from Nick Suss
June 22, 2015, 3:13 p.m.
Warning: This week’s edition of ASARAR revolves entirely around the new Pixar film Inside Out. As a result, spoilers for that movie may be included in this post. I say may because I haven’t written it yet. But also, this post will definitely say some pretty negative things about what are probably your favorite movies from your childhood. So if you are easily offended by someone insulting movies made for children, you might not want to read the “rant” portion of this post.
So I went to the movies last night. It was about 7:30 on Father’s Day. I expected the place to be empty. You know, because most families as I’ve always known it stay in and have a barbecue or give their dads ties on Father’s Day. But I waltz into the theater after parking in the back row of the parking lot and think “Maybe this was a bad decision.” Turns out that maybe two hours of captivated silence is the perfect Father’s Day gift. So, being that I’m not a child, I turned around and said I’ll come back later after it’s all you kids’ bedtimes. And there was really only one reason I did that. Had I been going to see Jurassic World or Spy or something that is targeted for people at least 13 or older, I would’ve just walked right into the theater without any shame. But I was planning on seeing Inside Out, the new animated movie from Pixar which I was honestly more excited for than I was the Avengers or any of the other summer blockbusters. And I, a 6-foot-3 adult man with a beard who was wearing a collared shirt and old flip-flops, did not feel it would be in my best interest to walk into a movie theater filled with kids and parents only to sit in the back of the theater by myself. I’m not worried about the perception of that so much as scaring people by my mere presence. It’s not like they would have the opportunity to get to know me or I would go around shaking everybody’s hands saying “Hey there, Nick Suss, not a pervert.” They would look at the guy laughing at the kid’s movie in the back of the theater as either deranged, demented or incredibly lonely.
So yeah, there was another showing at 10:00 o’clock, which is weird for a kid’s movie on a Sunday night. It was like they had that showing just in case people like me wanted to watch a movie free from the possibility of being shamed by the film’s actual target demographic. (I don’t think people at Disney were like “Hey, let’s make an animated movie targeted at 20-year-old men who really like comedy and are likely to blog about this on a website about 100 people know about! We’ll be rich!”) So I had a lot o time to kill. I went and grabbed a burger from a nearby place where burgers are served, but still had an hour to kill after that. So I wandered aimlessly around a mall parking lot for about 20 minutes – which in retrospect was probably more sketchy than seeing a movie with a bunch of kids – before returning to my car to pop on YouTube and continue binge-watching season two of the Fine Bros’ fantastic sitcom MyMusic. (This is an endorsement of MyMusic. You haven’t heard of it but you should watch it.) But eventually I went in and saw the movie. Which leads us to…
So whenever I see a movie I really like, I try to contextualize it by comparing it to other movies I really like. And Inside Out is definitely in that category. Before I start breaking down why I love it, let me just say that the animation was beautiful, the voice acting was outstanding from the actors who everyone should know like Amy Poehler and Bill Hader to the obscure actors who I guarantee I was the only person to recognize in the theater like Paula Pell. (She’s been a writer for SNL for around two decades and is brilliant. Look her up. You might recognize her from a really brief appearance in Birdman.) And the characters were extremely relatable and well-developed for something that isn’t a television show. (I feel like I’m cheating on TV by talking about a movie right now.) But it’s the plot that really got to me. As I explained it to a few people after I saw the movie, Inside Out was like a mix between Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future, Inception and Toy Story in premise.
The Lord of the Rings angle is about character relationships. There is a group of main characters who all have the same goal but with ulterior motives for achieving it. Two characters are separated from the pack and encounter an unlikely guide who tries to navigate them back to where they were going. That guide ends up sacrificing itself in a moment that totally made me cry no shame whatsoever for the good of the protagonist. It has the adventure aspect of LotR down to a tee. But I’m going to jump the gun and explain the Toy Story connection next because this is a good segue. Inside Out perfectly borrowed the “Woody and Buzz get separated from the pack and have to learn how to work together in order to help out everyone in the end” dynamic and actually made it better. But trust me we’ll have more on that later. A central spark for the conflict in this movie was even that fact that a child’s family was moving, which many of you might remember from Toy Story. But what differentiated here was the Inception-like use of tropes from inside a thought process to personify emotions and thoughts. Yes, there is a fine line between Inception and The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl and I think Inside Out borrowed from both, but there are scenes in this movie where you see towers crumble into an abyss, just like you would in Limbo in Inception. I’m not sure if this is an homage or if this is coincidental, but I couldn’t help but see this movie through a Nolan-esque lens. But here’s the thing: Many of you know that Back to the Future is one of my favorite movies and this movie managed to tap into the panic and pacing of that classic. It dealt with the conflicts of being forgotten, being erased, never existing and battling against time to maintain the fabric of who you are. Of course, very few of the kids in the theater would have felt that existential twinge of fighting against yourself to find an identity. But the deeper meaning of Marty McFly’s journey was evident in Joy’s journey. There is a fear of the unknown that many kids movies address. Cartoons are among the best ways to teach children. Entertaining is a valuable resource. And I’ve seen a lot of Pixar movies in my day. Not all, but most. And I do think that there has never been a better message in a Pixar movie than the one found in Inside Out. Which leads us to…
So I’ve decided as my rant for this week I’m going to rank my top five Pixar movies. You’re not going to agree with this list. Bear in mind this is not a list of my favorite Pixar movies but it is also not wholly objective. I’m not going to regurgitate RottenTomatoes scores or personal preference. Think of this as semi-objective reasoning. There will come a point where you realize you disagree completely. Voice your opinion in the comments.
No. 5. Toy Story 3
Let’s get this right out in the open. Toy Story 3 is the best Toy Story movie. Yes. I’m dropping the gauntlet. I’ve got Toy Story 3 at number five and no other Toy Story movies will be appearing on this countdown. Drop the nostalgic superiority complex you have about the first two movies. They are simple, self-contained movies that rely far more on sympathy than story-telling to get their points across. There are three Pixar movies I haven’t seen, but of the 12 I’ve seen, I think I would rank Toy Story at seven and Toy Story 2 at nine. They aren’t bad movies. But they’re just not up to the standards of what Pixar has become. Starting with the first one, the main villain of the film is a character who we are conditioned to hate because he tortures toys. But he doesn’t know those toys are alive. How can we endorse these toys eventually attacking Sid’s psyche for him playing with his toys the way he knows how. And the second Toy Story is the Half-Blood Prince of the series. It’s good and all, but I don’t want to see my heroes deal with weird “Who Am I?” sort of questions. Just get to the action or the happiness or the sorrow or the humor already. Jeez. Not even Kelsey Grammer saved that movie from being what it is: good but not best.
Toy Story 3 on the other hand is complex. It deals with those same emotions from the second one but in a much more layered way. And yes, it’s drenched in nostalgia too. But this movie was made to be nostalgic. It hasn’t become nostalgic just because we’re about the same age as Andy. The storytelling was crisp and both of the endings evoked emotions that no scene in either of the first two achieved for me. I loved Toy Story 3. But not as much as…
No. 4. Up
Here’s the thing about Up. The first scene of the movie is the greatest scene in the history of American animated films in my opinion. I’ve never seen anything like it and I likely never will. The rest of the movie comparatively sucks. But that’s just because nothing will live up to those first 12 or so minutes. I think this movie legitimately deserved to win Best Picture. It didn’t because obviously but it was a sincere, sweet movie about growing up, moving on and death. Yes, death. This is a kid’s movie that taught a generation about death in a much healthier way than an uncle lion murdering a father lion. (Yes. That was for many people my age our first exposure to death. Would’ve been mine too if my mom didn’t fast forward the tape every time Mufasa was about to die.) For that reason alone, Up is my No. 4 pick. It spun an incredibly dark yet captivating story and did a better job at it than almost any other Pixar movie. But not as good as…
No. 3. Inside Out
Yes, I’ve only seen it once. But I’ve also only seen Up and Toy Story 3 once, and I know I like those better than some movies that didn’t make my list. Inside Out is great. See it. I’ll probably see it again. But with these last two movies, I don’t need to say probably.
No. 2. Monster’s Inc
Full disclosure: Monster’s Inc is my favorite Pixar movie and my second favorite animated movie of all time after Shrek, which is the best animated movie ever made COME AT ME. But I’ll try not to ramble too much about Monster’s Inc because I need a lot of space to ramble about my No. 1 pick. So here’s the condensed version. Monster’s Inc is both the funniest Pixar movie to date and the most imaginative. Yeah, Wall-E is very imaginative too. Those are 1a and 1b for sure. But Monster’s Inc takes a premise that I can’t even fathom anyone pitching and weaves it into a great kids’ movie, a satire of industry, an excellent adventure film and a coming-of-age story. Not many movies can claim to be all of those. Shrek can. COME AT ME. But Monster’s Inc does one thing better than any other Pixar movie. It ends. Yeah yeah Toy Story 3 yadda yadda nostalgia. The ending to Monster’s Inc is perfectly self-contained and the sole reason I haven’t seen Monster’s University. The ending was perfect. I don’t need any more. But as perfect as that movie was, there is still one better Pixar movie. Here it is.
No. 1. Finding Nemo
You all thought I was going to go with The Incredibles, didn’t you? Well I didn’t. I went with the best Pixar movie. And you want to know why it is the best. Because at its heart it still is a kids’ movie. It doesn’t hammer you over the head with a lesson. The lesson just happens. The importance of family and the unique bond between a father and a son is dripping from this movie but you don’t realize it until you’ve seen it as an adult. As a kid, it’s just a funny movie with a great adventure. I don’t know how old Finding Nemo is at this point. I’m pretty sure it’s about 12 or 13 years old. But to me it is still the most beautifully animated film Pixar has ever made. Every stroke is brilliant. And as a movie, it does something that’s nearly impossible: It made a great film without a villain. This movie doesn’t have an antagonist. It has conflict. There are minor villains that impede progress. But no villain. It really is like the kids’ movie version of The Odyssey. And as I’m on record as saying that The Odyssey is the greatest work of fiction ever written, I kind of have to keep the tone going here. Inside Out too didn’t have a central villain, but as I was watching it I couldn’t help but relate the idea of the journey with the guide construct to Nemo. It’s a perfect animated movie and the best one Pixar has ever made. It’s not Shrek, but hey, nothing is. Finding Nemo is a brilliant piece of cinema. Way better than Toy Story or Wall-E or Up or Ratatouille or even Monster’s Inc, which hurts me to say. Yeah, it’s a little more juvenile than some of the darker Pixar movies that came after it, but that’s what makes it so great. It’s a compelling movie for adults that didn’t need to work in overt adult themes. They were subtextual. They were there. But the overwhelming majority of the movie was the greatest journey in the history of animation. As a plot, Pixar has never done better. And that is my rant for the week. Feel free to disagree. You should disagree. But I’ll fight back.