Friday, July 31, 2015

Go and Watch Inside Out

This is not so much a post as a public service announcement (of sorts).

There are plenty of people who’ve written reviews of the movie, so there’s no need to repeat here what has already been said well.  I will not review the movie, in the sense of talking about what it is about, but simply observe that it is funny, suspenseful, and even tear-jerking.  It is largely non-offensive—it would have been completely so in another era, when one could have been sure that certain jokes were just that—just jokes, and not reflections of a corroded culture.  As matters stand, it was still quite funny, and sufficiently innocent that I didn't feel scandalized.

Inside Out also has the virtue of quotability.  This was driven home to me with particular force since I saw it back-to-back (i.e., in the same week) with Jurassic Park (the original, of course).  While both movies have their strengths, it was Inside Out that kept leaping to my tongue over the days that followed, providing opportunities for the exercise of garden variety wit, and even prompting little moments of recognition.  Oh, that’s what I’m doing now, I would think, recalling the antics of the little people.  This did not happen with the dinosaurs.

In contrast to Brave, the last Pixar movie I saw in theater, Inside Out played particularly well.  The most striking improvement (one which also puts Inside Out leagues ahead of that icy debacle recently concocted by Disney) is in the crafting of the plot.  Plots are, allegedly, one of the things Pixar does best; and part of my dissatisfaction with Brave (as I remember it now) came from a sense of frustration with the storyline and its pacing.  Things happened to keep the movie going—there were twists and such, and they worked plausibly well given the characters and setting established—but the whole didn’t feel organic.  It seemed as if the scriptwriters had taken fairy tale tropes and grafted them onto the sort of story that they wanted to tell, or as if they had captured a fairy tale in the wild, and then released their own story into the cage to fight with it.  Anyway, good things got eaten, leaving us with a distressing microchimera of a movie.

It may be that this is inevitable when modern scriptwriters aim to do “a fairy tale in the tradition of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm.”  (The quote is attributed to director Brenda Chapman in a variety of web articles.)  A good story can only handle so many themes at once—probably, a truly good story can only have one real theme, with others perhaps aligning with in it subsidiary fashion.  (Paging Dorothy Sayers to read us The Mind of the Maker here.)  Since the kind of things with which fairy tales concern themselves are not usually the things on the mind of the modern movie director mother, the resultant mix of traditional imagery and modern messaging can produce thwarted expectations on the part of the audience.

In contrast, Inside Out plants itself squarely in the midst of a very modern kind of fantasy world, populated by imaginary characters who read newspapers; wear glasses bow-ties, and mascara; and operate consoles.  The modern conception of how the mind and its emotions function is embodied in distinctly modern tropes, types, and tones, from the Valley girl resonances of Disgust to the nervous nerdiness of Fear.  By attempting to ground these characters, their activities, and their environment in modern brain science, the writers committed themselves to something that most of them probably believed in and felt was worth adhering to as a system—a respectful approach, one which most would probably not consider to be necessary or even appropriate when working with fairy tales.  (I might beg to differ, but that would be another post.)  The effect, once again, is to create a pleasing degree of cohesion throughout the film.  As I said before:

That is all.

P.S. Don’t judge the whole movie based on the short at the beginning.  It is … special.  Special, as in Jack-Jack’s “special needs”.

 As in, you know, fire extinguishers.

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