Pixar’s last two endeavors, Brave and Cars 2 were both flops in terms of content. The first tried to do good only to fall upsettingly short and the other was a clear and obvious cash grab that made us embarrassed of this prestigious animation company. So from the company who brought you toys with feelings, bugs with feelings, and even automobiles with feelings, here’s a movie about feelings… with feelings.
Let’s take a look at Inside Out.
We meet our protagonist Joy, the happy emotion of an 11 year old Minnesotan girl named Riley. Joy’s compatriots, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness, all take turns ruling Riley’s emotional output. When Riley is moved from Minnesota to California, that’s when things suddenly go out of whack, with Joy trying to keep Riley happy and Sadness getting in the way. However, in an attempt to keep Riley from developing a sad core emotion, Joy and Sadness get booted out of headquarters. Jealousy, Fear, and Anger have to try and hold Riley’s emotions down while Joy and Sadness attempt to make their way back before Riley essentially self destructs.
What helps the film stand out the most is its originality of concept. Sure, it’s another Pixar movie that personifies non-organic object and concepts but it really does work. Each emotion is unique and remains true to character throughout, the design of the brain is intricate and full of fun details, and the back and forth between Riley outside and Riley inside are perfect.
The film also isn’t afraid to let its character act like a pre-teen — confused, quick to anger, sullen, unsure of herself and yet trying to do her best to get by for her parent’s sake. It also show how hard a big move like that can be on someone who is old enough to have made friends and lasting connections but young enough that she doesn’t have the tools to deal with what’s happening to her. It makes the character feel like more a person and less like a vehicle to tell the story of these emotions It does feel like they wrote the story first and foremost about a girl who is having trouble dealing with a big move and wrapped the emotions about that rather than trying to fit what a person would feel like around the interplay of the emotions.
You would think the characters of Joy and Sadness would get really annoying quickly, because of their stark contrast in attitude but the portrayals are surprisingly subtle. Joy, played by Amy Poehler, just wants her ward to be happy while Sadness, played by Phyllis Smith, for her dramatics and quickness to fall apart, understands Riley’s needs better than Joy does. Their ingenuity and team work is what really shows that complexity of emotion and that’s what helps the film shine. It does help that the other emotions of Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and Fear (Bill Hader), are as endearing as they are hysterical.
The animation is a good mix of the fantastical and realistic, to the point where watching a movie solely in the style of inside the head and out of it would be grating. It is weird to think of animation being a balancing act of style but this film shows that you can do it with such radically different styles and color compositions and still make it feel like one cohesive film. The use of shadows and coloring are as instrumental to the mood as the music is (which in this film is nothing to write home about but you can’t fault it in a film hyper focused on narrative). The level of detail is also fantastic, making the mind feel like a fleshed out environment rather than a copy-paste background.
Overall, Inside Out works because it understands something basic: we live in a society where we’re told it’s better to be happy all the time. The truth is that sometimes we feel sad, angry, disgusted, afraid, or totally emotionally out of control. The movie doesn’t punish Riley for it, but rather understands that emotions and reality are a messy affair that deserve the same seriousness and care of narrative that all stories do. This could have easily devolved into another story about a pre-teen girl being a moody caricature, but the film is all the better for avoiding that trope like the plague it is. I won’t say that this is a sign that we’re back to the Pixar of quality we all know and love, but it’s a big step in the right direction.
– Excellent plot.
– Strong characters.
– Great acting.
– Excellent animation.
– Forgettable music.
– Uncanny valley effect if you look at the human characters for too long.