Movie Review: Inside Out
Let’s face it: out of all the animation studios today, it is PIXAR that has succeeded the most times in hitting us in our emotional sweet spots. In the last two decades, they have managed to make many of us run almost the full gamut of emotions when watching their films, and I’m sure many of us have fond memories stored in our minds of those times.
One thing I and many who have been fans of PIXAR have been concerned about, is how it seemed original films from the company we knew and loved, have recently taken a back seat (we’ve had 2 sequels and 1 prequel in the last 5 years). Many like myself, longed to get excited over a new concept from the Emeryville studio.
5 years ago, when I first heard about the concept for Inside Out, it was something that seemed right up the alley from the studio that had brought us something as risky as WALL-E, and was the one film from them that I’d constantly be listening in on some news about.
My first taste of what was in store came at the 2013 D23 Expo. The audience there was first introduced to the film’s characters, and we got to see a storyboarded scene. My excitement only grew, as the sequence played out, and the audience was laughing so hard and loud, you couldn’t hear half of the dialogue. It was an exciting communal experience that seemed to be emotionally touching everyone in some way.
Of course, delving into the ‘voices inside your head’ is nothing new. Such concepts have been touched upon in television shows like Herman’s Head, and even the Disney short Reason and Emotion dealt a little with the concept (as seen in a still image below).
Of course, what PIXAR’s Pete Doctor was proposing to tackle, was a concept that could have gone anywhere, and with a little less than 2 hours of running time, one had to wonder just how far the studio could take the concept.
Inside Out revolves around the story of five emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Heyder), and Anger (Lewis Black).
Each of these emotions exist within the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). Their world seems to be perfect, until a business decision by Riley’s Dad (Kyle MacLachlan) sends the entire family from Minnesota, to San Francisco.
At first, Joy thinks things are going to simple, but soon, circumstances build to the point where headquarters is faced with a few things they’ve never encountered before, sending Joy and Sadness on a journey to the far corners of Riley’s mind.
One of the most surprising comparisons I made after seeing the film, was thinking about how much it reminded me of Toy Story. We have multiple characters vying to care for a young child (almost like parents, or relations), and a central figure that tries to be a positive leader.
Much like the story of how Woody has to deal with change to Andy’s world, Joy is a character that must deal with the same things happening in her own world. The filmmakers manage to make a character that should be annoying (she is super-peppy), end up as a figure one can want to accompany along on her journey. Normally, it is this type of character, that is usually the sidekick (like Russell was to Carl, in Up).
Though Joy tries to find the bright side in everything, Sadness is that one component of Riley that she seems unable to properly ‘get,’ and as such, seems to constantly sideline Sadness. Joy never comes right out and says it (she’s too polite to do so), but the little reactions she makes towards Sadness is more than enough proof for us.
Of all the emotions we deal with, I’m still a fan of Sadness, from start to finish. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to her character, being someone who wants to help out, but finds herself in a world where some people look at her like, ‘what do I do with this?’
Though the film takes place in two different worlds (around Riley, and inside her mind), it is inside Riley where the artists at PIXAR really get the chance to shine (the new world of San Francisco seems dull and dreary, when compared to the bright colors inside her head). We get visualizations of things such as a “Train of Thought,” “Long Term Memory,” and much, much more. I’ve had to limit talking about what I saw, as it feels like it would surely spoil too much. The intrigue and fun comes from seeing quite a few things one can relate to…including one particularly annoying component of our memory that makes us wonder, “Why!?”
The film feels like it gets a little too “busy” during its third act, when it almost seems like the film starts throwing information at us a little too fast. It’s more of a critique than a complaint, but then again, it might be the filmmaker’s trying to ramp up the emotions of the moment.
When it came to Inside Out, one person who I was most concerned about, was writer/director, Pete Doctor. To me, Pete has never really been the strongest of the PIXAR directors. Sure, Monsters Inc and Up are entertaining, but it oftentimes feels that he tends to get the heart of those pictures in the right place, but leaves quite a few dangling plot threads in the wind. Some characters and concepts, just don’t feel as properly thought out as they should be (this was also a case I felt, with Disney’s Big Hero 6 last fall).
With Inside Out, I think Pete has finally got himself a solid film on his hands. It won’t make you cry buckets like Up, but there’s more than enough here that I think many will be able to be entertained, and a little moved by the story of Riley’s emotions.
Of course, every PIXAR film also comes with a short attached! The one that accompanies Inside Out, tells the story of a volcanic island. As the volcano sees numerous animals around him have coupled and found love, he sings his own song about finding someone special for himself as well.
Lava is one of those shorts that does so much, with so little. Since the volcanic island we see can’t freely move about, it is the atmosphere and his surroundings that helps tell his story. I was most definitely surprised, as the short moved into the second part of its story, that I was feeling as emotional as I was for the island.
The last time PIXAR did a love story, I was a little disappointed. The Blue Umbrella had a nice concept, but it felt like it got lost in a hyper-realized setting. Here, the studio has pulled back enough that the world doesn’t feel like we get too caught up in the details.
A fun thing to see, is the sliding mouth and eyebrows of the volcanic island. The way it moves, reminded me a little of the puppetry of Jim Henson and his guys, in that the simplest movements, could convey just so much emotion.
I’m sure you’ll see a few couples cuddling close during this short.
INSIDE OUT Final Grade: A- (Final Thoughts: PIXAR has come through with an emotional film that shows they still got what it takes. I consider it one of the studio’s best non-sequel films since WALL-E, and I’m sure everyone will find something to love in it)
LAVA Final Grade: A- (Final Thoughts: Another short-yet-sweet emotional story, told largely through song and visuals.)