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Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

Pixar’s Colorful ‘Inside Out’ is Thought-Provoking

posted by jtotey
(L-R) The Emotions: Fear, Sadness, Joy, Disgust and Anger (Disney/Pixar)

(L-R) The Emotions: Fear, Sadness, Joy, Disgust and Anger (Disney/Pixar)

When it comes to Pixar films, the question really isn’t, “Is it any good” but rather, “How good is it?” Since the beginning with Toy Story, the studio has created such an image for itself that audiences expect greatness with everything that they do, which is saying a lot. In the case with their latest venture into the human mind and the emotions that occupy within it, it is a story unlike any of the studio’s other films. Many critics are claiming that Inside Out is the studio’s best work ever.

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Inside Out took a total of five years to make which probably had to do with the fact that they were creating a whole new environment without much to model after. For instance, Toy Story is about a bunch of toys that come alive when their owner, Andy, is not home. For the filmmakers, they knew what the toys, the human characters and their surrounding looked like. Inside Out takes place mostly inside the head of an 11-year-old girl, Riley and most of the characters are imaginary. Who knows what Anger really looks like? For this film, Pixar chose two radical different looks. A more realistic version for Riley “outside her head life” and a more fuzzy, whimsical look that is similar to Disney’s Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom of 1953.

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Here is the basic plot: Riley and her parents uproot from their home in Minnesota to San Francisco, California. The transition is a difficult one for Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) as she has to deal with a new home, new school and new friends. Her Mom (Diane Lane) and Dad (Kyle MacLachlan), try to help, but they have their own concerns to deal with as well.

Inside Riley’s head lives five emotions who all work together for the common good of Riley, which is essentially to keep her happy at all times. The workers on duty are Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Joy is the ringleader of the bunch and possibly the self-appointed leader. She was the first one to arrive, so that makes sense. She seems to appreciate the other’s contributions, even if she has to steer them to think through things a different way, but she doesn’t really seem to “get” Sadness nor the role that she plays in Riley’s life.

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Mom, Dad and Riley making do in their new home before their furniture arrives. (Disney/Pixar)

Mom, Dad and Riley making do in their new home before their furniture arrives. (Disney/Pixar)

Just as Riley is having a hard time with her new surroundings, Sadness doesn’t seem to be herself either and keeps touching things that she shouldn’t. She doesn’t even know why she does what she does. Joy finds keeping Sadness in check a challenge and in one incident, while trying to protect Riley, she ends up kicking herself and Sadness out of the brain’s headquarters, leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust to fend for themselves. From there, Joy and Sadness spend the rest of the movie trying to make their way back through the maze that which is the brain. Along the way, they meet various other obscure characters like Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s long-forgotten imaginary friend, ride the Train of Thought and end up in odd places like the Subconscious. It’s all pretty abstract.

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Now, while I appreciate this film, I don’t love it like I thought I would. For me, the story was so abstract at times, that it was hard to really “feel” what these characters were going through. You never really know which situations actually presents a real danger to these characters. There are some funny bits that explain why you forget some things and why other things, like annoying catchy jingles can stick in your head, but overall, the comedy is lacking in this film. Another thing that I have always appreciated about the Pixar stories is that relationships with others is always central to the storyline. Here, Joy and Sadness go on a buddy trip and while Joy learn to appreciate Sadness, it comes off more like she tolerates her rather than befriends her. However, the concept that sadness can actually be a good thing will resonate hard with some viewers. The film also shows some beautiful scenes involving Riley and her parents, especially the one at the end, where they all admit to one another that it is “okay” to feel bad every once in awhile. The film is very pro-family, which is always comforting to see. Finally, the end credits features the funniest gags in the whole movie: We get to see what a dog is thinking and then later, a cat. Priceless.

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"Lava" (Disney/Pixar)

“Lava” (Disney/Pixar)

As is the tradition, Inside Out comes with a special short film to start off your viewing pleasure. Like the movie it precedes, Lava is beautiful to look at. It is basically volcano love story of all things. The simple story actually has a profound ending that will go over the heads of children in the audience. In short, it is an allegory about holding onto to faith. Whether this was intended or not by the studio, Christians can view the short as an encouragement when one is disappointed with God. His timing is not our timing, but it is always perfect.

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Meet the Brains Behind the Emotions of ‘Inside Out’

posted by jtotey
Jonas Rivera (producer) and Pete Docter (writer and director) for Inside Out (Disney/Pixar)

Jonas Rivera (producer) and Pete Docter (writer and director) for Inside Out (Disney/Pixar)

Recently, I got a chance to meet with two of Disney/Pixar’s most animated characters in an intimate round table discussion of their newest flick, Inside Out. Across from me sat Pete Docter, who is not only the vice president of creative at Pixar Animation Studios, but he also wrote and directed Inside Out. He’s been with Pixar since 1990 with his first assignment helping to develop the story and characters for Toy Story. Next to him was producer Jonas Rivera who joined Pixar in 1994 as the company’s first intern. After all these years, they are still in love with the company. They call themselves Disneylanders as they love the theme parks as much as we do. Together, they have been working on their latest project for five years, which is a long time to be talking about your feelings.

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The woman next to me asks the first question to the pair: “How was the concept for this film born?”

“Well, it was sort of born thinking about emotions as characters. I was just doing a mind exercise like what would be fun to play with and emotions seemed like what animation does best, which is [show] strong opinionated like characturized personalities,” says Docter. “About that time, my daughter was eleven and she was going through a big kind of change as kids do from playing around on the ground with dolls to a little more quiet, so that change made me kind of wonder what was going on inside her head and maybe we could explore that a little bit.” This wasn’t the first time that Docter used his own flesh and blood for inspiration. His daughter’s personality and voice was used forYoung Ellie in UP.

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“When [Pete] pitched [the idea] to me, I thought, this is a really great opportunity and a great arena to try to develop a movie,” says Rivera. “It felt like something that was familiar but foreign at the same time. No one has seen these things but probably thought about anger and dreams and…you know, things like that.”

When I saw the film, I was surprised that when the credits rolled, many of the other reviewers in the room were wiping their eyes. The film has a great message, but it seemed to hit home with some harder than others. I asked the film’s creators if they were surprised by these kinds of reactions.

“I am pleased that they are. Surprised? I’m always surprised that this stuff works – not that I don’t trust in it, but that we get so close to it that it is hard to judge, says Rivera.

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The emotions: Joy, Disgust, Fear, Anger and Sadness (Disney/Pixar)

The emotions: Joy, Disgust, Fear, Anger and Sadness (Disney/Pixar)

“Watching it over a course of five years, you see it go from completely broken and not working to slowly finding [its way],” adds Docter. “By the end, you sort of find that the system has put it through enough hoops to really road test it. That doesn’t mean that there are any guarantees that the public will like it. That’s out of our control. It’s always gratifying. Obviously, you want laughs, but I almost feel a deeper understanding of what it is that I’m talking about when you see people emotionally moved.”

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I then got a chance to talk about the pair’s personal faith knowing that Docter is a devout Christian. Rivera tells me that he is a fair-weather Catholic at best. I ask if their faith ever causes conflict in their work.

“Not really. I almost feel that the most effective stuff is when it’s not too preachy,” says Docter. “A lot of Christian folks have said, ‘When are you going to make like a real Christian film?’ and I’m like, ‘That’s not really the way to go about it.’ I feel like who I am kind of comes out in the work and what you believe comes out in your actions, you know, so, hopefully that’s not too round about…”

I assure him that I agree with what he was saying, but I pressed further wanting to know if they ever have to tell the studio or whomever “No, we don’t feel comfortable with that content” or something similar.

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“No. I think though that there is kind of a mix of belief systems at work, but I feel like the gospel, if you will, of Pixar is really about community. All the films, if you look at them, are about someone who feels like they are on the outside in some way and reconnecting with a group and redefining their family,” Docter explains. “In a way, I think that’s our story. I was a nerd and didn’t fit in with anybody in high school and felt like I went a long time without any close friends. Then you get to a place like Pixar and everyone else knows Chuck Jones cartoons and quotes from Peanuts comic strips… so this feel sort of reflects our own craving for community and closeness and so I think there’s never been any problems that you’re talking about.”

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However, Rivera has a different take on the subject “We have noticed that it does feel that some of the reviews for films like Brave were compared to our other films. So they’ll say, ‘It’s really great. It’s not as great as their others.’ That’s funny. I never see that for a Warner Bros. review like ‘that’s a great Warner Bros. film, not the best Warner Bros. movie but…”

The two see this criticism as a good thing. “We have a brand and there’s an expectation and we’ll take that. And that’s fair. We don’t make [movies] expecting everyone to like them all the same or all equal. We don’t put this one out there and hope that it’s better than UP or say something like ‘I hope that it makes more money.’ We just hope that it makes enough money so that they’ll let us make another one,” says Rivera.

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Docter adds“On one level, it’s made us appreciate where we’ve been. We had such an unbelievable run from Toy Story to wherever you want to draw the line of critical audience and monetary success – it just kind of had everything and it wasn’t easy, but I think it makes you appreciate how special and unique it is when it does work. If you were to write a book about it, there have been about three or so phases of the feeling from inside the early days of Toy Story and A Bug’s Life…it felt like a garage. People doing it just for fun. And then kind of falling into a bit more rhythm and now it’s gotten bigger. I guess my point with all that is that it’s changed several times over a course of 25 years.”

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Rivera nods in agreement. “I would say though that it hasn’t changed in how we develop things. It starts with a great volley and sort of a nugget of an idea. Although that the company has scaled up – it’s enormous now with 1,200 people from the 110 we had at Toy Story, I’m really proud that it’s retained that spirit and DNA. We know a little more about the world, but we just going to focus on what we do and keep going.”

Before our time was up, the two shared with us a few of the hidden Easter eggs in the film. For one, the Pizza Planet truck from Toy Story shows up about three times “very well disguised” says Docter and then Rivera, almost giddy, explains that there is a hidden portrait of the character Figment from the EPCOT attraction, “Journey to Imagination.” Finally, there is a nod to the next Disney/Pixar film, The Good Dinosaur which is coming to theaters around Thanksgiving.

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‘Jurassic World’ IS this Summer’s Blockbuster

posted by jtotey
Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins star in Jurassic World. (Universal)

Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins star in Jurassic World. (Universal)

Movie Review: ‘Jurassic World’

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Forty years ago, Steven Spielberg and Universal Studios helped create the term “summer blockbuster” with the release of Jaws. This summer he is the executive producer of this summer’s blockbuster, Jurassic World, also produced by Universal. The third sequel in the Jurassic Park franchise, is everything you want and hope for in a summer flick: non-stop action, comedy relief and a few scares too.

It’s been fourteen years since we’ve last visited the Isla Nublar and much has changed. Despite the tragic events of the original Jurassic Park, the island now features a bigger and better dinosaur theme park as if nothing bad had ever happened. Sparing no expense, like the park’s original owner, Jurassic World needs to create new attractions every two to three years to keep visitors interested in dinosaurs. You would think that the fascination would never die, but as one scene shows a dinosaur petting zoo, a teenager says, “this area is for little kids.” And so, in order to fulfill a corporate obligation, a new hybrid dinosaur has been created, but this being Jurassic World, something is bound to go wrong. Big time.

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Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) see something unexpected on their "ride." (Universal)

Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) see something unexpected on their “ride.” (Universal)

The sequel has all the elements we liked from the first film – curious children, greedy and ego-driven adults, a few voices of reasons, a little romance and lots of scary monsters. Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) is the only character that reprises his role from the original film, (and even so, he is only in a few minutes of screen time), so we are introduced into a bunch of new characters. Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) are brothers sent to visit their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who runs the park while their parents meet with lawyers to finalize their divorce. Gray is the younger, more sensitive sibling with a huge love for dinosaurs while Zach is the older teen “get-out-of-my-face” brother. As you can expect, Claire is too busy to actually spend time with the boys and pawns them off to her assistant Zara (Katie McGrath) instead. Meanwhile, Chris Pratt plays Owen who is a specialist(?), trainer(?)…some sort of dinosaur expert who understands the creatures better than anyone else in the park. Claire asks that Owen come meet with Masrani (Irrfan Khan) about his concerns with the new beast about to go on display. Do you really need me to say that the boys get separated from the adults, that the new dino escapes and that smug intellectual business people will soon be humbled? Didn’t think so.

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Jurassic World is written and directed by Colin Trevorrow, who have done both Michael Crichton and Spielberg proud by keeping his story in sync with their’s. It is a wild ride that matches the tone of the original featuring many references to the first films, including props, locations and even a few lines from the park’s visionary, John Hammond. It’s not a re-hash of the first film, though it proves that man hasn’t learned his lesson that he can’t play God and so the same consequences occur.

Chris Pratt in "Jurassic World."

Will Chris Pratt save the day? Of course he does! (Universal)

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This film offers some special screen time for dinosaurs only briefly featured in the other films. The best are the terradactyls which make Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds look like pigeons in the park. Some will be surprised by Chris Pratt’s contribution in that he isn’t goofy. He’s an intelligent hero who’s not afraid of getting his hands dirty. He comes with just enough sarcasm but is not too full of himself. His character is contrasted with the prim and proper businesswoman, Claire who is always professional and never has a hair out of place. She too is a breath of fresh air in cliched characters in that even though she is all business, she clearly has a heart. The two have a great chemistry together without being too predictable.

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As good as this film is and the fact that the film is inspired by the books by Michael Crichton, don’t expect it to be too highbrow. Though the film is PG-13, the strong language is kept to a minimum and most of the violence and blood happen briefly or off screen, still, it will be too intense for little ones no matter how much they bug you to see the film.

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TobyMac to Release ‘This is Not a Test’ in August, Two Tracks Available Today

posted by jtotey
(The Media Collective)

(The Media Collective)

Though six-time GRAMMY® winner TobyMac’s new album, This is Not a Test, won’t hit store shelves until August 7, two songs from it are available to download today on iTunes. The 13-track studio album is TobyMac’s sixth and is available for pre-order as well as two advance songs, “Beyond Me” and “Backseat Driver” with Hollyn and TRU. This comes with the announcement of his next 36-city concert tour which kicks off in the fall.

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The title of the album comes as a reminder to “make every moment count, and make every second count,” explains TobyMac. “I started collecting concepts as soon as I turned in the last record three years ago, and started working on this album a year and a half ago. The concepts are all based on my life experiences.”

Once again, Toby has collaborated with a number of diverse singers and musicians for his latest project including former DC Talk bandmates Kevin Max and Michael Tait. (This is the first time in ten years people!) He also worked with Capital Kings, Ryan Stevenson, TRU and Hollyn. One song, “Undeniable” features the voices of students from New Hope Academy located in Franklin, TN. “Collaborating allows us to appreciate our differences and makes us more receptive to each other,” says Toby, “ I’m honored to collaborate with my songwriters, produce with my co-producers and I am honored to take the stage with my band. There is a richness to what humans do when they come together and collaborate.”

TobyMac and friends performed “Beyond Me” recently on NBC.com’s Beyond A.D. digital talk show last month.

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