Inside Out review

Growing up is hard. This isn’t a blanket statement but a universal human condition. The mind of a child on the cusp of adulthood is one fraught with conflicting emotions, changing social situations and tons of what could charitably be called drama. It’s a tough time of life to wrap your head around, and an even tougher one to portray on film. Leave it to Pixar, the animation geniuses behind the likes of Toy Story and Up to take such a daring subject and spin it into gold.

To call Pixar’s 15th animated feature, Inside Out, ambitious is an understatement. We’re introduced to 11-year-old Riley, who moves with her parents from her beloved Minnesota home to the unfamiliar city of San Francisco. Riley’s emotions help control her mood and general outlook on life from a control center inside her brain. But even they’re thrown for a loop by the massive changes in Riley’s life the move brings. Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), the level-headed leader of the group, attempts to assuage the situation with her always perky demeanor. She often butts heads with Sadness (Phyllis Smith), who is, naturally, kind of bummed out by the whole situation. Anger (Lewis Black) is ready to fly off the handle at any minute. Fear (Bill Hader) sees the worst in the situation and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) is honestly kind of apathetic about it all.

The group is charged with helping create and catalogue not only Riley’s emotions, but her memories. Whoever controls the main console controls the girl’s emotions. But there are some memories, called core memories, that are considered precious, the emotionally charged memories that make her who she is. When these memories are jeopardized, Riley is at risk of losing her true sense of self, and it’s up to her emotions to work together to ensure that doesn’t happen. But can they work together efficiently when their individual personalities are so different, and when the girl they call home is changing so quickly right in front of them?

Yes, the concept is ambitious. But what makes Inside Out such a winner is that the high-minded ideas never overwhelm the clarity and purity of the story. Pixar has mastered this balance over the years, taking a concept such as post-apocalyptic utopia and turning it into Wall-E, one of the studio’s simplest and most emotionally resonant films. This film is much smaller in scope, and yet feels every bit as important. To a young girl whose life appears to be falling apart before her eyes, what could be more important than the way she feels?

Inside Out deserves mention alongside Pixar's many classics.

Inside Out deserves mention alongside Pixar’s many classics.

The film gets a lot of mileage out of playing off of the reactions and situations of the five emotions. Despite the fact that each one is playing a type by his/her very nature, writer-directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen have done a brilliant job allowing them depth and complexity outside of their pre-determined roles. Allowing the emotions to be fleshed out spares us from a ton of potential clichés.

Inside Out is a visual wonder, even beside the prolific company of Pixar’s previous efforts. Not only are the emotions’ designs incredible, the world they inhabit is so endlessly creative. There are a ton of small visual touches, even in seemingly minor scenes, that do so much to sell this very strange world inside Riley’s head. It’s tough to grasp them all in one viewing, but I think that was the intention. For example, I didn’t catch on until late in the film that the newspaper Anger reads every day contains headlines describing the events that took place in Riley’s life the previous day. How he got the paper, we’ll never know.

This is also Pixar’s most surreal and, I venture to say, scariest film yet. Dealing with concepts such as dreams, imagination, abstract thought and the subconscious, the film could have easily felt overstuffed or drowned out by its own ambition. There’s some seriously weird, chaotic stuff in this movie (one of my favorites is a film production studio that is in charge of writing and producing Riley’s dreams), but the mind of an 11-year-old kid is a weird, chaotic place. Everything is so clearly defined, so expertly laid out within the larger world and story that no strange concept or visual element ever detracts from the purity of the ultimately very simple story the film is trying to tell.

And that is what I think stands out the most to me about Inside Out. The whole movie just feels so effortless. I’m baffled that such a high-minded concept could turn out so well. The storytellers at Pixar have a true gift for taking the most complex themes and boiling them down into the simplest of stories. You don’t have to understand REM sleep or any other myriad complex terminologies the film employs to enjoy it. Like the best animated films, it appears to be made for everyone. Kids will like it, but their parents might come back on date night to see it again.

Inside Out is an absolute marvel, and a stunning return to form for a studio that some feel has lost its way in recent years. It deserves mention alongside the very best of Pixar’s envious output. I couldn’t keep my eyes dry the last 20 minutes of it. Not because it’s sad (although it is), but because it’s also happy, scary, hopeful, thrilling and ultimately life-affirming all at once. Leave it to a film about the glorious complexity of human emotions to make us feel so many.

Jurassic World review

As a child, I loved playing with dinosaurs. I even liked to pretend I was one. I imagine the same has been true for many other kids throughout history. “People aren’t impressed by dinosaurs anymore,” a character says near the beginning of Jurassic World, and I suppose in one sense, that’s true. It takes much more to wow an audience than it did in 1993, when Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking Jurassic Park brought an entire generation’s childhood playtime to startlingly realistic life. Today, audiences feel like they’ve seen it all, and it’s harder to get swept up in the grandeur when a dinosaur is, well, just another dinosaur.

That’s one of the challenges facing Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) at the beginning of Jurassic World, a direct sequel to Spielberg’s iconic original. The dino theme park she has been tasked to run off the exotic island of Isla Nubar just isn’t bringing in the customers like it used to. Guests want something new, exciting, “with more teeth,” park owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) tells her. But there aren’t many more “regular” genetically modified dinosaurs left—the only option to increase profits is to create a new hybrid, one so magnificent and scary it will surely thrill audiences like never before. The project is so secret, neither Claire nor Masrani know what it’s made out of, but they do know its name: Indominus Rex.

On the very day her nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) come to visit her at the park, the unthinkable happens: Indominus Rex escapes from his massive pen . Now this intelligent, cunning, powerful killing machine is on the loose, making its way toward the gates of a certain park which happens to contain 20,000 people.

Claire frantically enlists the help of rugged ex-military dinosaur trainer Owen (Chris Pratt), with whom she shares a complicated past (what other kind of past is there?). Together they lead the hunt against this new monstrosity, hoping to save Claire’s nephews as well as the rest of the park from a repeat of the tragic incidents that occurred at the original Jurassic Park.


Jurassic World is grand, thrilling and a ton of fun.

Essentially ignoring the other Jurassic Sequels, The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, the film is mercifully light on complicated mythology and backstory. That’s very good news, because it allows the plot to quickly get to what we came to see: spectacular dinos doing spectacular things. This is a movie that makes more than good on its promises. The first part of the story does a great job of allowing us to see the massive theme park through the eyes of a child. There are lots of eye-catching sights, including a massive Shamu-style show that features a gargantuan aquatic dinosaur and a petting zoo that allows children to ride a Triceratops.

What makes the movie so successful is that it goes far beyond giving us eye candy to look at. Every small visual detail, every cool creature or idea, is brought back later once the action hits. There are no teases, no visual tricks designed just to look cool. Most things given screen time are there for a reason. It helps that the creature design is beyond incredible. Yes, this film uses more CGI than the original, and it occasionally shows, but production designer Ed Verreaux and a massive visual effects team have done a bang-up job recreating not only the spectacle but the warmth and real-world weight and feel of the creatures from the original. That’s no small feat.

I’ve emphasized the visual effects over the characters here, and there’s a reason for that. This is one major area where this sequel can’t hold a candle to the original. Claire never evolves much beyond your typical overworked shrew, and Owen is basically just Chris Pratt being Chris Pratt; there’s no real meat to his character. Admittedly, this franchise hasn’t been known for its complex character development, but I still don’t think the personalities here are as memorable as the ones in the original, though they are an improvement from some of the downright irritating characters from the last two films (Ian Malcom’s daughter in The Lost World, anyone?). The acting is serviceable and not much more. Thankfully, the main characters get some great banter, and even a few memorable side characters get some big laughs.

But, as the film races toward its thrilling climax, delivering memorable set-piece upon memorable set-piece, I found my complaints evaporate. This film really delivers on the childlike sense of wonder and awe that Jurassic Park evoked, and, despite the frequent callbacks to the original, it does so in a way that still feels entirely its own. It’s a tricky balance, and not one I suspected could be pulled off here. Man, am I glad I was wrong. The film’s last few minutes stretch its plausibility to the breaking point, reminding us just whole silly the whole thing is, but it also does something insanely cool, something I’ve always wanted to see from a Jurassic movie.

By the end of the film, I was that little kid playing with plastic dinosaurs once again. All of the implausible, completely badass scenarios my 5-year-old brain could dream up wouldn’t hold a candle to the kind of stuff on display here. Jurassic World is not deep. It’s not groundbreaking. It is, however, a ton of fun, and quite the spectacle to boot. My inner-child is thrilled to say that it’s a more than worthy follow up to one of the coolest movies ever made.