Whether you’re a pop culture pundit or merely a diehard movie-lover, Pixar’s 20-year hot streak that began with the release of Toy Story in 1995 is both remarkable and unrivaled. Every single one of its 15 feature films has received at least an A- rating from CinemaScore; they’ve earned 15 Oscars; and their average worldwide gross is over $600 million.
When you consider the parallel success Pixar honcho John Lasseter has had since taking over as Chief Creative Officer for parent company Disney in 2006 (see: Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Big Hero 6), it’s virtually impossible to imagine any other studio having a more influential or dominating impact on its industry.
Pixar/Disney’s success is not just a matter of advancing CGI technology or even creating more sophisticated narratives for animated films. Like The Muppets and Looney Tunes before them, Pixar elevates the art form by creating stories that effectively operate at two levels– kids’ movies that resonate even more deeply with grown-ups.
The story follows 11-year-old Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), whose life is turned… well, inside out when career changes find her family uprooted from idyllic Minnesota to urban San Francisco. Leaving behind friends and familiarity, Riley’s tumultuous transition is examined through the five colorful characters who embody our core emotions– Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Joy (Amy Poehler).
Poehler is perfectly voice-cast as the irrepressible leader, a perky blue-haired pixie who struggles to maintain control over Riley’s emotional nerve center as Riley’s circumstances send her into a psychological downward spiral. But each of the other character actors carries their share of both the dramatic and comedic weight, with Smith (The Office) proving a potent scene-stealer.
This is some deep, dark territory for a film ostensibly aimed at children. But the bittersweet mood is broken up with just enough sweetness and light (including some much-needed slapstick silliness from Richard Kind as Riley’s imaginary childhood friend, a colorful elephant named Bing Bong) to keep kids from getting bored… or needing therapy.
The film is both a melancholy musing on the transition from childhood to adolescence and a psychological study on the positive role negative emotions play in a healthy psychological balance. Yet, in timeless Pixar fashion, it’s also a helluva lot of fun. –Bret Love
RATING: PG (for mild thematic elements and some action)
GENRE: Animation, Kids & Family
STARING: Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith)
DIRECTORS: Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen