Hello, all! Today we continue our trek through the highs and lows of the Summer 2015 movie season with two very different offerings from Disney and the highest-grossing film of the year (at least until The Force Awakens comes out).
Tomorrowland is a troubled and fascinating mess of a film. The would-be Disney tentpole is the second live-action film from former Pixar director Brad Bird following Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and unfortunately it’s the director’s first major misstep.
Since I’ve already written about this film I’ll get a little more personal here. I wanted to like Tomorrowland. I really did. I find the real-life Tomorrowlands in Disney parks around the world to be interesting, problematic and thematically complicated in a way I find stimulating, but Tomorrowland the film mostly finds itself just being problematic. The film feels like a lot of what is wrong with Hollywood tentpole filmmaking today- it’s obvious that what we’re seeing on-screen is not what the filmmaking team originally intended to present. It’s weird, a bit aimless and thematically vacant. Tomorrowland makes no sense: we spend the first two acts kicking tires on a silly chase until we get to Tomorrowland, and then the third act, the payoff, is mush. George Clooney fights a few robots, he ends up on a beach for some reason, Hugh Laurie delivers an angry monologue about pessimism that makes no sense – what?
It’s hard to write about Tomorrowland because it’s a bad film with such good intentions and I want to defend it, but at the end of the day it’s impossible to avoid the objective fact that it’s bad. When was the last time you heard anyone talk about it? Almost as soon as it was released, Tomorrowland disappeared from our public consciousness. Maybe it’s better that way.
Until Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out, Jurassic World holds the record for the most successful box-office opening in history. Why?
Objectively, I know. Dinosaurs. Jurassic Park is a great movie. Everyone born in the 90’s has seen it at least 10 times. Yes. Jurassic World is a different, and in pretty much all ways, inferior movie. It’s a product, it has the word “Jurassic” in its name. It’s not much of a movie.
I can fully acknowledge that I’m not a font of knowledge or the most concise voice when it comes to feminism in pop culture, but after Fury Road and Inside Out, Bryce Dallas Howard’s female protagonist in the film feels downright regressive. She’s an uptight workaholic who eventually sees the value in cherishing her family, a story arc that’s never been tackled before. And the issue of running in heels, something that has, I’ll grant, been beaten to death, still bothers me. Wisely, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation solves this issue in one shot with a line of dialogue where Rebecca Ferguson’s character asks Tom Cruise to hang on to her heels while she does something ridiculous. In Jurassic World, there’s a close-up of her heeled shoes as Bryce Dallas Howard outruns a freaking T-Rex. Is this fetishism or just ignorance?
Perhaps all this is overthinking things, but I don’t really think so. I’ve been criticized for hating on Jurassic World, but I wonder: why do we forgive Jurassic World for being stupid just because it has dinosaurs? It’s a stupid movie. We don’t have to settle for this.
If it wasn’t for Mad Max: Fury Road being the best studio summer film in years, I’d be campaigning even harder for Inside Out. It’s fantastic. Pixar has too big and too varied a filmography to lightly assign superlatives, but it’s already clear that Inside Out is one of the studio’s best films. Considering that Pixar films are almost universally better than 95% of stuff out there, that’s saying something.
ATTENTION: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
Inside Out is important. In the span of time since the film came out, it’s been almost universally celebrated by critics and filmgoers, but it’s also been embraced by the mental health community. Even though it may not be scientifically accurate, Inside Out does an incredible job of visualizing a typical journey to emotional maturity. At the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to Riley: a fairly typical 11-year-old girl at an emotional crossroads in her life. Her family has uprooted and moved to San Francisco: unlike most films, Inside Out depicts the city as cold, weird and alienating, a severe departure from most films that present it as some sort of scenic utopian fairyland. Riley struggles with issues that any of us have experienced in our pre-pubescent days: identity, belonging, our relationship with our parents (if we’re lucky). The film plots her path to maturity and emotional growth and the understanding that memories, and the emotions tied to them, are complex and not necessarily easy to define emotionally. The climax of the movie is her arriving at the realization that memories can be both happy and sad for different reasons. Over the past few years, Pixar’s films have tackled a lot of different topics about turning into an adult: Up explored loss, Brave tackled the complicated relationship between mothers and daughters and Monsters University told kids it’s OK to fail sometimes. Inside Out tells kids there’s a greater delineation in our perception of events than just “happy” or “sad.” It even leaves this up to interpretation: is the moment of Riley’s team propping her up while she wallows in her failure sad, because she failed, or happy, because her teammates supported her anyway? Inside Out splits the difference and makes you decide for yourself. I don’t think this is a cop-out, real-life emotional decisions are not easy and the answers to these questions of happiness versus sadness don’t have an easy answer. The best thing I can say about Inside Out is that I wish I saw it when I was 11, it might have made me a more complete and emotionally nuanced person. See Inside Out. It’s never to late to understand yourself, and the film provides a fascinating perspective on our emotional selves.
That’s all for now, but there’s more to come. Thanks for reading and for your patience, stay tuned.