Let’s face it: out of all the animation studios today, it is PIXAR that has succeeded the most times in hitting us in our emotional sweet spots. In the last two decades, they have managed to make many of us run almost the full gamut of emotions when watching their films, and I’m sure many of us have fond memories stored in our minds of those times.
One thing I and many who have been fans of PIXAR have been concerned about, is how it seemed original films from the company we knew and loved, have recently taken a back seat (we’ve had 2 sequels and 1 prequel in the last 5 years). Many like myself, longed to get excited over a new concept from the Emeryville studio.
5 years ago, when I first heard about the concept for Inside Out, it was something that seemed right up the alley from the studio that had brought us something as risky as WALL-E, and was the one film from them that I’d constantly be listening in on some news about.
My first taste of what was in store came at the 2013 D23 Expo. The audience there was first introduced to the film’s characters, and we got to see a storyboarded scene. My excitement only grew, as the sequence played out, and the audience was laughing so hard and loud, you couldn’t hear half of the dialogue. It was an exciting communal experience that seemed to be emotionally touching everyone in some way.
Of course, delving into the ‘voices inside your head’ is nothing new. Such concepts have been touched upon in television shows like Herman’s Head, and even the Disney short Reason and Emotion dealt a little with the concept (as seen in a still image below).
Of course, what PIXAR’s Pete Doctor was proposing to tackle, was a concept that could have gone anywhere, and with a little less than 2 hours of running time, one had to wonder just how far the studio could take the concept.
Inside Out revolves around the story of five emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Heyder), and Anger (Lewis Black).
Each of these emotions exist within the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). Their world seems to be perfect, until a business decision by Riley’s Dad (Kyle MacLachlan) sends the entire family from Minnesota, to San Francisco.
At first, Joy thinks things are going to simple, but soon, circumstances build to the point where headquarters is faced with a few things they’ve never encountered before, sending Joy and Sadness on a journey to the far corners of Riley’s mind.
One of the most surprising comparisons I made after seeing the film, was thinking about how much it reminded me of Toy Story. We have multiple characters vying to care for a young child (almost like parents, or relations), and a central figure that tries to be a positive leader.
Much like the story of how Woody has to deal with change to Andy’s world, Joy is a character that must deal with the same things happening in her own world. The filmmakers manage to make a character that should be annoying (she is super-peppy), end up as a figure one can want to accompany along on her journey. Normally, it is this type of character, that is usually the sidekick (like Russell was to Carl, in Up).
Though Joy tries to find the bright side in everything, Sadness is that one component of Riley that she seems unable to properly ‘get,’ and as such, seems to constantly sideline Sadness. Joy never comes right out and says it (she’s too polite to do so), but the little reactions she makes towards Sadness is more than enough proof for us.
Of all the emotions we deal with, I’m still a fan of Sadness, from start to finish. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to her character, being someone who wants to help out, but finds herself in a world where some people look at her like, ‘what do I do with this?’
Though the film takes place in two different worlds (around Riley, and inside her mind), it is inside Riley where the artists at PIXAR really get the chance to shine (the new world of San Francisco seems dull and dreary, when compared to the bright colors inside her head). We get visualizations of things such as a “Train of Thought,” “Long Term Memory,” and much, much more. I’ve had to limit talking about what I saw, as it feels like it would surely spoil too much. The intrigue and fun comes from seeing quite a few things one can relate to…including one particularly annoying component of our memory that makes us wonder, “Why!?”
The film feels like it gets a little too “busy” during its third act, when it almost seems like the film starts throwing information at us a little too fast. It’s more of a critique than a complaint, but then again, it might be the filmmaker’s trying to ramp up the emotions of the moment.
When it came to Inside Out, one person who I was most concerned about, was writer/director, Pete Doctor. To me, Pete has never really been the strongest of the PIXAR directors. Sure, Monsters Inc and Up are entertaining, but it oftentimes feels that he tends to get the heart of those pictures in the right place, but leaves quite a few dangling plot threads in the wind. Some characters and concepts, just don’t feel as properly thought out as they should be (this was also a case I felt, with Disney’s Big Hero 6 last fall).
With Inside Out, I think Pete has finally got himself a solid film on his hands. It won’t make you cry buckets like Up, but there’s more than enough here that I think many will be able to be entertained, and a little moved by the story of Riley’s emotions.
Of course, every PIXAR film also comes with a short attached! The one that accompanies Inside Out, tells the story of a volcanic island. As the volcano sees numerous animals around him have coupled and found love, he sings his own song about finding someone special for himself as well.
Lava is one of those shorts that does so much, with so little. Since the volcanic island we see can’t freely move about, it is the atmosphere and his surroundings that helps tell his story. I was most definitely surprised, as the short moved into the second part of its story, that I was feeling as emotional as I was for the island.
The last time PIXAR did a love story, I was a little disappointed. The Blue Umbrella had a nice concept, but it felt like it got lost in a hyper-realized setting. Here, the studio has pulled back enough that the world doesn’t feel like we get too caught up in the details.
A fun thing to see, is the sliding mouth and eyebrows of the volcanic island. The way it moves, reminded me a little of the puppetry of Jim Henson and his guys, in that the simplest movements, could convey just so much emotion.
I’m sure you’ll see a few couples cuddling close during this short.
INSIDE OUT Final Grade: A- (Final Thoughts: PIXAR has come through with an emotional film that shows they still got what it takes. I consider it one of the studio’s best non-sequel films since WALL-E, and I’m sure everyone will find something to love in it)
LAVA Final Grade: A- (Final Thoughts: Another short-yet-sweet emotional story, told largely through song and visuals.)
If you think back to the films of the 1980’s, it’s a pretty good bet that one of those films you may recall, was directed by Joe Dante.
Whether it was about werewolves (The Howling), cute-yet-scary critters (Gremlins), or even suburbia (The Burbs), Dante always fused his films with a certain amount of real-world sensibilities, but skewed slightly with a strange Looney Tunes-style level of kookiness.
In 2009, Dante unleashed his second feature film of the 21st century, titled The Hole. However, it didn’t get a full-on theatrical release in the U.S. Strange as it seems, with past hits under his belt, Dante was unable to find any film studios willing to release his PG-13 film here. While the film had non-US releases in 2010, its showings in our country were relegated to film festival screenings.
Dante also made The Hole his first 3-D feature film. There are some shots where you can instantly tell that 3-D was evident. It is rather odd, that given the 3-D fever in the wake of Avatar, no studio was willing to snatch this one up (yet they were eager to quickly post-convert trash like Clash of the Titans to 3-D).
Which brings us to today, and the films release to home video.
After moving to a small town with their Mother (Teri Polo), brothers Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) find a wooden door in the floor of their basement, with six locks on it. Thinking there might be treasure inside, they instead find a dark hole, which after some testing, appears to be bottomless. The two brothers soon share their secret with their attractive neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett), but what soon seems to be nothing…very soon becomes something.
Much like his film The Explorers, Dante keeps much of the film’s focus on his young leads, putting the adults as far in the background as possible. Dane is portrayed as a little angsty and guarded, while Lucas attempts to get him to come out of his ‘too-cool’ shell. Of course, it helps that Dane isn’t bad-looking, and Julie quickly starts showing him around the small town.
Overall, the story does start out a little slow, but that can be seen as a good thing, as we need to establish who our main characters are. Once we move into the second act of the film, this is really where Dante hits us with the jeeps and the creeps. However, it is when we start veering into the third act, that the film hits the point of make-or-break. For me, it broke. I was getting intrigued, until the characters began to spell out the logic of The Hole, and I found myself thinking, “Oh no, not that.”
I hadn’t seen much of Massoglia or Bennett prior to the film, but I recalled Gamble from Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist in 2007. His portrayal of Chris in the film comes across well for a co-starring position. What also helps is they don’t make out Dane and Chris’ relationship as a good brother/bad brother one. There is a level of caring each of them has, but like any siblings, there are plenty of times they don’t see eye to eye, which definitely helps.
The Special Features
I managed to get an early copy of the film on DVD, and right away, I was a little disappointed that what seemed to be a key prop in the film, not only appeared on the DVD spine, but right in the center of the main DVD menu.
promotional critiques aside, the DVD release of The Hole contains a small smattering of extras.
– The Keyholder (Keeper of The Hole): This brief little featurette shows the cast and crew talking about actor Bruce Dern (The Burbs, Small Soldiers), who plays a character named ‘Crazy Carl.’ Not much to see here, just lots of people talking about how cool and crazy it was to work with Bruce. The funny thing is that Dern almost looks like he’s channeling Doctor Emmett Brown with his wild white hair, and black goggles.
– Relationships (Family Matters): The actors open up about being a family unit in the film, and the crew backs up how real their family bond seems onscreen.
– Gateway to Hell, The Making of The Hole: The most involving special feature in the disc. Pity it acts as the cliffsnotes to the entire film.
– A Peek inside The Hole: A brief featurette talking about how some of the film’s visual effects were achieved.
– Movie Stills: A 2-minute reel showing still images with music playing in the background.
Joe Dante’s The Hole is by no means a bad film. It fits into that mold where the safety of suburban life is compromised by a strange presence or thing, but it feels a little too ‘safe’ that it has to wrap things up in a nice little package.
This year was also the year in which another 2009 film finally was seen by the public, which was Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods. When comparing both films, Whedon’s film was willing to take a concept and stretch it into a new direction. The Hole attempts to hit certain set points for a young person’s scary movie, yet it still needs a little work. Maybe it was the writer getting cold feet and being afraid he’d lose the under-13 audience if the ending was more vague, but it just doesn’t feel altogether satisfactory.
The Hole: The Movie – B
The Hole: The DVD – C