Directors: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures
Inside Out is Pixar at its best – somehow both visually stunning and straightforward. There’s something deceptively simple and technically dazzling about Pixar at its best. It’s a return too to the brand’s very best version of the storytelling about feelings (rather than just storytelling with feelings). So it’s Monsters, Inc. and the Toy Story franchise, but without the mawkishness, without that rather over-the-top sentimentality, and it’s just nowhere near the blandness of the misfires in their cartoon canon (Cars, A Bug’s Life – hey, and even the misfires are worthy of watching…)
Inside Out has the between-the-lines script-strength of WALL-E, but isn’t as potentially aloof, there’s more action and (of course) more dialogue; it’s more overtly a coming-of-age for tweens tale. That said, Inside Out isn’t all that modern. The story of 11 year old girl Riley, whose life unravels somewhat when her parents move from Minnesota to San Francisco and her emotions rollercoaster and spiral as she’s sad and confused around the relocation, seems far too level-headed and safe, conservative even. Riley has one strop at her parents – and doesn’t mention boys. She Skypes but is largely without technology – even though her dad has moved to the Bay Area to the world of start-ups. It’s a bit safe and old-fashioned Disney movie-esque. And that’s – no doubt – a calculated move.
But Inside Out is certainly smart – and the psychology and brain function notes around how personality is formed suggest this film should be studied in school as much as it might be watched during the holidays.
It’s probably worked well as reminder to parents of tweens just what their kids might be going through – if their kid happens to be a wealthy white girl from Middle America. It’s hard to throw stones at this, but where Inside Out succeeds in appealing to girls, in not just pushing superheroes and robots and cars (not that girls can’t did on all of that too – but, you know what I mean…) it’s still a clean-as-clean white experience.
The voice talent is what makes this really pop though – well-chosen too. We spend most of our time inside Riley’s head where her emotions Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (a superb Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) battle against and work with each other to keep things running in Headquarters. Fittingly, Sadness and Joy must work together and learn to understand and help control each other which has Poehler’s pixie energy working so well against Smith’s doom and gloom. Whenever Black – one of the best ranters in the game – enters as Anger it’s scene-stealing.
The other obvious success with this film is in how the jokes can work on two levels – the animations are redrawn as abstract art first of all in the land of abstract thought (“help, I’m abstracting”) and later they fall – literally – to pieces (“I’m deconstructing”). Adults get to chuckle at the art references and depictions, children can simply chuckle at the strange shapes and silliness of it.
That’s how smart Inside Out is – smart enough to know that a cheap joke can be clever and a clever joke doesn’t have to be obscure or alienating.
Somehow I felt that Inside Out wasn’t quite worth the huge hype it’s had. But – I say that, and it’s one of the best “kids” films I’ve seen in years, and a nice new move/movie from Pixar, when they’ve been more than content to rework and rehash with sequels, prequels and cash-grab franchise/branding/merchandising opportunities. Inside Out is a film you’ll think about after. And that’s rare, given it’s still multiplex fare, a school holiday release, a bums-on-seats animated movie that actually requires patience from its audience. And more importantly rewards it.