19 June 2015

The Road to a Blockbuster: Inside Dope

The calendar has ticked to another Friday, and since it's the Season of Sunny Days and Smiles, that means another gigantic cultural event is hitting the cineplexes. I've grown pretty apathetic to the rest that Hollywood has to offer this summer, but of course we'll still be talking about it, because it's fun! And easy! Today there are two major films being released, although in a much more accurate sense, there is one major film being released. Let's talk about the critical, commercial, and cultural prospects of Inside Out (2015) and Dope (2015).

Is it even fair to call Inside Out an original film? I mean, the story is, but the Pixar brand has been so thoroughly developed and canonized that it feels like at the least a spiritual sequel or some kind of thematic or visual extension of everything else that they have ever done. Speaking of which, whenever a new Pixar flick comes out, we have a need to rank them all, and because this is bullshit, here is my list:

14. Cars 2  (2011)
13. Monsters University (2013)
12. Cars (2006)
11. Ratatouille (2007)
10. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
9. Toy Story 2 (1999)
8. A Bug's Life (1998)
7. Toy Story (1995)
6. The Incredibles (2004)
5. Brave (2012)
4. Up (2009)
3. Toy Story 3 (2010)
2. Finding Nemo (2003)
1. Wall-E (2008)

When their films are all ranked out like this a few things are suddenly clear. Pixar really does have maybe four or five (however you slice it) really great films, probably three or four more that are really actually pretty terrible, and then five that are pretty good, but not totally much better than Monsters, Inc (2001), which I'd consider the bar to good Pixar movies in the sense that it's not totally awful but not totally awe-inspiring either. If it's better than Monsters, Inc, we can be pretty happy.
So fucking adorable.

So how will Inside Out rank? Early estimates put it somewhere from the middle to the top, which is good. It's also the first original Pixar film in three years, which came at us pretty suddenly. And just think, it's only the second original film in six  years. And that's with us calling it original, which I already said is debatable, just on the sense that we're already totally comfortable chatting about Inside Out as part of a defined brand instead of its own merits.

What are those merits? Besides a perfect, if not obvious cast, it's also being praised as one of Pixar's most creative ideas yet. Apparently, no one ever watched Herman's Head! I guess I knew that. It's sort of like how everyone was blown away by Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) when it's really just The Road Warrior (1981) with higher production values, but no one remembers the damn Road Warrior.

I don't know why, but I was never hooked by the premise of living emotions, despite this film's apparent awesomeness. I was hooked by robots in space, and by the Scottish arrow-shooting princess, but this is totally an ABC Family in 2018 viewing thing. I was the same way with UP actually, although that film turned out to be fucking spectacular, so who knows. Maybe I suck.

Culturally usually Pixar films can make a solid splash, unless they're pretty awful like the last couple of needless retread sequels. No one is really adoring any memorable scene from Monsters University. But take Anton's monologue from Ratatouille, the tear-jerking prologue from UP, just about anything from Finding Nemo, and you've got some monumental cultural landmarks. I'd have to think that Inside Out has something to contribute to that conversation. Amy Poehler is way to eager to be in a Pixar movie to not give the joyous vocal performance of a lifetime.

On the other side of the coin, Pixar is constantly known for slugging out some crazily high box office grosses in addition to their critical and cultural lauding. Cars 2 is their only film since the 90s to not crack $200 million at home (poor thing only got to $191 million), and every flick since Ratatouille has nabbed at least a half-billion worldwide. And I don't think our standard is Jurassic World (2015), which can do that in a single weekend, but there's no reason why Inside Out shouldn't do the same. A long production cycle that builds hype, trust in the brand, and the return to a new and unique premise ought to be pretty healthy for ticket sales. And even though it seems like everyone, no matter who they were, saw Jurassic World last weekend, it's a very different genre that's coming with good timing after a lot of action-driven franchise event films and revivals. No matter if you've seen every big movie this summer already, you're still going to feel good sitting through Inside Out. Kids have been starved of good animation for a while now, too. The last one we had was Home (2015), which actually somehow quietly actually made like $172 million. That was three months ago, though.
This movie also features A$AP Rocky, Tyga, and Kap-G,
which is incredible

So things are looking pretty solid for Inside Out, what about one of my most anticipated summer films, Dope? I get kind of a Dear White People (2014) vibe from this, with its comedic look into the intricacies and hypocrisies of black culture through the lens of an awkward young dude. I was really impressed with the snappy trailer and the tight cast, including Tony "Zero Moustafa" Revolori, Blake "Workaholic" Anderson, and Zoë "Toast the Knowing" Kravitz. I suppose that doesn't quite work because no one knows Zoë Kravitz's character name in Fury Road. It was Toast the Knowing. You got it.

This isn't going to do crazy box office numbers, and it's getting a pretty restricted release compared with everything else big studios are launching. I still have hope that it can be pretty spectacular, though, and the charisma of relative newcomer Shameik Moore is palpable. Maybe we'll see him in Star Wars someday, that's how these things work, people. He just needs to get some alien fighting under his belt somewhere.

So what do you think? What will you be watching this weekend?

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