Thursday, July 23, 2015

Inside Out / The LEGO Movie

Pixar’s near classic 
and Lego’s identity crisis

     Inside Out takes a profound look at what a tween loses when she has to say goodbye to some elements of childhood in being able to move on in life.  Some of the imagery concerning Riley as a young child reminded me of Boo in Monsters, Inc. (2001), which Pete Docter also directed.  I doubt that there are any spoiler alerts possible since most of North America has seen it at least once and probably twice.  Most of the action takes place in Riley’s head briefly through her childhood and mostly during a challenging move across country because of her father’s work.   The emotions of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust pretty much control Riley’s worldview.

Disgust, Anger, Joy, Sadness and Fear
     The plot hinges on Joy and Sadness getting accidentally sucked into Riley’s long-term memory and having to make their way back to headquarters before her core memories are forgotten.  The visual representation of stored memories colored by their primary emotions looks like a phone game application so it’s extremely current.  The representation of the islands that make up personality and the Train of Thought are dynamically intelligent without drawing attention to themselves.  Bing Bong, the imaginary friend that sacrifices himself to allow Joy to succeed in saving Riley’s personality looked and felt a little like a character that didn’t make it into the Toy Story series.  He also disappears in a pit that looked like it cooled down from the incinerator pit that almost destroyed the major characters in Toy Story 3 (2010).

Joy and Sadness Pointing to the "Personality" Islands
     I can’t think of another animated family movie that makes visual gags about Picasso and takes on literary theory to explain a splintering personality.  It’s a spectacular looking movie, but I think it would be overwhelming in 3D.  There were times when I couldn’t keep up with everything going on in the labyrinth of long-term memories.  However, the focus on the 
Joy and Sadness
characters is what drives the movie forward, especially Joy (voiced to the nth degree by Amy Poehler) and Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith in a devastating performance).  In learning that sadness is necessary to cope with a new reality and allow others to help, Inside Out moves into territory that moves viewers because it is basic to human existence.  On the Pixar scale, it’s up there with The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc., and Toy Story 2.  

     I missed The Lego Movie (2014) when it first came out, but fortunately our neighbor Ella Jane lent us her copy.  Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who did wonderful work with 21 Jump Street (2012), it’s an upbeat, colorful computer animated movie that looks like it was achieved through stop motion animation.  The basic plot goes all the way back to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1928) with a mad Big Business dictator deciding to destroy the world and the Everyman character trying to lead a revolt to stop him.

Destroying the Lego Set
     Neil thought it seemed like an advertisement for Lego and he’s pretty much on the mark.  It’s amazing the colors, characters, variety of brick shapes, and scenes that have been created by Lego (and are capable of being imagined and created).  Players follow the instructions for the pictured models; builders go ahead and do their own thing with the sets.  That’s also the point of the movie.  However, there’s a sense of hypocrisy or, rather, a sense that Lego is having its cake and eating it too with this movie.  Lego is a huge business, one of the best-known brands in the world, but the movie’s message is that big business wears blinders and wants to destroy anything that is individual and idiosyncratic.

Wyldstyle and Emmett
     The story turns out to be metaphysical with a boy and his father playing out an Oedipal conflict.  That was when the whole thing turned completely clunky.  A viewer can sense the mythic nature of the conflict in the animated part of the movie.  Bringing in human actors and turning over to live action kills what was imaginative and creative by making it ‘real.’  There’s even a moment of castration panic when the dad says he’ll let the little sister play as well and the boy is horrified.  Interestingly, Lego really increased its business when it began marketing specifically to girls.  However, the female characters in the movie suffer from the Hermione Complex, i.e. they have great ideas and are smarter than the male lead, but they’re only along for the ride, rather than vanquishing the antagonist (see The Harry Potter series).  After Katniss, I thought we’d left that behind, but not in the world of Lego, which has turned reactionary after being one of the most progressive brands of the past fifty years.

The Lego Movie Cast
     Where Inside Out presents an ordinary girl’s experience and makes it fresh and remarkable, The Lego Movie celebrates Emmet, a regular guy who’s believed by a prophecy to be special, though it’s all a fake.  He has an original idea, but the energy, vitality, and extraordinary ideas of the others (Wyldstyle/Lucy, Batman, Benny the astronaut, Princess Unikitty) are shunted aside for his mediocrity.  I find that chilling even as it is presented as upbeat and heroic.  

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