Thursday, June 25, 2015

What We Learn From Pixar's Inside Out


I saw Pixar's new film, Inside Out today. I approached the film with a bit of trepidation. Here's why: for me, the last few Pixar films have been. . . meh. Which is sad, because for a while Pixar ruled the animation scene using landmark artistry and story with feature films unforgettable in their originality, like Toy Story, The Incredibles, and Wall.E. But now sequel after sequel churning from the Disney juggernaut, and I'm sorry, Brave just didn't do it for me. (Yes, Merida's hair is amazing. Yes, she's not a skinny little waif, yay. But LOOKS AREN'T ENOUGH. I need story I can chew on. And I just didn't believe Merida would bring A BEAR into this castle full of bear killers. I mean, isn't our heroine enough of an independent thinker to say, "Wait here, Mom," while she goes in, gets the tapestry and brings it back out? Gah.)

Sorry about that. My rant was showing.

Inside Out felt like a return to those enchanting times, when Pixar presented creations that seemed distilled from raw laughter, genius, and passion.

I was spellbound by Inside Out. Pete Docter (director, Up, Monsters, Inc.) and his team have created something that feels completely original and yet familiar.

The film follows Riley and her five basic emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust), as she moves with her parents from Minnesota to California, and the emotional upheaval the move causes.

The world-building of Riley's mind (the main setting for the film), is stunning. While we are shown how memories are made, cared for, and organized into short-term, long-term, and core memories, along with places such as the subconscious, the Train of Thought, Imaginationland, and a brilliant little place that processes abstract thought, we don't feel like we're being shown this world. There isn't a sense of, "Okay audience, this is this and that is that and pay attention here, this is important." As the story and characters grow, their interaction with the setting feels organic and compelling.

And what a setting it is. Basically, memories (those glowing balls in the trailer) are made moment to moment at Headquarters and then transferred during sleep to Long-Term Memory. Core memories, related to very strong emotions during formative years, are the foundation for pieces of personality (in the film, they are physical islands) that are linked to headquarters. Riley's personality islands include Family, Friendship, and Hockey. And all of the islands come from the happy core memories. Joy is mostly in charge, and she likes it that way. After all, Riley's parents call her their happy girl.

After the move to San Francisco, Sadness (played by Phyllis Smith) creates a new core memory, much to the dismay of Joy (Amy Poehler). And then Joy and Sadness are accidentally whisked away from Headquarters and deposited in Long-Term Memory, along with the core memories. They must find their way back, through the circuitous maze that is Riley's mind, while Fear, Anger, and Disgust attempt to run things during their absence.

Pete Docter does a fine job of balancing the narrative between two different storylines. Joy and Sadness must get back to Headquarters. Riley is struggling with this move. As Docter moves back and forth, we are imbued with a sense of urgency. We care about Riley, and we know she's not going to be okay until Joy and Sadness are back where they belong. We care about Joy and Sadness because they care about Riley. It's a delicate juggling act, and Docter employs each to give weight and immediacy to the other. Riley's personality structure begins to crumble, as the loss of her friends, favorite pastime, and familiar environment bring her life into disarray. There is a moment where we realize that Riley is in danger of going completely numb, because Joy refuses to let Sadness take the wheel. Her mantra, "We can fix this!" becomes the thing that holds Riley back.

In the end, Joy realizes that all of the emotions are necessary for Riley's emotional health.

So what do we learn from Inside Out? This is actually my favorite aspect of the film. The rich setting, lovable characters, interesting story, and stunning originality all serve to bring us this great little nugget. Ready?

It's okay to be sad.

No, really. That's it. It's that simple. Yes, psychiatrists and intellectuals and critics and everyone can get into complex explanations of the human mind and what Inside Out gets right and what it just has fun with and we can talk about what we're taught in modern society and how some of us are trying to challenge that, but really, it all comes down to this:

It's okay to be sad.

Alright, I'll talk a LITTLE about it. It's okay to feel your feelings. You don't always have to be happy to be loved and worthwhile to people. You are a complex being comprised of a wealth of emotions, and you're allowed to feel all of them. Sadness, anger, and fear aren't negative emotions, just as joy isn't a positive emotion. They just are what they are, and feeling them isn't good or bad. It just is. Now, you may feel "good" or "bad" depending on what emotions you're going through, but processing through them with another human being, as Riley finally does in Inside Out, will help you to a place of deeper understanding with yourself and others, as well as helping you move on.

This is Pixar's greatest lesson yet, I think. And I'm sooooo happy that they went there. If you would like to talk at more length about this with me, because believe me, I can wax philosophic on this topic, feel free to comment and we'll hash it out.

Thank you Pixar, for going there. You're making us think again, and that to me, is magical.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

May Book Reviews - We Were Liars, Inexcusable, Sold, Grasshopper Jungle

This month's books were selected as part of a homework assignment for WIFYR, which I will post about at a later date. I was asked to read four MG or YA novels as prep for class. To read as a writer. I chose E. Lockhart's We Were Liars, Chris Lynch's Inexcusable, Patricia McCormick's Sold, and Andrew Smith's Grasshopper Jungle. I am also making a study of the unreliable narrator, so some of my choices were based on that.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I had heard that We Were Liars is a great example in modern YA lit of this particular literary device. In order to avoid spoiley, spoiley spoilers, I will not post an in-depth review here. If you have any interest in delicious prose (which I do), YA lit, unreliable narrators, and a bit of mystery, pick up We Were Liars. I know some people are really bothered by some of the formatting in the book.

People --
line breaks are used
for emphasis.

I loved Lockhart's prose. Her lyrical and metaphorical expression were beautiful to me. I had fun with the character development, and the depiction of parents and family dynamics. There was one part, toward the end, that felt a little redundant to me, but if you would like to discuss it, please PM or email me, because I don't want to give anything away. Seriously. Overall, I found this to be a stunning book. It also has a built-in second read.

Highly recommended.

Warnings on: language, sexual situations.

Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

I read that this book was written as a response to Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and that it's recommended as a companion to Anderson's book.

I didn't like this book. It came across to me as an apologist work, doing a great job of perpetuating rape culture, and portraying the MC as an imbecile who had no idea he had committed sexual assault. Guess what? Most rapes are premeditated. And this point is just one of my issues with this novel.

If you like, I can talk more about this in private. I'll just be moving on now.

Not recommended.

Warnings on: language, sexual situations, sexual assault.

Sold by Patricia McCormick

This novel gives us the story of Lakshmi, a 13yo Nepalese girl sold into prostitution by her stepfather. It follows her through a beautiful introduction to her village and her family life, her journey to the big city and arrival at "Happiness House," her abuse and eventual decision resulting in her escape. And yes, she does escape, or at least, her escape is implicitly understood -- on the very last page.

This book is beautifully written, with spare and efficient prose. The line breaks create an almost dreamlike quality, and the lyricism of McCormick's voice captures Lakshmi's experience with the deft touch required to tell a story like this. The writing is understated, a perfect vehicle for such a heavy subject.

I highly recommend Sold. It is an important book.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

This. Book. Is. Insane.

Part sci-fi, part family history, part adolescent metaphor, part dark comedy, this book is a well-balanced mix of violent, twisted, hilarious, and thoughtful. It follows MC 16yo Austin Szerba and his best friend Robbie Brees, as they unwittingly bring about the end of the world through the introduction of six-foot-tall praying mantises to their hometown of Ealing, Iowa.

Smith said that he wrote this book with no thought of publication. This is undoubtedly why this book is so insane. Because Smith didn't have any voices of reason in the back of his head telling him to stop writing something so crazy. We should all be so blessed to write with such abandon.

It is impossible to explain the genius and complexity of this book in a paragraph, so I will just use a few quotes from Grasshopper Jungle out of context to give you a little taste.

Stupid people should never read books.

History provides a compelling argument that every scientist who tinkers around with unstoppable s*** needs a reliable flamethrower.

You must be crazy, after all, if a bird loves you.

Coffee is a girl who never tells a boy no.

We killed this big hairy thing and that big hairy thing. And that was our day. You know what I mean.

History does show that boys who dance are far more likely to pass along their genes than boys who don't.

They were both so beautiful, and their sound, as we said them to each other above the music, made our chests fill up with something electric and buzzing, like love and magic.

History is full of decapitations, and Iowa is no exception.

This book comes from Andrew Smith, through me, to you highly recommended.

Warnings on: everything. Lots of everything.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

This wasn't part of my homework, but I just reread this book every once in a while to remind myself of what I want to write. Carol tells us: Read what you want to write.

I want to write crazy books that change people. Fight Club is one of my favorite books of all time and I think Chuck Palahniuk is a genius. I don't reread a lot of books, but I do come back to this one. Often.

Also, unreliable narrator FTW.

Here's my original review of Fight Club, which I wrote back in 2011.

Warnings on: language, violence, sexual situations. Pretty much everything.

OKAY, which of these books have you read? What did you think? Let me know in the comments and happy reading!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road Fan Art!

So I've been thinking about doing some fan arts for a while now, and I thought my intense love for Mad Max: Fury Road would be the perfect way to wet my feet in the whole fan art arena. I've been working a lot with Painter15 for my Patreon series, so I thought I would use it for these, considering how gritty George Miller's film is, I think the style lends itself to portraying the atmosphere of this world. I love line and I love texture, so we'll see how they turn out.

Here are the first four in the series.

FURIOSA. Because she's the best protag I've seen in a film in a while. Charlize Theron. Wow.

MAX. Because it's Max. You know? Even if he is just a blood bag at first.

 NUX. Because his character arc is the most dramatic and he shows the greatest change throughout the course of the film. I'll be playing with some religious imagery when it comes to Nux. He's a religious zealot, and also ends up becoming a savior character. This first piece is inspired by the first time we see him, sitting in the Blood Shed and getting a transfusion. Before he knows what a lovely day this is going to be.

NUX again. Because I love this quote, and the crazy eyes he flashes at Slit when he pronounces his own eventual fate at the very beginning of his part of the story.

Let me know what you think. Also, if you would be interested in prints of this series!

Monday, June 1, 2015

New Short Story up on Patreon!

The new short story is available to read on Patreon. This week it's a love story.

Here's a preview:


A Dreamscapes Story
by Alicia VanNoy Call

He weaves between gravestones, the bottle hanging half-empty from his fingers. New-risen moon tracks its path through a coal-dark sky. Cast shadows spread under branches. The grass breathes out a dark green scent under his bare feet. He lifts the bottle, but doesn't drink. Rum sloshes. Checking his watch, he squints across the rows. He can see her leaning in the mausoleum doorway and he jogs across the last stretch of lawn, stops five feet away.

Hi,” he says.

Hi,” she raises one hand. Smiles.

He climbs the six steps. Drops his shoes. She leans forward. The kiss brushes, like a fluttering moth against his cheek, barely there. He reaches for her – an old habit. She steps back.

She is thin. Thinner than he remembers. Her dress lifts in the midnight breeze, the tiny pattern of roses shifting around her legs. Against the stone stair, her feet are white on white. She tucks her black hair behind one shoulder.

He sits next to his shoes. The bottle clinks.

Nice night.” He looks at the moon: radiant, full, speckled like an egg. “Nice moon.” He takes a swig.

He lets the rum sit in his mouth, extends the bottle out to her. The swallow of liquid burns down his throat.

She shakes her head, sits next to him.

You look nice,” she says.

He plucks at his tuxedo jacket. The black tie hangs loose around his collar.

I had an afternoon wedding,” he says.

How was it?”

He can feel her next to him. Even with his eyes closed, he would know she was there. His pant legs are damp. He shrugs.

You know. Dancing, drinking, covers of 80's rock ballads. The best man threw up all over the restroom. I think he's in love with the bride.”

She laughs. A low sound. “How will that turn out do you think?”

He looks at her. She looks at the moon.

Who knows,” he says. “Life is messy.”

And beautiful,” she says.

He tips the bottle again. “Sure.” He doesn't sound convinced...

If you'd like to read the rest, click here to visit the Fictions and Dreamscapes Project over at Patreon. If you like it, and the other stories there, consider supporting the independent artist by becoming a patron!