Disclaimer: Do not see this movie without someone whose shoulder you can ugly cry into. Barring that, bring tissues. Don’t wear mascara or eat jalapenos with your hands beforehand. There will be tears.
Also, prepare to laugh uproariously.
Pixar’s latest film is the sort of masterwork we’ve come to expect from them. Cars 2 and Monsters University were fun family films, and Brave is a wonderful un-princess flick, but Inside Out hails from the demesnes of Up and Toy Story 3, films that seem to speak to the deepest parts of our souls, our “core memories,” if you will (I’ll explain that in a second). It’s a fun, visually spectacular, intelligent, and emotionally devastating film that will leave you feeling both satisfied and thoroughly exhausted (in a good way).
It tells the story of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a little girl whose parents (played by Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) decide to move across country, taking her away from everything she finds familiar. The twist? The primary action of the film takes place inside Riley’s head where her emotions Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Anger (Lewis Black) keep things running smoothly in a colorful control room where memories are made and stored. Joy has managed the operation of the control room all Riley’s life, ensuring that positive joyful memories are the primary product that is sent to Riley’s long-term memory, but when an accident involving Sadness and the central core memories (the most powerful memories that make up the foundation of Riley’s personality) spirals out of control, things go horribly awry and Joy begins searching for a way to set things right again.
What makes this movie so fun is its imaginative world building. The rules and conventions of this mental world inside Riley’s head are complex, but by the movie’s midway point, you understand completely how it all works, as if you spent hours poring over one of the many Mind Manuals that fill a corner of the control room. It’s a bizarre, sometimes terrifying world filled with nightmares and imagination and deja vu, and abstract thought, and deja vu, and all the weird, colorful creatures that inhabit it, and you just wish you could inhabit it and explore to your heart’s content.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t all that interested to see this movie initially. Pixar’s canon is a fantastic collection of imaginative and entertaining films, but I got the feeling that they had sort of gotten too comfortable with their own style. I felt, going into this one, that it would be a bit too self-congratulatory, too entrenched in the formula that its animators have perfected. Pixar knows that they’re good, by this point, but I was curious if they still had the touch that made their best movies the respected works of art that they are today. I was pleasantly surprised. It has elements that we’ve come to expect, such as the race against the clock that drives films like Monsters Inc. and Wall-E, and the world comprised of characters that are bound by the rules of that world (Toys, Bugs, Monsters, Fish, Superheroes, etc.), and the mix of laugh-out-loud comedy with healthy doses of pathos (Up, Ratatouille, Toy Story 3, etc.), but it doesn’t feel stale or rehashed at all. It finds its own core and its own significance, and doesn’t ever feel like “just another formulaic Pixar movie.” It stands on its own, which is quite an achievement.
In a summer filled with record-breaking blockbusters, Inside Out feels like it can actually compete against the muscled superheroes and resurrected dinosaurs, because its emotional center is pure and intensely relatable. It’s not a “silly kids movie,” by any means. In fact, many of the complex emotions and concepts explored in the film may be a bit above the heads of very little kids. When I saw it, the kids in the audience loved the slapstick humor, but many of the younger ones really didn’t understand the darker, more cerebral aspects of it. It is a wonderful, enjoyable movie, but when it gets serious, it doesn’t pull its punches. But don’t go into this movie dreading it. Unlike Toy Story 3, which is one of Pixar’s best movies, this one balances the comedy with the drama much more smoothly. As much as I like TS3, I find that one to be a bit too oppressively grim. This one is a much brighter movie that keeps the audience laughing consistently, despite the serious issues it tackles.
I hope Pixar’s next film, The Good Dinosaur continues the trend that this film has re-established. I know it’s probably unrealistic to hope that Pixar stays around forever, making fantastic films for decades to come, but at least we can enjoy their brilliant winning streak while it lasts. Bravo, Pixar!
A brief note on the short film, Lava, that precedes the movie. While I miss the days of Pixar’s uproariously funny shorts (For the Birds, Lifted, Presto, One Man Band etc.), this one fits in with the more somber, melancholy tone of Pixar’s recent shorts (Day and Night, and La Luna, for example). It’s a beautiful (and musical) piece that takes a completely bizarre idea (a living volcano) and turns it into a lovely parable on the power of never giving up on something you want. The music for it is just beautiful and, had I watched it immediately after watching Inside Out (when I was much more emotionally fragile), I would have had me a good ol’ ugly cry. I do wish Pixar would lighten up their shorts a bit, since they won all three of their short-form animation Oscars with comedies. I don’t think my emotions can take it, but I will continue to appreciate the work that goes into making these lovely morsels.
All in all, a fantastic movie experience that reassures me why Pixar is one of the most consistently excellent animation studios out there (along with Studio Ghibli, of course). Pixar, I love you.
Next week, I am going to be taking a trip to a certain chocolate factory as I revisit the wacky world of Willy Wonka. See you then!