G.; the same folks behind the Ghost in The Shell OVA/TV show and the O-Ren Ishii animated sequence in Kill Bill Vol.1

My original review of the film is below:

“Somewhere, in a country similar to ours There are children who do not become adults. They are very similar to us.” goes the tagline of Mamoru Oshii’s 2008 film. One that carried the promise (during its production cycle) of a more linear form of story telling after the convoluted Ghost in the Shell: Innocence and the strange Tachigui. I am overjoyed to report that while the story is linear, it is anything but straightforward or simple, and not the least bit diluted or dumbed down in regards to his philosophical and social musings – basically the essence of what makes Oshii stand out from his generation of masters of the Japanese animated feature. Using a pastiche of elements of contemporary science fiction (From “Ender’s Game” to “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”) mashed up with stirring World War II aerial dogfights and a his unique brand of austere and cold melodrama, The Sky Crawlers certainly will not be for everyone. The film is a feast for the senses, not only in the gargantuan fighter plane battles, which may be safe to say are the best ever committed to celluloid (and yes, that includes Hell’s Angels and the space climaxes of any of the best of the Star Wars pictures). This is true in ever single detail of the film (bravo Production I.G.) even the small moments: The cigarette smoke swirls, a Vespa engine hums as it idles, the airplane hangars and living quarters are textured, lived in, and the apple pie and coffee diners are gorgeously rendered down to the most minute detail. And the sound design (courtesy of Skywalker Sound) is among the best work they have ever done.

But wait, much this technical praise could be more or less said of, say, Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s equally well crafted Steam Boy, and that movie was more or less a failure due to overly convoluted and stilted story telling. The narrative may be cool and deliberately paced for a film with designs on a gigantic canvas, but that dovetails beautifully with the story Oshii is trying to tell. Make no mistake, this is social science fiction, and tonally controlled storytelling at its finest.

The world of The Sky Crawlers is a social and geographical fusion of 1950s America, Japan and Western Europe where propeller styled fighter planes co-exist along side satellite television, large multinational corporations and cloning science. While it is a time of apparent peace and prosperity, the large corporations conduct ‘real wars’ (mostly over the border ocean zones), televised of course, to placate any unrest or rebellion from the masses. Contrary to Orwell’s “1984”, where London is a perpetual war wreck and society fragmented and controlled, Oshii (and the writer of the original novel, Mori Hiroshi) postulate that for the most part, this ‘perpetual war’ has actually benefited society. Wars and equally importantly, all the social problems of an idyll, purposeless populace, involving real people can be avoided if they are fought in a fully manufactured way which has ‘real consequence’ built into the equation. The fighter pilots that fight for their parent corporations are of a genetically modified race who never age, fittingly called Kildren. Set in state of perpetual adolescence, they live to fight and pilot the fighter planes, and die for the entertainment and attention of the worlds citizens. The fact that this race is immortal otherwise, only ups the ante and the dramatic spectacle of flaming angels falling from the sky from the fantastic machines.

The Sky Crawlers Movie StillThe story revolves around one of the bases of Kildren and the little ecosystem in which they inhabit. Yuichi arrives to a new posting for the Rostock Corporation. The pilots there are kept under tight wraps from their base commander Suito Kusanagi (a fellow Kildren) and the lovingly stern chief mechanic (and ‘adult human’), both of whom immediately have an eye on Yuichi. This sets Yuichi on edge along with the stories of the non-Kildren ace pilot, a Red Baron type named ‘The Teacher’ who fights for the ‘enemy’ Lautern Corporation. The first half of the film focuses on the ecology of the air-base with a few combat laden sorties to get the adrenaline flowing. The drinking and sexual exploits of Yuichi’s roomate pull Yuichi into a few encounters of his own that strike odd chords of familiarity. This leads to Yuichi questioning his bosses mysterious past while the Rostock Corporation plans its biggest offensive to date. The findings of Yuichi in regards to his bosses and himself are the engine of the plot, but really not the films chief concern, and thusly the storytelling is not the least bit concerned with ‘twist endings’ or other high-concept gimmickry so often favoured within the genre.

Like Kazuo Ishiguro’s wonderful novel (and to an extent, Mark Romanek’s film adaptation) Never Let Me Go, Oshii does not bury the mystery or secrets of the narrative so deep that a conscientious observer won’t have things figured out within the first quarter of the film. But the joy here is in how things reflect and refract current social trends, and draw commentary and observation into the forefront of the storytelling. The film is postulating some big questions in amongst the lives of pilots, war melodrama and simply stunning action set-pieces. It is a film concerned for the future, while not necessarily nostalgic of the past. There is a character, one that goes unnamed, in the film (in the background really) that sits alone and silent on the front steps of a diner. The Kildren all look at him, but never make any real contact. This old man weeps for the world as it is, a peace bought at a curious price of static non-progress and cyclic stagnation. A moment in the film when another adult human, the lively cook and bartender at the diner, joins the old man in his silent withdrawal. This moment resonates. Oshii, who was 57 at the time was (and probably still is) concerned with the consequences of the punishing media distractions and general white noise of modern Japanese society, which leaves many young folks in a state of perpetual adolescence. He has constructed a curious epic that is evocative of history, while starkly original in tone and execution. A message movie that is subtle, urgent, and most certainly worthy of your time and consideration.