Another year, another dose of Pixar magic.
Pixar doesn’t always strike gold, but when it does, it really strikes hard. Inside Out has that ineffable quality that is so present in the best Pixar films – that profound understanding of the human heart, combined with healthy servings of imaginativeness, humor, and most importantly, compassion. No other animation studio has come close to Pixar’s almost ridiculous ability to make such transcendently wonderful movies.
Inside Out introduces Riley, our young protagonist, from the moment she is born, as well as the five primary emotions that make up her psyche – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, who, as distinct personalities, occupy the pastel-colored wonderland that is Riley’s young mind. Riley grows up as the very picture of happiness in Minnesota, but when her family moves over to San Francisco, the new surroundings put a dampener on her normally sunny disposition. Inside Riley’s mind, Joy is unable to understand why she’s unable to keep Riley happy. A malfunction inside the control room sends Joy and Sadness out into the wilderness of Riley’s mind, where they must find a way to return and set things right as Riley, bereft of Joy and Sadness, gets more and more emotionally off-kilter.
The conceit of Inside Out is an inspired choice by Pixar director Pete Docter, as it really is, in many ways, a movie about how Pixar makes successful movies. Inside Out teaches us that it’s okay to feel, that the multitude of emotions we face all play a part in what makes us whole. Riley, now an adolescent, can no longer feel unadulterated joy all the time – her experience is now colored by the sadness that she feels upon leaving her friends and hockey club in Minnesota. To feel sadness is important because it is a core component of our emotional landscape. It is the outlet by which we can feel catharsis when we encounter troubles. It is part and parcel of the human experience. And this is the conceit that Pixar weaves so deftly when it creates its films; masterpieces of emotional impact that make their audiences laugh and shed tears in the space of two hours in a darkened theater.
It’s also a meditation on childhood and growing up, and the developments in the psychology of children as they mature. There is a bittersweet vein that runs through this entire narrative, a meditation on what is inevitably lost in the process of growing up. Change, maturation, and forgetting are essential components of this journey. I think it would be hard not to at least shed a tear during that scene in which Riley’s imaginary friend Bing-Bong sacrifices himself in the abyss of lost memories to offer Joy a shot at escaping. It is not only a moment of pathos for a character we’ve come to know, but also a statement of Riley’s inevitable loss of that idyllic childhood innocence that she used to have, to be replaced by other, newer things and a richer, more complex emotional landscape.
This richly textured emotional journey takes place in one of Pixar’s most fully-formed imaginative landscapes so far, a visual representation of our mental landscape in a hundred different clever manifestations – the chamber of abstract thought, the dark forest of the subconscious, and the endless labyrinth of shelves that store Riley’s long-term memories. The sheer acuity of the visual language of the film is astounding and allows complicated plot elements to be communicated effectively to audiences in a way that pure words can’t with as much economy and flair. And of course, in the “real” world, San Francisco comes to life in all its myriad byways; the Golden Gate Bridge as it rises out of the tops of the Marin Headlands, the pastel shades of the Ferry Building, the hills and the diversity – Riley is the only blonde white kid in a school full of children of various ethnicities.
Also of particular note is the soundtrack by Michael Giacchino, which I thought was a perfect accompaniment to the film as a whole, acting as a wonderful emotive counterpart to the film’s most poignant moments, like Bing-Bong’s sacrifice or that sequence where Joy dances to a memory of Riley ice-skating. The main theme, in particular, is a deceptively simple piece that nonetheless captures that hopeful but slightly wistful sense of innocence, growing up and maturation perfectly.
Inside Out takes a place in my personal pantheon of the best of Pixar, alongside Ratatouille, Finding Nemo and the Toy Story movies. It’s a triumphant return to form for Pixar and a reminder of the sheer, stratospheric potential of animated films to teach us the ineffable lessons of the heart. That a film like Inside Out could so bravely and poignantly illustrate such truths in our human experience is simply breathtaking to consider.
And might I add that the irascible Lewis Black is probably the perfect choice of casting to play Anger?
Coda: The Lava short before the film was sweet, and the song was pretty good, but ultimately, a little trite as things go. And the entire short seemed to have arisen out of the dreadful pun that was made about lava. 3/5.
I give this film: 5 out of 5 broccoli stalks