Jurassic World and Inside Out show that digital wizardry can’t shine without smarts and heart

July 7, 2015

When the original Jurassic Park hit theaters in 1993, it was blockbuster movie-making done right. The special effects were like nothing we’d ever seen, and director Steven Spielberg—the planet’s leading expert in this sort of thing—provided humor and heart along with all the shock and awe.

Twenty-two years and several sequels later, the operation has fossilized into JURASSIC WORLD, in which only the tradition of dazzling digital effects remains. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard play the odd-couple leads—he’s loose, she’s uptight—and a couple of bland kids are put in peril as dinosaurs once again run amok.

The dinosaur action scenes are fun, especially on the big screen (with the big sound), and director Colin Trevorrow stages a few effective sequences featuring a kind of human hamster ball vehicle. But the rest of the movie is an assembly-line franchise endeavor, with phony emotional swells, dumbed-down dialogue and relentless product placement. The makers of Jurassic World don’t think much of their audience, and it shows.

Happily, we have the perfect summer movie antidote with INSIDE OUT, the 15th animated feature film from Pixar, maybe the single most reliable entity in the entertainment industry.

Audacious and overflowing with ideas, Inside Out tells the story of 11-year-old Riley and the five color-coded Emotions that live in her head—golden Joy (Amy Poehler), blue Sadness (Phyllis Smith), purple Fear (Bill Hader), red Anger (Lewis Black) and green Disgust (Mindy Kaling).

Director Pete Docter creates a visual extravaganza inside Riley’s mind, where emotional traumas are seismic events and memories are stored in bright orbs. Joy and Sadness team up to navigate Riley’s crises by journeying—via the Train of Thought—to notional nooks such as Imagination Land, the scary Subconscious and the under-construction realm of Abstract Thought. (Riley’s just 11, after all.)

The story delivers a parade of delightful concepts—how facts and opinions get mixed up; how brain freeze works—with humor, goofiness and the kind of emotional intelligence we’ve come to expect from Pixar. The filmmakers clearly like and respect their audience. And it shows.

Together, Jurassic World and Inside Out present a fascinating contrast. Both are big-budget summer tentpole movies, aiming to please. But as actual filmgoing experiences, they couldn’t be more different. Jurassic feels like a product assembled by skilled merchants. Inside Out feels like a creation shared by inspired artists. My suggestion: Skip the former and see the latter twice.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Claws and Effects.”


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