Tag Archives: disney

Film review: Inside Out (UK Gala Screening)

A couple of weeks ago, BuzzFeed did a rundown of the year’s movie hits and misses, defined mainly by box office take. Tomorrowland – which I enjoyed so much I blogged about it twice – performed modestly at the box office and therefore was classified in the ‘miss’ category. Inside Out, which toppled the mighty Jurassic World from its multi-million dollar perch and has been drowning in glowing reviews, would – by this reckoning – rule the ‘hit’ column. But here’s the curious thing: when it comes to essentials, Inside Out and Tomorrowland are astonishingly similar.

How so? Well, their strengths – proper, rounded female characters; an inspiring message; a beautifully realised fantasy world – are the same; their weaknesses – more emphasis on set up and world exploration than tight plotting – are also the same, although I must say in both cases I didn’t actually care if it was all brought to a mildly unresolved conclusion quite suddenly in the last ten minutes. The journeys are considerably more interesting – creatively speaking – than the destinations.

Of course I loved Inside Out. There was a lot to love. Pixar ingenuity and humour drip from every scene; the animation is glorious, and Pete Docter’s ability to drag on the heartstrings remains unparalleled. We were delighted to be surprised by Docter (!), Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger (!!) and the voice of Joy, Amy Poehler (!!!) at the screening; Poehler asked the kids if they were ready to laugh and the grown ups if they were ready to cry, because when it comes to emotions there is no man better qualified to mess with the mind than the creator of Monsters, Inc. and Up! (never has an exclamation mark concealed so many bitter, salty tears).

As the film has been out for a while in the US and the teaser trailer was everywhere for a while, I’m going to skip the plot summary and cut straight to the key things I think people should know about Inside Out – all of which are, in my opinion, excellent reasons to see it.

  • IT’S A GIRL! Aside from Merida – and that was still in the princess area, albeit not the traditional sort – Pixar has been rather short of female leads thus far. Much is done to make up for this here. In fact, I can’t remember a non-princess animated film with women on screen for such a large proportion of it. It passes the Bechdel Test in its sleep. Riley’s interests centre around her (female!) friends, ice hockey, and generally being 11 years old and a bit daft. Her emotions are of mixed gender (an interesting choice – especially as adults are portrayed as single gender), but the majority are female, and it is two key female emotions (Joy and Sadness) who steer the action.
  • It continues, as is Pixar and Walt Disney Animation’s way, to make profound statements and use animation as a device rather than a distraction. The idea that as we grow up we can no longer be piloted by pure Joy, but have to accept the role of Sadness in our lives, is, by definition, bittersweet. It seems strange to me that people still assume kids made to include children are only for children – especially as the major studios are continually putting out films with an adult audience in mind – but if that might be your reason for missing Inside Out, then you’re just plain missing out.
  • There are Easter Eggs and jokes galore – I’m not even sure I caught a fraction of them (although even my daughter’s ears perked up at the snatch of Grim Grinning Ghosts!). The credit sequence is brilliant too, so don’t be too quick to bolt up from your seat.
  • The now obligatory short, Lava, beforehand, is pretty cute.

Almost-5yo child’s verdict:

Joy was my favourite, then Sadness, then Disgust. Mama, Daddy looks kind of like Fear [he does], I look a bit like Disgust [she does] and you look a bit like Sadness [ha!]. I thought it was really funny and I liked the bit with the rocket. The bit with the clown scared me a bit.

We then spent a happy afternoon filling in the sticker book we were given at the screening, and using the discussion prompts to talk about what makes us happy, sad, scared, disgusted and angry. I’m pleased to report the child has a much harder time thinking of things that make her sad and angry than thinking of things that make her happy, which suggests that her Joy is operating at optimum levels… and my Fear hasn’t got the better of me.

I leave you, then, with the gallery of Joy – photos from the screening, some taken by the lovely Rochelle Dancel, at which we had an absolute ball. Thanks Disney!

Disclosure: I was given tickets to the screening by Disney UK and all attendees got a little bag of goodies including snacks, themed sunglasses, mood door hangers and a sticker book. This is not a paid post and all opinions are my own.

Film review: Big Hero 6

IMG_4577By now, it’s likely you will have seen posters featuring Baymax, a portly inflatable robot, and probably watched the trailers of him footling gently behind a football that remains just out of his reach. The question, of course, is if this evidently charming and unlikely superhero’s sweetness can provide a solid core for the latest Walt Disney Animation outing- and the first to use one of their Marvel properties.

In a word: yes. In a few words: a thousand times yes. Baymax (voiced gorgeously by Scott Adsit) is a beautifully realised creation – a ‘personal healthcare companion’ created by idealistic nerd Tadashi Hamada and inadvertently bequeathed to his younger brother  Hiro  (Ryan Potter) after a terrible tragedy. Baymax’s relationship with a slowly recovering Hiro forms the essential core of a film that – while it has many fast-paced sequences and explosive exchanges – is in many ways a tender love story. It packs in the brilliant irreverence and humour of a Marvel adventure, but tempers it with lashings of heart. In fact, what it reminded me of most was ET.

IMG_4590The beautiful setting of San Fransokyo, a near-future East-meets-West mashup, is somewhere I instantly wished I could visit, crammed with touristy cable cars and cherry blossoms but also with a seedy backstreet or two so that it felt just real enough. Hiro’s life is also a welcoming mixture of the mundane (familiar forms of transportation) and the ridiculous (his carbon-fibre 3D printer). The film eagerly champions geekery and also acknowledges the inevitability of failure; at some point every character finds themselves in a bind they have to think – not just blast – their way out of. And there are plenty of fanboy references to keep the nerdiest fan entertained (I can’t have been the only person who flashed on Tom Fitzgerald’s Horizons legacy when Hiro announces of a new invention that “if you can think it, they can do it”).

IMG_4576A review of this would be incomplete if it failed to mention one of the things I was most heartened by, which is that Big Hero 6 does more to advance the position of women in the Disney Animation stable than anything that has come before – even Wreck It Ralph and, yes, Frozen. The latter certainly did its bit to advance the princess narrative but in the case of Big Hero 6 there are strides made in abundance. The title refers to a superhero crew made up of a ragtag band of nerds from a university science programme; two of them are female, and each in her own way defies expectation. While Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is fond of stilettos and pink, she is also obsessively pedantic about science and unashamedly smart and capable. Speed-obsessed Go Go Tomago  (Jamie Chung) bats the boys out of the way, demonstrating her impressive physicality and barking at them to “woman up”, but never becomes a Strong Female Character stereotype, showing a full range of emotions.

This trend continues outside the heroic sextet. Hiro and Tadashi’s Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph), raising them since the loss of their parents, is a loving parent but not necessarily a natural one; she also sinks time, passion and love into running her own business. Dropping in to Tadashi’s lab for the first time, Hiro ambles past quite a few women tinkering away alongside the men – and a number of experienced scientists featured in the film are female. Best of all, I’ve already noticed this reflected in the merchandising, with the female characters displayed among the men, in fighting poses, and with their physical features represented – such as Go Go’s muscular legs. And as for the boys? Well, most of them are shown as eschewing unnecessary violence, offering affection and exhibiting fears; my favourite, Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr) is a welcome and genuinely funny mixture of insecurity and swagger.

Given that this balance is at the core of each character, its no surprise that the real power of Big Hero 6 lies in its essential humanity. Every element of it is rooted in relationships – in love, in loss, in revenge and in redemption. These are weighty themes for the most youth-focussed of Marvel outings, but in many ways the naive directness of childhood is what makes it so perfect a medium for this message.

Beautiful, smart, moving and funny; I couldn’t recommend it more.

Big Hero 6 is on general release in the UK on January 30th. It is preceded by an insanely adorable short, Feast.

Parental advisory: I have a nervous 4-year-old who needs gentle leading into some films so I pre-vet them for her. In terms of scary moments this is quite manageable; there’s a spooky-looking villain and a lot of loud fights, but no teeth-and-claws scariness. There is a great end-credit sequence worth getting through the wriggling for.

Disclaimer: Disney UK kindly provided tickets for the UK gala screening where the above funtimes were had, and there were some cute snacks provided by sponsors. Opinions are entirely my own.

2015: My Film Year

So, 2015’s Year of Asking is already shaping up rather nicely. I’ve used it to book into catch up dates with three people I’ve been doing the “let’s do tea” dance with for far too long. I contacted a brand with a cheeky request and it paid off. Basically, we’re a week in, and it’s all looking pretty good.

So, for a more fun resolution, or goal (the word we use when it’s not a resolution, just a goal, like it’s not a diet, it’s a healthy eating plan) or just general hope for the year, I’ve realised that film – something I used to be seriously into, but which kind of fell by the wayside with time and parenthood – has muscled its way back into my sightline. Okay, it’s far more blockbusters and far fewer indies (not because I don’t like them, but just because time means I have a more superficial grasp of what’s happening – and since Ramona there’s a certain amount of misery I can no longer take). But who cares? This is my year of film, and I don’t need to justify my taste or choices to anyone other than myself, and whichever poor sap I force to come with me.

So, here is my list of things I want to see this year. It will grow, undoubtedly, and I’ll try to remember to come and tick things off as they happen, or link to reviews if I scribble them. Although they’re simply in alphabetical order (projected release date order just got too messy), the ones in bold are the ones I’m OMGSUPEREXCITED about, so are the most likely to actually get watched asap… though it also assumes that those in the latter part of the year will see their UK release before 2016.

Ant-Man – watched
Avengers: Age of Ultron – thoughts
Big Hero 6 reviewed
Birdman – watched 
Cinderella reviewed (plus Frozen Fever)
The Dreamer
The Fantastic Four
Far From the Madding Crowd
The Good Dinosaur

Inside Out – reviewed
Into The Woods – reviewed
The Jungle Book
Jurassic World – watched
Mistress America – not reviewed but utterly marvellous
Mockingjay Part 2
Mr Holmes – watched

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens
Suffragette – reviewed after the BFI Opening Night Gala
Testament of Youth
The Theory of Everything – thoughts (with thoughts on Only Lovers Left Alive)
Tomorrowland – reviewed after the European premiere! Also some (slightly spoilery) further thoughts
Trumbo – reviewed after the BFI LFF gala

Am I missing something really obvious you think I would like? Bear in mind that I do also like quiet, lovely or clever little films (as well as loud, explosive or clever big films) but can’t really be dealing with horror (soz Crimson Peak – Hiddleston almost won out, but no). I’d love to hear suggestions that would help broaden the list a bit or introduce me to something I might not otherwise have thought of watching.

Five things you should do over the Christmas break…

As with many bloggers, I find myself with many post ideas brewing in my head – but I occasionally lack the time to actually write them. It seems to me that many of the things I’ve been thinking about lately are things I’d like to do when I have more time. And while I’m still working throughout December, there is always more time around Christmas for doing Things and also Stuff. So here are five things I’d either like to do or recommend doing during the downtime – in whatever amounts you get it – before the new year.

No resolutions necessary – unless you want to.

1. Read Joanne M. Harris’s The Gospel of Loki 

…and while you’re at it, follow her on Twitter, for she is delightful.

I’d actually fallen a little out of love with some of Harris’s writing after somewhat bingeing on it after Chocolat. Around the time of Five Quarters of the Orange I’d felt like there wasn’t much more I wanted to read. It happens sometimes, and it doesn’t really necessarily have as much to do with the author as where you are right at that moment.

Anyway, a few months ago I started to see tube posters for this, and it looked very different. And I think no Tom Hiddleston Marvel fan could quite resist being plunged back into the Norse mythology that has spawned a thousand books, comics, films, plays, artworks and Allfather knows what all.

The Gospel of Loki delivers in spades. For a start it’s extremely funny – sometimes just in the turn of phrase, but often in the broadly grotesque characterisation that our fiendish narrator employs to breathe life into his antagonistic fellow Asgardians. And then it is by turns gut-wrenching, guiltily relatable and uncomfortably tense. Loki, forever a victim in his own head, is the perfect anti-hero, and incredibly cleverly drawn; he walks the extremely delicate line between sympathy and disgust, being largely a terrible individual that you somehow root for anyway. The delightful episodic storytelling took me right back to childhood and falling in love with the stories from The Odyssey, and there’s nothing like starting a new book with a cast of characters (except maybe a map. Books with maps = the greatest).

2. Wear something ridiculous

A lot of lucky people (like me) will be working from home for at least part of the festive season, but to be honest I’ve worn every single one of these ridiculous articles into the office in the last three months (yay creative industries!).  So let out your most ridiculous side because honestly? It really does make you feel weirdly happier.


loki thor

I imagine you might be picking up on a theme here, but don’t worry – that’s about it. At least for this post. Maybe.

3.  Give something… extra

If you’re sitting there thinking “well, it’s Christmas, duh!” I don’t blame you, but I’m not talking about the usual presents for friends and family. I’m talking about considering how you can spread a little cheer to a stranger (or even not a stranger, but someone you wouldn’t usually give something to – perhaps even the time of day). It could be a donation of money or time, a present to someone who isn’t expecting one or even a clear out for your local charity shop.

I’ve been thinking about this a fair bit after we had a bit of a mess up with a Disney Store order that didn’t arrive. In the interim I nipped into an actual bricks and mortar store to buy the key item just in case it couldn’t be resolved by Christmas Day. I kept the receipt thinking I’d return the excess item if all worked out.

Disney Store has now resolved the issue, and we have both items. But then I started thinking about doing something else with the spare one (it’s a dressing up costume). I could give it to another child as a Christmas present, and I might. But I could also get in touch with a local hospital and see if they could do with something new for the children’s ward. Or I could auction it on eBay and set the proceeds to go 100% to a charity (won’t make as much as the original sale price, but I can top up AND someone who perhaps can’t afford the full whack will still get the gift). Or I could return it and donate the money. I haven’t really worked out what I’ll do yet, and it might well not get to anyone by the big day, but I figure presents are welcome all year round. The point is, there are opportunities to be generous even in places you didn’t expect, so maybe consider even more options than you already do (if you haven’t already).

In related news: if you’re not a Kiva lender already, do consider making that a giving resolution.

4. Start (or review) a gratitude box

At the end of 2013 we put a big tub in the kitchen and labelled it ‘good things’. Then we started popping stuff in it like theatre tickets, travel mementoes, letters from friends, little notes on which happy moments were scribbled and anything else that generally spoke of a joyful moment that happened that year. My notes are as random and varied as “Armistead Maupin called me ‘wise’ on Twitter” through to “got a promotion at work”. It’s basically #100happydays, but in physical form, and it’s pretty awesome.

Thing is, I haven’t looked at it since then (and I’ve got a little lax about filling it). It’s time to review all the amazing experiences we’ve been privileged to have over the past year and think about what’s around the corner – that we know of. Sometimes I can be guilty of only placing significance on big things, and that just leads to a kind of vague and unhelpful dissatisfaction with everything. A little gratitude goes a long way.

5. Watch something you haven’t seen before. And something you definitely have.

Last year, I saw Elf for the first time. And it was… quite good? Better than okay? Not my favourite Christmas movie*? Whatever. I can’t really be arsed to watch it again, but I won’t turn it off if it’s on. The point is, it was nice not just spending the entire festive period watching classics and favourites, but potentially allowing for a new classic or favourite – even if Elf turned out not to be it. This year I haven’t yet decided what it will be, but I have some shameful gaps in my film viewing and, having bullied Ash just this past week into watching both Network and Edward Scissorhands since he hadn’t before, I think it’s important to bully myself a little too. Because even in the midst of the most cosy, nostalgic, comfortable familiarity, a touch of newness is healthy.

And yet of course Christmas is the season for binge-watching your absolute favourites – whether they’re festive classics or not. Obviously we’ll be having a family sit down in front of The Avengers / Avengers Assemble*  on Boxing Day and I will be as enthralled as ever in front of the underappreciated gem that is Ratatouille.  Because it wouldn’t be Christmas without an ambitious rat… right?



*Pick your regional variant. Amusingly, the first time I saw this I blundered in about a quarter of the way through, completely confused, and I hadn’t yet seen Captain America: The First Avenger  or Thor and I was all “who the hell is this guy with the unfortunate hair? WHY IS HE WHINING ABOUT EVERYTHING? Loki my arse – he’s like Louis from Interview with the Vampire…”. So.. yeah. Give things a second chance. Watch them in their proper context. *cough*