Being a dad, I get to share great cinematic experiences with my children. I get to cheer on The Avengers, seeing it through the eyes of a 12 year old. I get to feel the tension of a dinosaur attack through the eyes of a 10 year old. And I get to see all the latest animations, regardless of quality. Hotel Transylvania. Hotel for Dogs. Lots of films about Hotels apparently. I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
You learn to take the chaff with the wheat. Because for every G Force, there is a Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. For every A Monster in Paris, there is a Coraline.
For every Minions Movie there is an Inside Out.
For that is what I ended up watching this week. I had gone with friends and missed the screening of Southpaw so, rather than waste a trip waiting forInside Out, decided to watch Minions instead.
This was not a wise move.
I feel we’re at Minion saturation. I liked them in Despicable Me. Even in Despicable Me 2 they were a nice comic relief. But they cannot support a feature film. Especially when the story is so rote, the writing so poor, and the plot so nonsensical. This doesn’t just speak down to its audience; it spends 90 minutes punching them in the stomach. It’s not insulting; it’s grievous bodily harm. It takes a group of things and gives them a back story. They serve the despicable. We get this; they thrive on evil. That’s fine. But we’ve seen through the other two films that they are more concerned with helping Gru, because they come to love him as a father. But that takes two films; before that point, they simply serve evil. And this film makes that point in its long opening historical background. But the main trio of Minions – Fred, Barney, and Roger, or whatever their names – are nice. They try to help an evil villain, but that evil villain is TOO EVIL. And, criminally, she is evil TO THE MINIONS. There are so many double standards at play so that the filmmakers could try and wangle their way around a film in which the central characters are supposed to be evil AND likeable. Like a deadpan unironic reading of Satan in the South Park movie, the filmmakers’ logic is, “without evil there could be no good, so it must be good to be evil sometimes”.
And this massively misjudged central theme is hung on a two dimensional lacklustre plot involving the British crown jewels, every cliché thrown at the screen, and a strong female character voiced by Sandra Bullock who still manages to be awful. And not in the way they meant her to be awful.
And the argument rebuffed is that, well, children enjoy it. That it’s a film aimed at children, not me, so why would I enjoy it? There were certainly children laughing in the screening. I laughed at least twice. TWICE. So it is not without merit. And, if children like it, well, hasn’t it done its work?
Well, no. Children like lots of things. Children like McDonalds, and sweets, and putting inanimate objects in their mouth, and shouting at nothing, and running in the road, and teasing pets, and … A child liking something is not good reason for it to happen. Our role as adults is to feed their minds with inspiring, enjoyable, fun things. Things that will spark their imagination. When I took my children to see The Boxtrolls, my daughter asked afterwards where the idea for the story came from. I explained that it was one person who thought it up and wrote it down. She decided she wanted to become a writer. I bought her a notebook and pen. She’s since won competitions for her writing.
That shallow humble brag is a way of saying that THAT is what films can do. They took one young mind and inspired her to do something more. And yes, sometimes a film should just be stupid for stupid’s sake, but you can still do that well. Minions isn’t stupid for stupid’s sake; it’s just stupid. It’s poor and, without any sense of boastfulness, I genuinely think my daughter could come up with a better story.
Not so for Inside Out. After a few slightly disappointing sequels, Pixar is back, and it’s superb. This is a children’s film. It’s one that will resonate with any child who has started a new school, moved house. It’s funny, it’s charming. It’s deeply moving. Pixar do not look down on their audience just because they’re taller. As with Up before it, this is a film that understands emotion and will not dumb down its message. There are nuances that some children will miss; but that is what repeat viewings are for. And anyone who has children, or babysat children, will tell you that children LOVE repeat viewings. They need a film that will reward those viewings; Inside Out has that.
And more, Inside Out is a film that can help. It puts forth a very simple message about a very complex emotional balance; it highlights the importance of sadness, of acknowledging it, and owning it, and how necessary it is within the spectrum of human emotion. And a film that can help a child to understand that – it literally visualises emotions and how they work – is one that will last a long, long time.
Inside Out is as much a children’s film as Minions is. But they are aeons are apart in terms of how they see their audience. Minions is a movie made to cash in on a phenomenon, a cult. It is soulless and it shows. Inside Out is a movie made by a studio that is loved the world over for its innovation and heart.
If more filmmakers saw children as muses not consumers, then the world of children’s films could be so, so much richer.
By Tim Popple