Sunday, July 5, 2015

Inside Out: I don't get it

I saw Pixar's Inside Out as soon as it opened. Why? Because I love animation, I think highly of Pixar at its best, and the film was getting mad hype. I was under-whelmed. The film seemed confused and unfocused. So I went to see it again a week later, and it got better. Maybe I over-reacted the first time. Also, I saw it in 3D this time, but I don't think that had much to do with it. The story's the story regardless of 2D or 3D.

Still, I keep hearing that this is an apocalyptic sea-change in cinematic experience. David Edelstein, for example, opens his review like this:
A little over five years ago, Pixar writer-director Pete Docter (Up) tried to imagine how the world looked through the eyes of his sad 11-year-old daughter, and the movie he was moved to conceive, Inside Out, will likely help sad girls and boys and the grown-ups they become for as long as there are movies. Set largely inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley, this teeming, tear-duct-draining, exhaustingly inventive, surreal animated comedy is going to be a new pop-culture touchstone. In all kinds of ways it’s a mind-opener.
Really? "Exhaustingly inventive"?  Inventive, yes, but not that inventive, not exhaustingly, or exuberantly, or everlastingly, nor even extremely-to-the-max-with-sprinkles inventive. A "pop-culture touchstone"?A touchstone of just what exactly? A "mind-opener"?

Disney's Fantasia was all those things, though that wasn't recognized at the time. It took decades for that film to break-even on its investment. The film had to create its own audience through patient repetition. Disney showed its segments on his TV show, a schools showed the Rites of Spring sequence at morning assemblies: I remember it myself from my grade-school years in the 50s. In a way, the fact that people didn't get it when it came out is a sign of how inventive it really was.

 Inside Out is no Fantasia. What seems to grab people is the basic conceit – the personification of motives within a person's mind and shifting the burden of action to their interaction. That's what's seen as revelatory; Edelstein again:
Having been sucked up a chute and propelled to the far end of Riley’s mindscape, the fundamentally at-odds Joy and Sadness must find their way back to headquarters before everything really goes to hell. The road is anything but straight. The obstacles are riotous. Docter and his Pixar team have packed the film with gags — visual, verbal, broad, glancing — and I can’t think of one that doesn’t have psychological, philosophical, cultural, or just fascinating architectural underpinnings. The Long Term Memory facility was apparently inspired by a Jelly Belly candy factory and an egg-processing plant, and what its unromantic custodians choose to purge and what to keep shall not be revealed here. Dreams are scripted and shot in a mini Hollywood studio (not called DreamWorks, alas) near the giddy, freewheeling Imagination Land and the Sub­conscious, where dreams go to become nightmares. The most surprising encounter is with a friendly, dopey clown called Bing Bong (Richard Kind), who was once Riley’s imaginary friend. Happy as he is, Bing Bong carries a trace of the melancholy of Toy Story’s toys. He was once a major part of Riley’s inner world and loves her still. But he has no place in the mind of an evolving 11-year-old.
Well, yes, interesting and inventive. But it's an old ploy, not used much these days, but still, old. Maybe people just aren't used to thinking about the mind and Inside Out allows them to do it without, you know, thinking. 

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