“Inside Out” Review

Pixar has a long track record of making great art. In my opinion, they’ve not only made some of the best animated movies in the last twenty years, elevating the entire genre (Cars and sequels notwithstanding), but they’ve made some of the best films of any genre in that time.

So naturally, I was excited about Inside Out from the moment I saw the first trailer.

Wait. No. No, I wasn’t. The first trailer was an abomination that hopefully got people fired. In a single move, it wiped out all of the good will the company had earned from me, making me shrug about this movie. It seemed to be selling itself solely on the company’s reputation, playing to our nostalgia for previous accomplishments. It showed nothing of the film itself, almost as if it were ashamed of itself. Everything that followed–the good second trailer, the excellent buzz, the tangible excitement and pride Pixar had toward it–hardly managed to counteract that first impression. I went in to Inside Out with trepidation.

And then I spent an hour and a half laughing and smiling, and tearing up (though never blubbering, as I did in Up). At times, I had to cover my mouth to stifle my laughter. I walked out talking about puns, references, and turns of phrase, which I won’t spoil, and plot devices, which I might, just a little.

But Inside Out is more than a collection of enjoyable moments. It’s a well-envisioned metaphor for how we deal with our everyday lives. It takes risks, and those risks pay off in big ways.

There is no villain in Inside Out. There isn’t even a discernible primary antagonist. As it turns out, you don’t need one. Each of the emotions act as a united protagonist working for Riley’s well being, at times each acts as an accidental antagonist in their own way. The main conflict of the story is arguably all their fault, but they are also the only ones who can fix it.

The characterization is excellent, both of the real-world characters and the emotions inside Riley’s head. There’s a feeling almost reminiscent of Toy Story here, the dichotomy between the “real” world and the one in which we spend most of our time, and the treatment of the characters involved is just as effective, if not more so. Each of the emotions is capable of feeling the full range of emotional experience, but they all lean toward one aspect. Joy, the lead, is wonderful to follow. Peppy, energetic, and hopeful, without being annoying, she is a completely dynamic character who is growing in every moment of the film. The rest of the characters, while a tad (intentionally) one-note, are still easy to connect and sympathize with.

The world we’re dropped into inside Riley’s head is a place of wonder and awe, and doesn’t shove that in your face (for the most part). Subtle touches abound in the world of Riley’s mind, touches that adults will understand without detracting from the experience for kids. It’s a place of color and energy, a truly fantastical world. It’s contrasted to the real world, which feels at times large and gray and uncaring. The situation we find Riley in at the start–having been uprooted for her dad’s job halfway across the country–is a scary one for a child, and this comes across. The contrast is executed in such a way that one never overwhelms the other.

The plot is simple yet effective, with the twist being that we can see how the inner plot is influencing the outer plot. Kind of like Osmosis Jones, only this isn’t complete camp. The outer plot works well enough on its own that you can treat the inner plot as what it is–a metaphor for the complex psychology of an eleven year old trying to deal with change. But if you choose to treat it literally, it’s a fun experience that will leave you smiling.

It’s not a perfect movie; the way in which the stakes continue to raise becomes repetitive, the wonderment of the inner world can sometimes be cloying, and some base concepts of that world can feel a bit uninspired (though the final execution is usually a delight to watch). But I really only have one problem with the movie.

In commercials, husbands are often portrayed as neanderthals that need the thoughtful wife to keep from walking into walls. For the most part, I’m happy with how the husband and father in this movie is portrayed. Except for when we see his inner mind. There, he’s the same weak-minded fool that all the commercial husbands are. And the mother, for a moment, becomes the typical tired housewife, sick of cleaning up after her man’s messes. Is this funny? Sure. Does it move the plot forward? Certainly. Is it productive, original, brave, or any of the things we look for in a Pixar film? Not by a long shot. It’s not only women who are sometimes portrayed through unflattering cliches. It happens to men, too. And Pixar is better than this.

None of that made me more than quirk my eyebrow and waggle an imaginary finger. None of it made me enjoy the film much less. This movie works. It works well. And the resolution is beautiful. A return to form for Pixar, if not the very best they’ve ever made, and one of the few Pixar films I feel immediately calls for a sequel. 8 out of 10. I would rate it higher, but I feel it might not hold up on future watches as much as some other Pixar films, or as some other films I’ve seen this year.

The short at the start is hysterical, by the way.

SPOILERS

Anger almost became a gimmick. Every time he got angry, another of those personality centers fell. It was like watching the same scene on repeat, almost. The other emotions would give it a try, Anger would get frustrated, Fear would (wisely) try to stop him, and Anger would commit physical violence on Fear and take over. Cue dramatic music and a center falling. They could have branched out from that a bit better.

I loved that each of the emotions stood as the antagonist for a portion of the story. So clever, realistic, and well-executed.

I also love that the resolution, the triumphant moment in the film, was letting Riley grieve for what she had lost. I love that they didn’t move back to their old home. They had to adjust to their new life. This decision saves the movie from one of it’s greatest potential pitfalls: the easy out.

We know that the inner world is a metaphor for Riley trying to process her emotions. But is there another metaphor here? puts on scholarly cap Is it possible that Joy’s journey to accept Sadness is a metaphor for a parent learning that trying to make their kid happy at all times isn’t the way to go? Joy’s relationship with Riley is very much a parental one. The way she cherishes the childhood memories shows us that. So her learning that sadness, to a degree, is both inevitable and healthy, could represent a parent learning the same lesson. Or something. scholarly cap falls off on its own Eh, that never really fit right anyway.

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