Spoiler Alert: Summer Movie Review
Summer Movie season is almost over, and this summer has been the first really active one at the Hellions compound. With The Schmoo entering the Tween years at ten and The Grommet getting ready for first grade at six, everyone is old enough to see most PG films (the Peanut, who is not afraid of ANYTHING she sees on a screen, could probably watch Mad Max with me if she wanted). This summer we managed to get the family out to three of the biggest releases in the theatres and I thought it would be fun to give them a review through the Grounded Parents lens. As the title says, spoilers follow.
I must admit that when I saw the first trailer for Inside Out I wasn’t sure what to make of it. After the somewhat disappointing Monster’s University , a fun but flawed prequel film, I wondered if John Lasseter’s studio had lost its touch, or the pressure of turning all of Disney Animation around was distracting from their core mission, making delightful and important family films. I should not have worried. Inside Out was one of the best movies I have seen in years.
The film follows the inner life of Riley, a ten year old girl, as she navigates the ups and downs of her family’s big move from the frozen tundra of suburban Minnesota to the crowded hillsides of San Francisco. Representing her inner emotional life are Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (the unmistakable Lewis Black). Together these five work to manage Riley’s emotions, each vying for access to the control panel that governs her moods. Joy is the first character we meet as the newborn Riley opens her eyes for the first time, cooing up at her parents. Sadness comes along right after, taking over the control panel, which at this point has but one button. Thus the conflict between Joy and Sadness becomes the central feature of the narrative. Riley grows up to be a happy imaginative youngster and Joy becomes the ringleader of the emotional team. The “game mechanic” of Inside Out is that Riley’s experiences are captured in color coded marbles and eventually stored away in short or long term memory. The exception being her “core” memories, the foundational experiences of her life that form the core of her personality. The core memories are stored in Headquarters and power the various islands that represent Riley’s self image. Got it?
The move doesn’t go well for Riley. San Francisco is strange, her friends are far away and she is having trouble adjusting. Inside, Sadness feels herself drawn to the controls, but Joy insists that everything is better when Riley is happy. Her mother reinforces this mechanic by praising Riley for keeping her chin up, which is really helping her father with his career move. The action really starts when, while being introduced to her new class at school, Sadness ends up at the control board and a Core Memory is created in Sadness Blue, as opposed to the previous Core Memories that were all Joy Yellow. Sadness is prevented from inserting the memory into the matrix by Joy, who insists that all of the Core Memories should be happy. Things go all crazy, Joy and Sadness and the Core Memories are sucked out of headquarters and lost in the psyche, leaving the other three emotions in charge of a little girl who can no longer access the memories that form the core of her personality.
To make a long story short, in the real world this is reflected by Riley withdrawing from her friends and family, unable to enjoy the things that used to make her life worthwhile. With only Fear, Disgust, and Anger at the controls, she lashes out at her friends, quits her hockey tryout and bickers with her parents. The dinner time argument argument is especially cool because it is here that the director reveals the inner teams of both of her parents, who are both hilarious and revealing.
While the three emotions in control at Headquarters get the bright idea to have Riley run away back to Minnesota, Joy and Sadness romp through her subconscious trying to return to HQ and set everything right. While this part is a lot of fun, we meet Bing Bong, Riley’s childhood imaginary friend, take a trip through the absurdity of Imagination Town, and are shown the inner workings of the human mind from a decidedly quirky angle, the chief purpose of this section of the story is to drive Joy to the realization that Riley’s memories aren’t simply one emotion or another, but that they grow from each other, joyful memories being born from sad experiences. Suffice to say they make it back to Headquarters through the power of comedic antics, get Riley off the bus back to Minnesota and a tearful reunion with her parents where Joy finally allows Sadness to take over, creating a Core Memory that is Sadness and Joy, blended together and working in harmony.
The lessons of Inside Out are manyfold. It truly covers so much ground it I could go on and on. It’s a film about emotional maturity. It’s also a story about depression not simply being sad or blue, but an inability to feel anything. It’s about how forcing oneself to feel happy isn’t always the right (or even possible) thing to do.
All three of the kids enjoyed Inside Out immensely and I’ll be snagging it for home viewing as soon as it’s available. This film really shows the potential Pixar has to make amazing movies that push the envelope of what a kids movie really can be.
The Grommet wanted to see this movie as soon as he saw the trailer… ok as soon as I showed him the trailer. Ant Man is the story of a misfit cat burglar with a heart of gold, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) who is recruited by an aging Henry Pym (Michael Douglas) to infiltrate Pym’s former company and prevent his former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from selling his “Pym Particle” technology, which allows the user to shrink the distance between molecules, to the highest bidder. Yeah, the plot is essentially Iron Man with the serial numbers filed off.
That being said, Rudd does a fine job as the loveable schmuck Scott Lang and Michael Douglas is excellent as Henry Pym, reminding me how much I’ve missed his wry delivery. Evangeline Lilly, rocking some ferocious bangs, plays Hope Van Dyne, Henry’s daughter and the inside contact at the company. She does a really good job in what is unfortunately one of three female speaking roles in the film, the other being Judy Greer as Maggie Lang, Scott’s ex wife and the infinitely cute Abby Ryder Fortson as their daughter/MacGuffin Cassie.
The special effects are amazing of course. The Ant Man can shrink at will and communicate and control ants for a variety of cool effects, the Yellow Jacket suit created by Cross gets cool lasers in place of ant companions. The initial shrinking scenes after Lang is tricked into stealing the Ant Man suit by Pym are spectacular. We didn’t see it in 3D, but I’m told it’s worth it. There’s a great cameo by Anthony Mackie as the Falcon, and lots of other fun easter eggs for fans of the MCU (hint… I am one of those fans,) including a surprise appearance by Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter and a super sneak peek at events in Captain America: Civil War in the second post credits stinger that I missed because the six year old really needed to pee.
As much as we enjoyed the movie, it was not without problems. The action was a little intense for The Schmoo, who is really sensitive and easily scared. There is a fight scene in Cassie Lang’s bedroom that is particulary scary, especially with the Yellowjacket suit in play. Scott Lang’s partners in crime are a trio of unfortunate ethnic stereotypes (Michael Pena does manage to steal every scene he’s in as the surprisingly erudite Luis). And the film definitely puts the incredibly popular character of Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp, directly into The Fridge, killing her off in a flashback scene that explains the conflict between Hank Pym and his daughter Hope. On the other hand it looks like Hope Van Dyne will be the New Wasp in future MCU flicks, maybe as soon as next year, Evangeline Lilley is signed for several films evidently.
All in all Ant Man was a refreshing chaser for Marvel fans after the intensity of Avengers: Age of Ultron. It was certainly proof that you can make a successful superhero flick based on a character that isn’t instantly recognizable, which is good news for the upcoming Captain Marvel and Black Panther movies.
In 2010 there were two films that tried to feature villains in ironic lead roles. Megamind , a Will Ferrell vehicle of sorts that I found charmingly silly. And Despicable Me, a Steve Carell vehicle of sorts that I found sillily charming. One of these films languishes in obscurity. The other has spawned a sequel and now a prequel. All because of those pill shaped yellow freaks, the Minions.
Minions is the story of Gru’s servants from the Despicable Me movies and how they “evolved” throughout the ages in their quest to serve the biggest baddest boss. After hiding in the Arctic for the first half of the 20th Century (and thus avoiding service to Hitler or Stalin,) one brave minion, Kevin, decides that something must be done to overcome the malaise that has overcome his tribe without an evil boss to serve. Accompanied by a stupid companion, Stuart, and a young and inexperienced companion named Bob, Kevin sets out in 1967 on an adventure to find the Minions gainful employment with a new evil genius.
After some some brief misadventures on the road to Villain-Con with the charmingly criminal Nelson family (Michael Keaton and Alison Janney,) the Minions think they have found their new Boss in the convention’s keynote speaker Scarlett Overkill, voiced by Sandra Bullock and her devoted husband Herb played by Jon Hamm. After surprisingly winning the contest to be Overkill’s new henchmen, the Minions are whisked off to Bonny England where they are tasked to steal the Queen’s crown, a mission that goes fubar when the Queen (Jennifer Saunders,) needs the crown herself. After an admittedly fun chase scene, Bob accidently pulls the fabled Sword from the Stone and is crowned King of England. Yes the plot of this movie is THAT dumb.
I spent most of Minions cringing at a storyline that made absolutely zero sense. But the Hellions loved it. Maybe we are a bit spoiled by the Pixar’s of the world that carefully craft family films to appeal across generations and Marvel movies that cater to our inner teenager. Sometimes a kids movie is just a kids movie. If your kids enjoyed the slapstick antics of the Minions in the Despicable Me movies then they will probably get a kick out of Kevin, Stuart and Bob’s wacky adventure to save their species from boredom induced decline. Bullock probably does more to “chew the scenery” than anyone has in an animated feature since Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin, and the Overkills actually have a Gomez and Morticia style marriage that is refreshing. The soundtrack is pure British Invasion
One big problem I have with the film is that, by giving the previously anonymous Minions names they have been moved from genderless cyphers to definite “boys”. It is made perfectly clear that all of the Minions are male, further reinforcing the notion male is the default setting of all characters and female is a template that you put over that default. I would not be surprised to see a female Minion added if there is a seemingly inevitable sequel, probably by the lazy trope of “putting a bow on it”, a trope Anita Sarkeesian has examined at Feminist Frequency.
So that was our Summer Movie experience as a family for 2015. It has been fun to watch how the Hellions react differently to different film styles as well as seeing them grow into more adult fare. We’re very lucky to be able to afford to keep going to the cinema, especially in a day and age when countless hours of entertainment can be piped to our flatscreens or magic pocket computers over the internet. Nothing can really replace the fun of sharing a big bag of greasy popcorn and feeding off the energy of a crowd of like minded moviegoers.
Did any of you Grounded Parents readers see a good movie this summer? Or a bad one? Chime in in the comments!
Featured Image Credit, and Inside Out Image Credit: Pixar
Ant Man Poster Credit: Disney Marvel
Minions Image Credit: Universal