Tag Archives: Monsters Inc.

“INSIDE OUT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A lot going on inside Riley’s head.

Pixar movies have a way of transcending fantasy and translating it into a form of reality. Does that make any sense? Of course it does, because you’ve seen many of Pixar’s masterpieces before. Up’s fantasy is about a man building a floating house about balloons, but the reality it’s portraying is an elder man dealing with personal loss and finding happiness in unexpected places. WALL-E’s fantasy is about a clumsy dumpster robot, but its reality is about discovering humanity and protecting our home and history. And Toy Story. Ooff. That’s a fantasy about one boy’s childhood with his toys and how they’ve impacted him into his adulthood. That is also its reality.

Here we have another colorful Pixar masterpiece that uses reality as its springboard for creativity and fantasy, using a human being as a setting, and her emotions as its characters. The human is Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), an 11-year-old girl who just recently moved from Minnesota to San Francisco. Her emotions are Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black), and their memories with her make up the core of Riley’s personality and how she reacts in different situations. After the move-in, Riley gets all shaken up from all of the new adjustments she has to get used to, from being the new kid at school, to moving in to a home smaller than her old one. It’s up to her vibrant and unique emotions to try and keep Riley together and make her new life a happy, sad, fearful, disgusted, and angry one.

Written and directed by Pete Docter, who also helmed Pixar’s Monsters Inc. and Up, Inside Out is a clever, original animated feature that uses the human psyche as its playground. The best thing about the movie is seeing how creative it is in re-creating the human brain for a child’s mind, and seeing children react to all of the colorful adventures going on in this infinite cranial wonderland.

The first thing you notice with the film is its animation: vibrant colors and character models reach out to you in vivid details, even more so without the dimmed effects of 3D. Memories come in the form of small bowling ball spheres, colored after the fashion of each of Riley’s emotions. Different parts of her life are modeled into vast theme-park-like islands, from Family Land all the way to Goofball Island. Each island is also jam-packed with its own sleek features and gadgets that make you feel like you’re in the wonderful landscape of Disney land. Be honest: you would love to ride the literal “Train of thought” if it existed, wouldn’t you?

The film’s creative landscape, though, is to be expected. We’ve seen dozens of vast, colorful settings from many of Pixar’s films before. Andy’s room in Toy Story. Paradise Falls in Up. The AXIOM in WALL-E. You can probably name one setting that struck your eye in each movie, from the world of self-aware automobiles in Cars to the anthill in A Bug’s Life. Pixar has never failed in creativity, and I doubt anyone expects them to start failing now.

What I’m most impressed with is how the film handles its vastly ambitious premise, even with the film’s somewhat purported flaws. For instance, in Riley’s mind, a lot of childish, silly things go on that might make adults go on “offline” mode while the kids laugh at the overt goofiness going on the screen, like double rainbows and processed boyfriend machines. The characters are mostly one-dimensional, and for a film that has five emotions in it, the movie primarily focuses on only two of them: Joy and Sadness.

In any other movie, these quote-unquote “flaws” would make the film a weaker experience for me. It didn’t here. Why? The film’s premise, setting, and execution constitutes a need for each of these elements, making them contributors to the plot instead of distractions degrading from the experience. I would knock the film for being really silly and goofy at times, but it’s taking place in a kid’s mind. What else would be in the ecstatic and excited mind of a child? Doom, gloom, and misery? The characters are mostly one-dimensional and go through little change in the motion picture, but isn’t that kind of expected? I mean, what emotions do you think characters named Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger are going to feel? Woe, Delight, Calm, Desire, and Peace? That would break their characters, and detract from the personalities and make them who they are. Finally, there’s the greater focus of using Joy and Sadness as the film’s key players instead of the others. There’s a specific reason for doing this. It’s because those are the core emotions any human being is going to experience: positive and negative.

In the film, Joy and Sadness conflict with each other with their contrasting personalities, each one trying to help Riley in the best ways that they can. Joy wants everything to be happy and optimistic, and for Riley to feel the enjoyment out of every situation. Sadness focuses on the reality of each situation and on the raw reactions one may feel from those that are less than happy. While both emotions conflict with each other in the ways they want to help Riley, they are ultimately the most essential for her. They allow her to express her emotions in their purest forms: in either pure Joy, or pure Sadness.

This is the ultimate meaning of the film, in that there are different things that make up each human being. Some has more anger in their bodies than others. Some may be filled with more Fear than others as well. But like the animated, wacky emotions in Riley’s curious little head, we’re all unique to each other and in the ways that we handle life’s problems. It’s how a baby will react differently to a traffic jam in how a taxi driver would. It’s how a fully-grown man will react differently to broccoli-covered pizza than a toddler would. It’s how a young, maturing boy will react differently to meeting a girl for the first time, and visa-versa.

As human beings, we are all made up of different emotions and personalities, but being different doesn’t mean being bad. Sometimes we need to experience the rawness of certain emotions for certain situations, and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes, we need the help of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger to get through life. How we express those emotions is what makes us who we are, and we end up being human beings as unique and diverse as Riley’s wonderful emotions are because of them.

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Step one: Don’t get eaten by a nightfury.

How To Train Your Dragon is a pure joy, a complete and captivating wonder that reaches the inner child in you, touches it, and fills you with such inexplicable excitement and adventure that you almost feel like you can do anything. I was initially worried about this movie going in to it: how many other movies have attempted the human-pet budding romance E.T. did so wonderfully all those magical years ago, and failed? Well, there’s nothing to fear here, fellow reader. In their long line of successes, failures and mismatches, How To Train Your Dragon easily ranks among DreamWorks’ best work.

We open up on a grand battle on the land of Berk, an island where the vikings are as stubborn and hard-headed as the metal helmets they wear on their heads. But this battle isn’t against other vikings, mind you: it’s against dragons, giant, dangerous beasts that tear through the sky and spit fire like its flu season for them. For the vikings, killing a dragon is like the starting point for becoming a man. It’s their form of puberty I suppose, next to the endless gorges of food and testosterone that they throw and shout about at each other.

One Berk citizen, however, is a little more hopeless than other vikings: Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a smart, inventive but helplessly clumsy little fellow that will reach for a pencil when he’s supposed to reach for an axe. Fate turned an eye to him when in the midst of the battle, he captured a “nightfury”, a sleek black dragon whose fast speed and blue fire makes him the most deadly dragon out in the field of battle. However, against his better judgement, Hiccup decides not to kill the nightfury after discovering that he was injured during the battle. Now, while slowly helping him back to health and back to being able to fly, Hiccup discovers the truth about the dragon race, and how similar he is to them and their personalities.

Taking a look at the past animated movies DreamWorks has helped produce, you realize how much of a mixed bag they put out there to their audience. Look at the best they’ve had to offer, such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. Now look at the worst they’ve had to offer, such as Shark Tale and Shrek The Third. And don’t even get me started on Bee Movie. Looking at their filmoraphy, and looking at how much they’ve done wrong mixed with their right, I was expecting a very artificial, forgettable experience.

Boy, was I wrong, and boy was I glad to be wrong. The very first detail you notice in How To Train Your Dragon is it’s animation, how crisp and refined it is in detail, and how authentic it makes everything look. In the opening sequence, for instance, we shift through the dark clouds and sea as we approach the land of Berk, and it was so atmospheric that I felt like I myself was flying over the ocean surface when I first saw it. Later in the film, you look at vikings talking to each other in the dining hall, and the rock floors and the wood detailing look so real that you can almost reach out and touch it.

But I know what you’re really after. You’re not after what the waves, clouds and wood looks like. Nuh uh. You’re interested in how the dragons look, how exhilarating the fight scenes are and how exciting it is when you see a dragon spread his wings for the first time.

Let me assure you, fellow reader: the action could not be any more exciting. The dragons are all colorful, lifelike and filled with variety, their wings spread out in glorious, anthropomorphic detail. When they fly, they soar at supersonic speeds, dodging mountains, flipping through the air, and skydiving towards valleys like they are swimming in an endless sea of clouds and sky.

I especially liked the chemistry Hiccup shares with the nighfury, who he later names Toothless in the movie. Did I really just say that? That I liked the chemistry between two fictional, fake, animated characters? Yes I did, because these characters are neither fake nor artificial: they’re genuine, sharing real, heartfelt emotions with each other in ways almost no other animated film captures in movies. When Hiccup touches Toothless’ snout for the first time, you feel conflicted emotions between each other as they struggle to trust one another. When Toothless saves Hiccup from certain death from the dangers of the skies, you feel their relationship growing as they form a closer bond with each other. But when an all-out war spawns in between the vikings and the dragons, it’s Hiccup and Toothless that remain strong through it all, their friendship so compelling that it almost feels like connecting with a long-lost brother, not too disimilar to how Boo and Sully interact in Monsters Inc. 

My only regret with this movie is that it won’t be the best animated film of the year. With Toy Story 3 releasing just around the corner, and considering Pixar’s track record, it’s doubtful to see How To Train Your Dragon trump years of animated fandom and cherishment, especially when we’ve had years to grow with these characters. Shame, because this movie has great, fluid animation, an involving story, and memorable characters just like Toy Story does. If Toy Story 3 wasn’t coming out in June, I am positive that How To Train Your Dragon would win the best animated feature award at the Oscars.

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Class is now in session.  Please open your fright books to page 237. 

Boy, will this bring back memories for you when you’re seventy.  Monsters University does a rare thing with its premise that Pixar does with all of their movies: it incorporates real-world ideas and principles and relates them to the simplistic joys of a kids movie.  Pixar isn’t alien to this concept: with WALL-E, you witness the effects of industrialism, with Up and Toy Story 3, the truth of loss and growing up.  With Monsters University, we are given yet another truth, a truth about changing dreams and the pursuit of a higher education.  It’s not as potent as Monsters Inc., but that’s another issue.

Taking place years before the events of Monsters Inc.Monsters University opens on a young Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), a punky little eyeball who dreams of growing up to be a scarer for Monsters Incorporated.  His gateway into that dream lies in Monsters University, a college mostly known for its Scaring Program.  This college is intimidating, a buidling filled with dark curtains, creaky floors, and echoed hallways, the perfect place for Scare students.  I’d hate to see what the Art Department looks like on this campus.

So Mike Wazoswki immerses himself in his studies and in his bookwork, determined to be the best scarer at the University.  There’s only one obstacle in his way: James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), a cocky, overly-confident jock who thinks getting through college is about a big name and a big roar, which is about the only two things he’s got.  In their first semester at Monsters University, Sully is showing Mike up in every single scare opportunity, and Mike shows Sully up on every test and oral exam.  Monsters University chronicles their adventures together, from their chance introduction, to their rivalrous exchanges between each other, and finally, the unlikely friendship that forms in between them.

Here is a movie that features the typical staples of a Pixar film: a good concept with a well-written plot, all forming together with fluid animation and wonderful voice-acting.  Directed and co-written by Dan Scalon (The other two writers being Robert Baird and original Monsters Inc. writer Daniel Geirson), Monsters University is a story that combines clever, witty humor with that of a conventional, enjoyable story, even if it is at times a tad predictable.  It’s easy to appreciate the humor in the film: even the names of Monster fraternities are enough to utter a chuckle.  Admit it: how can you not smile when hearing the names “Roar-Omega-Roar”, or “Oozma Kappa”?

This is the kind of cleverness in Monsters University: the kind that takes real-world truths and facts and parodies them in a children’s cartoon.  I’ve always appreciated this about Pixar: they’ve always made their work smarter and more profound than other animated films, therefore allowing adults to enjoy their films just as much as the kiddies do.  Whenever you see a slug-like monster rushing at slug-like speed trying to get to class, or seeing a brush0like monster put paint in his hair and go “Ker-Splat!” on a canvas, the cleverness and the humor cannot help but shine through the brightly-colored and textured animation in this film.  Here, the monsters come in all shape, sizes, and breeds in University, and they plop, bang, clang, sneak, slither, and scare in all forms chaos and hilarity on the screen.  Crystal and Goodman, of course, need no comment about the liveliness of their roles.  You only need to see the first Monsters movie to understand how perfect they are in their voice acting.

The important thing to remember here is that Monsters University is not Monsters Inc., and I mean that sincerely as a compliment.  There is no doubt bits and pieces of Inc. that we can piece together in University; it’s charisma is intact, its wit and cleverness in-diminishable, and it cares just as much for its characters as Inc. does.

What its missing, then, is not intelligence or technical efficiency: what its missing is heart.  Or at least, as much as Monsters Inc. has.  To illustrate my point, I bring up a pivotal scene from the original Monsters movie: remember the scene where Sully had to say goodbye to Boo?  Do you remember the scene where he frightened her?  Do you remember Sully playing with her in her room, telling her in his deep baritone voice “Kitty has to go”?  Do you remember that when her door was torn to shreds, he kept one little piece as his reminder of Boo?  And do you remember Mike piecing the door back together, turning it on, and letting Sully open it to find a little girl whispering “Kitty” on the other side?  Do you remember the emotion?  The heartbreak? The happiness?

That “Aww” moment in Monsters Inc. is nowhere to be found in University.  I’m not saying there isn’t emotion in there: there are plenty of deep and convincing moments of well-made drama between characters, and they are done well enough for us to be compelled to care for them.  I’m saying the emotion isn’t done as well, or as effectively, as it was in Inc. to the point where I felt a deeper connection to the characters, almost as if I was in the room saying goodbye to my best imaginary friend.  Someone might think I’m being unfair by comparing this prequel to the original, but that’s the game Pixar is playing here.  Didn’t they know people would automatically look to the original when trying to decide which one is their favorite?

But I digress.  Monsters University is fun, intelligent, and dare I say it, relevant entertainment.  The animation is as stellar as always, it makes its characters compelling, it sets them up properly in line for their inevitable trip to Inc., and it makes a funny connection in between the audience and their own college years.  I strongly recommend you sign up to join the student body at Monsters University.  Just make sure you stay away from the Art Department.

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