Inside Out 2

Posted on June 12, 2024 at 2:43 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements
Profanity: Mild schoolyard language
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and chaos, plus teen angst
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 14, 2024
Copyright 2024 Disney/Pixar

Okay, Pixar, you got me. I cried and laughed within the first ten minutes of “Inside Out 2,” an adorable, heartwarming and fully up-to-the-original sequel to the beloved story of Riley and her middle school emotions. And then I cried two more times and laughed many times. Okay, maybe there might have been a little PTSD about being an adolescent and living with a few, but this movie is so brimming with empathy and understanding, I think there was some healing, too.

In the midst of the colorful, endearing characters and witty screenplay of the first film, there was the kind of insight it could take years of therapy to discover. The characters were the emotions Riley feels: Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Tony Hale replacing Bill Hader), and Disgust (Liza Lapira replacing Mindy Kaling). What they learn, so we do, too, is that what may feel like disturbing or negative emotions are necessary to keep us safe and help us understand the world around us.

As the movie begins, Riley is feeling like she has it all together. She’s gotten a lot taller. She has braces and feels confident about herself and her friendships, getting really good at ice hockey, invited to a three day elite hockey camp by the coach at the high school she will be attending. She’s a teenager now, blowing the candles on her 13th birthday cake. If she doesn’t know what’s coming yet, her face does. There’s a pimple coming on her chin. And for the first time, she wakes up feeling insecure and under too much pressure.

But then the console inside her head suddenly has a big, red, button labeled “Puberty.” And a group of very unsettling new emotions arrive: Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ado Edibiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), and Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos). I absolutely love the idea that this movie will inspire a bunch of 8-year-old to tell their parents they are experiencing an emotion usually associated with characters in novels by Sartre or Sagan.

Joy is very distressed by the new emotions, especially Anxiety, who seems to think she should be in charge. She explains that while Fear makes Riley afraid of what she can see, Anxiety makes her afraid of what might happen, and indeed, later in the film, we see an entire bullpen sitting at desks like those of the old-school Disney animators, imagining everything that might go wrong.

As they did before, Pixar has personified and made literal an array of internal and abstract concepts with wit, charm, and telling detail. Erik Erickson and Karl Jung would be impressed. The stream of consciousness is an actual stream. That hallmark of this stage of development, sarcasm (sorry, parents, try to think of it as an emblem of developing appreciation of layers of meaning), is an actual chasm. Nostalgia is a patient, elderly woman (June Squibb) who has to be told to go back to her room until she is needed, after “a couple of graduations and a best friend’s wedding.” Construction workers arrive for “demo day” to take out the old console, a moment that rivals the dissolving of Bing Bong in the first film. Memory, buried secrets, beliefs, sense of self, are all brilliantly imagined. The emotion characters zoom in on Riley’s friends’ faces to decipher their expressions, the kinds of details a younger person might overlook. We also get to see a hilarious “Blue’s Clues” or “Dora the Explorer”-like cartoon character from Riley’s early childhood, named Bloofy (Ron Funches), who asks the audience to help him solve problems.

And as in the first, the voice talent is superb. Poehler is just right for Joy’s natural energy and ebullient enthusiasm, sometimes masking her own anxious feelings about keeping everyone confident and happy. Hawke’s slightly husky voice is perfect for Anxiety, who gives us a glimpse of her own confidence and even joy in giving Riley the tools she needs to navigate the challenges of adolescence. We can see the anxiousness in Joy and the joy in Anxiety as Riley moves toward integration of the emotions, with a very sweet moment as both the hockey players and the emotions move toward teamwork. It is a treat to hear Paula Pell as the anger inside Riley’s mom and Pixar completists might recognize the voice of “Inside Out’s” director and this film’s executive producer, Pete Docter, as Riley’s Dad’s anger. The reference to his home state of Minnesota is another nod.

Screenwriters Dave Holstein and Meg LeFauve and director Kelsey Mann were advised by a teams of experts, including psychologists and the real experts, teenage girls. This film is an exciting adventure of the heart and spirit and I look forward to happily crying through it again.

NOTE: Stay ALL the way to the end of the credits for an extra scene

Parents should know that this film has a lot of teenage angst and some mild schoolyard language. They should also know it will have a powerful impact on the parents as they remember their own adolescence and consider the emotions they fell over their children growing up.

Family discussion: How do each of the emotions help Riley? Ask members of the family how they learned to solve problems.

If you like this, try: “Inside Out” and “Everybody Rides the Carousel”

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Lightyear

Posted on June 16, 2022 at 5:54 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi peril and cartoon-style violence, sad death
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2022
Date Released to DVD: September 12, 2022

Copyright Disney 2022
Watch carefully in Lightyear for a moment just for those kids born in in the 80s who were the first digital natives. A cartridge inserted into a computer deck is not working correctly, and Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans taking over from Tim Allen) has to fix it. What does he do? Say it with me, people in their 30s: He blows on the exposed tape side and re-inserts it. Now, that may not have worked in real life, but thankfully, it works for Buzz.

This kind of detail is what we expect from Pixar, along with superbly crafted films that make us laugh, gasp, and cry. We’re reminded at the beginning of “Lightyear” that in 1995 Andy was given a Buzz Lightyear toy from his favorite movie. And then we’re told that this, what we ae about to see, is that movie. It doesn’t need to overdo the 90s references, but once in a while, like the blowing on the cartridge, we get a reminder that the lovable nerds at Pixar know us all too well.

This is not the toy Buzz Lightyear who has some existential confusion and thinks he is the actual character. This is the actual character, a lantern-jawed space ranger, the All-American boy next door type, brave, loyal, extremely good at his job, and stubbornly independent. His closest friend is fellow Ranger Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba). But he does not work well with others, especially rookies.

Buzz and Alisha are on a long-term space journey. They stop to investigate an uncharted planet and, as anyone who has ever clocked a red shit on “Star Trek” knows, it turns out to be much more treacherous than they expected (though, thankfully, to have breathable air). As they are on their way back to “the turnip,” which is what they call their rocket due to its shape, the rocket is so badly damaged they are stuck. All of the 1200 passengers who have been in suspended animation will have to be awakened to find that they are marooned, with no way to return to the mission or go home.

Buzz is determined to save the day. He undertakes a very dangerous test flight. For him, it is four minutes. But, due to the difference between time on a planet and time in space, he returns to find that four years have passed for Alicia and everyone else. Things have changed. The space travelers have built a community. Alicia is engaged to a scientist. People have adapted. Buzz feels responsible for getting them stuck and he is determined to keep trying until he gets the necessary mix of elements to give the rocket the fuel it needs. But each test run means another four years. He comes back and Alecia and her wife are expecting a child. He comes back again and the child is four years old. His life is passing in minutes and his friend’s is passing in years, in decades.

Other than Alicia, Buzz’s only companion is a robot cat. Think a combination of R2D2, C-3Po, and Captain Marvel’s Flerken. Ultimately he will find a group of people who do not have the training, discipline, or skills Buzz has always relied on in his missions. All of the difficulty he has had in relying on others is multiplied just as it has become necessary to trust them.

The reveal near the end did not work as well for me, but I especially liked the way it deals with two issues we don’t often see in movies for children, how to move on after making a mistake, learning to see the best in people, and learning to rely on others. As always with Pixar, the movie is filled with endearing characters and witty and telling details, brilliantly designed settings, sublime silliness, and exciting action scenes and yes, you will cry. It is easy to understand why this was Andy’s favorite movie.

Parents should know that this film has extended sci-fi peril and violence with scary robots and sci-fi weapons. There is a very sad death. A devoted gay couple is portrayed in an admirably matter-of-fact, low-key manner with grace and dignity.

Family discussion: Why was it hard for Buzz to accept help? What is the best way to make up for mistakes?

If you like this, try: The “Toy Story” movies, “Galaxy Quest,” and the old Flash Gordon serials.

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Turning Red

Posted on March 3, 2022 at 5:25 pm

A
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic material, suggestive content and language
Profanity: Schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 4, 2022

Copyright 2022 Pixar
Maybe think of this as “Outside In.” Pixar’s latest is like a bookend to one of its all-time best, “Inside Out.” That was a brilliant exploration of the inner life of a girl as she is beginning to feel the conflicted, intensified emotions of the middle school years, by creating characters representing her inner feelings of fear, disgust, joy, and sorrow. In “Turning Red,” we have another girl coping with puberty, but this time it is the girl herself who manifests the turmoil of adolescence in the most literal terms, turning into a huge red panda whenever she feels strong emotions.

Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) is a 13-year-old living in Toronto who is confident. She tells us the number one rule is to honor your parents and she is very proud of herself for being a straight-A student and following the rules. She has loyal and supportive friends and is good at everything she tries. And being an official adult, at least in the eyes of the Toronto Transit Commission which no longer lets her ride for the children’s rate, has her feeling that she has it all on lock.

So you know that means it’s time for things to go south, right? Or maybe more like north, as Meilin’s pituitary gland is where the trouble is starting. Meilin likes to feel in control. Numbers and rules and predictability are her comfort zone. But life has many ways of reminding us that control is an illusion, and puberty is one of its most powerfully uncontrollable. “Inside Out” was a brilliant, illuminating depiction of the more cognitive and emotional side of developmental stages in the middle school years. “Turning Red” is about the even messier side, and there is very little in life that is messier or out of control than the early years of adolescence. All of this is presented in “Turning Red” with understanding, compassion, and a lot of humor — both the good humor of empathy and the downright hilarity that Mother Nature provides so we don’t all perish of humiliation during those years.

It is very rare that a movie makes me remember how much translating I have to do to immerse myself in most films. Even those made by women are rarely able to present unfiltered female perspectives. The male experience is still the assumed norm. With “Turning Red,” I felt like an ESL student taking a break to see a film in my native language. That is not just because it is the story of a girl or even because it deals with that first time when a girl’s “red peony is blooming.” It is because it is the story of the relationship between a mother and daughter (actually three generations of mothers and daughters), told by people who deeply understand both sides of that relationship and the sweetly sad experience of separating as an essential part of growing up. Co-writer/director Domee Shi was the first woman to direct a Pixar short film, and she won an Oscar for it. That was “Bao,” the story of a mother who missed her now-grown son and wished to have him as a child again. This film has the same empathy and insight. It is about emotions — recognizing and accepting them — as much as it is about hormones.

“Turning Red” does not try to explain itself or generalize. It recognizes that essential principle of storytelling — the more specific it is, the more universal. And so, while at least one male critic so far has thrown up his hands and said he is not the target audience (that did not stop him from reviewing it) and went on to dismiss whoever the movie might be directed at as very small, in fact the intended audience for any well-told human story is anyone who is human, and in this case anyone who has puberty in his, her, or their past or future and especially anyone who may be living with, teaching, coaching, or otherwise interacting with young people. Anyone who thinks that the experience of being a young girl is just too far outside of their perspective to relate do is definitely in need of stories that illuminate that experience, if only to understand the other half of the human race.

The film has wise and witty depictions of the fierce loyalty of middle school friends and the simultaneously delicious, terrifying, and embarrassing feelings of visceral physical attraction both direct (the boy behind the cash register) and indirect (a boy band so adorable you may find yourself wishing you could attend a concert and scream along with the fans, thanks in part to songs by Billie Eilish and Fineas). Pixar always has humor, but this one has more laugh-out-loud moments than we’ve seen from them before. And it has a joyful lesson about embracing the messiness that is clearly a heartfelt message from the kind of imaginative weirdos who go to work for Pixar to help us love the weirdos inside ourselves.

Parents should know that this movie deals frankly with puberty and hormones. There are some scenes of fantasy peril and some difficult family tensions.

Family discussion: How can you be a friend as loyal as Meilin’s? Would you have made the same choice that she does? What do we learn from Ming’s relationship with her own mother?

If you like this, try: “Inside Out”

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Trailer: Pixar’s Turning Red

Posted on November 17, 2021 at 10:39 am

Pixar perfectly captured the inner life of a pre-teen in delightfully concrete form, making characters of the emotions fear, disgust, joy, and sadness in the brilliant Oscar-winner “Inside Out.” This trailer for its spring 2022 film “Turning Red” looks like a variation on that theme, with a confident, capable young girl finding her newly stronger and more complicated emotions literally coming to life. Can’t wait to see it.

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