Monday, July 20, 2015

On Inside Out

So what does some shmuck on the internet have to say about a well established animation studio like Pixar making another quality film? It'd be like trying to deconstruct the hundredth home-run in a row. What more is left to say? 

Well, at least one thing, that I found rather interesting. So strap in, and join me for a few minutes of your time. 

Most Idiotic Review

" ... in so far as Riley never comes into focus as a true flesh and blood girl (she is just a vessel), there is something odd about the fact that Riley (isn't Riley a boys name?) plays a stereotypical male sport (ice hockey). It's as if the film's creators resist really dealing with a female character — even though, reportedly, Doctor drew on his experience parenting a young girl."  — Alva Noë, (NPR)

There's a lot of things I dislike about this article. Of all things, I'm reminded of an interview that Lawrence Krauss gave back in 2012 where he said, "I'd say that this tension occurs because people in philosophy feel threatened, and they have every right to feel threatened, because science progresses and philosophy doesn't." Now, is Lawrence Krauss a brilliant mind? Of course. Do I respect his work in his fields. Definitely. Is he an ass? Undoubtedly (as a proud atheist, anytime I watch a theological debate with Krauss, the limits of his knowledge base become pretty clear). More to the point, I dislike the idea that philosophy doesn't progess. Or if it does, it's merely adopting other field's of science's tools. 

How does all this relate to Inside Out? Well, Alva Noë makes me agree with Lawrence Krauss. And that can't be good. 

Besides that, the quoted paragraph makes me role my eyes. For one, Riley is a unisex name. Don't take everything and make it a feminist rallying cry, if you please. Jesus Christ. And by the way, hockey is a stereotypically 'violent' sport. But sure, claim it for the male demographic. Why not. I get the distinct feeling that Mr. Noë has a limited experience with women of diverse backgrounds. 

While I have my own issues with the story, Alva Noë's claim that director, Pete Docter's, inspiration is in some way disingenuous is something I find very bothersome. As a young writer, I know I certainly dislike and will get very defensive when questioned about my inspiration. 

Most Accurate Review

" ... this is that rare movie that transcends its role as pure entertainment to become something genuinely cathartic, even therapeutic, giving children a symbolic language with which to manage their unruliest emotions." — Ann Hornaday, (The Washington Post)

As a happy subject of group and private therapy, I love the power Inside Out has as a catalyst for a dialogue on the topic of, well, unruly emotions. My significant other and I? We actually had the opportunity to talk about it with each other, and I'm sure parents everywhere have been given a tool with which better to communicate and educate their children on the topic. I think that's so much more powerful than anything Frozen or Tangled managed to achieve.

What I Say

Today I'd like to forego my usual sections, Plot, Character, and Spectacle, for something a little more ... fluid. 

I think the characters and plotlines in Inside Out, are basic, trite, cliched, and uninteresting.

<Leaps behind cover>

Volatile statement, I know. But before you burn down my blog or kick my dog, let me also say that I think Inside Out is resonant, heartfelt, and thought provoking.

How can I have these two views?

Well, I want to use Toy Story 3 as an example.

Remember this scene?

Pretty emotional right?

What about this scene? 

I would argue that the two scenes are emotional for a different reason. One, the furnace scene, we relate to because after three films we've really grown to know and love these characters, and the idea of their death in a fiery furnace of Hell, is emotional, but I don't think many viewers, especially in the intended audience, had a lot of personal experience to relate to.

But the scene where Andy leaves, that's also emotional. Is it because we find Andy a resonate character? Hah, not likely. We hardly know him. He has no real goals, no obstacles, no heroes journey, and that's okay. The time Andy spends onscreen is pretty minuscule. So why the emotional resonance? I'd say it's because Pixar timed the released of Toy Story 3 so that the original audience for Toy Story would be in their late teens, kids who were graduating High School, packing up for college, and leaving behind childish things. They had a perfect formula for hitting us right in our shared experience.

Perfect, that is, until Inside Out.

Inside Out isn't resonant because we relate to the journey of Joy and Sadness. Frankly, it's kind of a weaker relationship than Woody and Buzz (Joy and Sadness have really cerebral goals and tactics, whereas Woody and Buzz had very definite goals and tactics) but similar in its dynamic. By the nature of having characters who represent an incomplete range of emotions, our protagonists are limited in what they can do. There's only so many ways to spin them. 

So where's the emotional catharsis? It's not Riley, because, like Andy, she doesn't really have a journey. She's a backdrop against which we see the real heroes perform. She's Westeros and Joy and Sadness are the Starks and the Lannisters. Have fun playing that scenario out in your head, oh three people who see this blog.

The reason, I think, is the film literally, unashamedly, tells a really generic story. And that is fine by me. I cried at least four times in the theater. Many manly tears. The film is pointing to things, like moving to a new school, having issues with your family, fighting with your friends, considering running away, and on and on. These are not new concepts, and Riley's journey? Not really that interesting. On a purely external level, she (Spoilers) moves to a new town, doesn't know anyone, decides to run away back home, decides not to. Not ... groundbreaking. But it doesn't have to be. 

I think it's fascinating that you have two sets of uninteresting ideas, a central figure around which all other characters revolve (Riley) who doesn't have much of a journey, and a cast of main characters who are limited in their emotional output by their very nature, and have nebulous goals and tactics, being mainly reactionary (not to mention Bing-Bong, gotta mention Bing-Bong), and make it a resounding success.
Hell Yeah, fiction and the shared human experience.

~ Godzello

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