I’ll be honest, I love Pixar. Over the years, they could do very little wrong in my eyes. But more recently I think they’ve struggled to hold that together for every film. Toy Story 3 back in 2010 was probably their last excellent film as far as I’m concerned. While the subsequent films, Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University were certainly very good, they just didn’t have that Pixar magic.
And so it was with both hope and trepidation that I decided to watch Inside Out – Pixar’s latest offering, from one of my favourite Pixar directors, Pete Docter (Monsters Inc. and Up).
Let’s start with the official summary from Pixar’s site:
Do you ever look at someone and wonder what is going on inside their head? Disney•Pixar’s original new film Inside Out ventures inside the mind to find out.
Based in Headquarters, the control center inside 11-year-old Riley’s mind, five Emotions are hard at work, led by lighthearted optimist Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), whose mission is to make sure Riley stays happy. Fear (voice of Bill Hader) heads up safety, Anger (voice of Lewis Black) ensures all is fair and Disgust (voice of Mindy Kaling) prevents Riley from getting poisoned—both physically and socially. Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith) isn’t exactly sure what her role is, and frankly, neither is anyone else.
When Riley’s family relocates to a scary new city, the Emotions are on the job, eager to help guide her through the difficult transition. But when Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley’s mind—taking some of her core memories with them—Fear, Anger and Disgust are left reluctantly in charge. Joy and Sadness must venture through unfamiliar places—Long Term Memory, Imagination Land, Abstract Thought and Dream Productions—in a desperate effort to get back to Headquarters, and Riley.
It is an interesting take on a well-worn story – a family move for a parent’s job, taking a child away from everything and everyone they know to a strange house in a strange city. The child looks to his/her parents for some stability amid all this turmoil, but alas the parents are so busy and stressed about the move and the new job etc, that they seem to miss all the cues they would usually pick up on. It is a trope that has been recycled ad nauseum by Hollywood in an effort to appeal to a young market through exploiting their teenage angst but thankfully, Pixar being Pixar, they took a slightly unorthodox route to explore this and for the most part it paid off.
As shown in Pixar’s summary above and the trailer below, the real story takes place in Riley’s head, and involves her five key emotions (the ones that control all of us every day) joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust. The main film actually revolves around these 5 emotions and the journey they go through in trying to help Riley come to terms with what has happened. It is certainly an interesting take on the story, and adds a level of insight that is rarely explored in many films. Thankfully much of the trailer is covered in the opening few minutes of the film, so, unlike many a recent trailer/film, you’re unlikely to be spoiled too much by watching it.
It will be very difficult to write a full review without giving away some serious plot spoilers, so I will try to keep it brief. It is a journey of discovery for the emotions in Riley’s head rather than for Riley and her family. It revolves around the interactions of the different emotions with each other and the outside world. They try to come to terms with their relationships and explore the need for a full range of emotions for a person to function as a person. It is really a story within a story.
The acting was perfectly good, as you would expect from a Pixar film, but it is probably at more of a Cars level rather than a Toy Story or Monsters Inc – very good, but not the point that I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing the voices. In fact, as much as I have enjoyed Amy Poehler’s work on Parks & Recreation amongst others, I never noticed just how much her voice actually sounds like Dory/Ellen Degeneres. Yet throughout Inside Out, I was couldn’t help but wonder if the former had been substituted for the latter in the recording booth.
The animation is, as you would expect for a Pixar film, of the highest quality. It doesn’t try to be anything other than a cartoon and revels in its quirkiness. The representation of the mind and all the different levels of the psyche is really well done. It simplifies things dramatically, but in so doing, makes it accessible for adult and child alike. The relationships between our personalities and our memories and the links between our past and our present are all realised in bright, vibrant visuals which are a treat to explore.
The characters all have distinct traits that are evident both from visual and verbal characteristics, and there is a nice cross-over with the emotions of the parents too. It makes for a nice blend across the different human characters and helps demonstrate that everyone has different dominant emotions and characteristics. It all works really well together to form a coherent, and for the most part enjoyable story.
But for all its good points, interesting insight, and emotional highlights, I think that Inside Out may be the first Pixar film ever that I actually felt dragged a little. It may have only been for a few moments, and I understand the reasons for the slower pacing of that specific section, but the realisation that I wasn’t entirely enthralled by the film was both disappointing, and more than a little upsetting given my love of Pixar films.
It is by no means a bad film. In fact it is not even a mediocre or merely good film. It is a very, very good film with a good plot and a willingness to explore interesting and complex ideas. It is well acted, and beautifully animated. There is some uneven pacing which makes the middle sag a little, but builds to a crescendo as the films nears its ending giving a sufficient pay-off for the time invested throughout the rest of the film. It certainly caused a few laughs throughout the cinema without hitting the six-laugh test, and may have caused a few sniffles and the shedding of a tear or two.
For all that is very, very good about this film it just falls short of being a Pixar great. But that doesn’t mean it is one to avoid! It is still definitely worth a watch in the cinema if you can manage it.
Oh, and if you do decide to watch it in the cinema, make sure you get to your seat nice and early so that you don’t miss the excellent pre-film short (it is probably my favourite one to date!)
tl;dr – its is very, very good, but not quite a Pixar great – still worth watching, especially for the pre-film short.