To say the absolute least, their follow-up attempts were not at all up to par for their previous critical successes; Cars 2 was a cheap excuse to sell more Cars merchandise, Brave had promise but didn’t bring anything new except removing Aladdin from the Princess Jasmine story, and Monsters University had no bite and half the cleverness of the original, instead providing a gross-out college comedy compilation, but for kids.
It didn’t help that the previous Disney release was the unrewarding sit that is Big Hero 6. Plus, the added insult that it, of all things, won Best Animated Feature at this year’s Oscars. At this point, we all should realize by now that the award will always go to the Disney/Pixar nominee, because popularity is what matters rather than quality of the work.
Ugh! I haven’t been looking forward to seeing Disney movies is the point I’m getting at.
Thank heavens for Inside Out, a rollicking introspective adventure that brings back memories of great Pixar classics, like The Incredibles and Finding Nemo.
What is the big deal with this movie, you may ask? For starters, it reminded me what imagination the creators at the big P have. As noted above, the previous features were not allowed to sprawl and think like early Pixar was. Monsters U was just a reminder of movies your child has no right to have seen yet, Cars 2 was an awful espionage comedy, and Brave was stuck in classic Disney princess territory.
Director Pete Docter’s brainstorm of the inner workings of an adolescent girl is the most imaginative Pixar has been since their landmark UP, making the inner workings of Riley Anderson’s mind intimidatingly massive, but simultaneously fascinating to behold.
The movie’s chief focus is the working relationship between Riley’s key five emotions: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Joy, and Sadness.
Joy is the fearlessly cheerful leader of the bunch, voiced with manic charm by Amy Poehler. Her job is to make Riley optimistic and enjoy life as it comes to her. Anger, voiced by the great curmudgeon Lewis Black, is just what it says on the label, a short-tempered container of potential fury that is too instinctive for his own good at times. Disgust (Mindy Kaling) is the cool girl archetype and Fear is a paranoid hypochondriac worrywart.
Last, but certainly not least is Sadness, played to melancholic perfection by comedienne Phyllis Smith. Sadness is the outlier of the group, seemingly never in the right place at the right time. As Riley has just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley has plenty of conflicting thoughts, chief of which is Sadness.
In Sadness, Joy has found seemingly a problem, one which should be minimized by relocation from Riley’s internal headquarters. However, in trying to remove Sadness from Riley’s life, Joy and Sadness are sucked out of Headquarters and expelled into memory storage. With no other options, Joy and Sadness join up to get back to their working home before the unbalanced emotional decisions of Riley cause irreparable damage to her family’s relationship.
Not only is this movie beautifully colorful in design, but the tone is perfectly mature for what most audiences consider a children’s genre. Too many moviegoers make the awful mistake of labeling animation strictly kids stuff. Animation is not a genre, but merely a form of entertainment. If you’ve ever viewed the works of animator Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat, Wizards), you’d know exactly what I am talking about.
With this film, Pixar reminds us that it is NOT a children’s film company, but a FAMILY film company; it makes films that resonate with adults, but are easily digestible by the little ones as well, thanks to colorful, imaginative designs and cleverly-placed humor.
The best part of the film is the message, which is the most heartfelt in years from any film. The key conflict is Joy wants Riley to be happy, which she feels is best achieved by removing all opportunities for Sadness in her life, by limiting Sadness’ role in their job. However, in trying to remove a key emotion, Riley’s mind is put into turmoil.
The point of Inside Out is to let audiences know that sadness, like all other emotions, is necessary for growing up in everyone. It is a ludicrous impossibility that one will have a pristine, happy life. With an even mix of frustration, care, happiness, and tragedy comes a complete and well-versed life experience. In limiting the variety of life, one loses all sense of living to begin with.
This movie has the courage to showcase a message that it likely wouldn’t have had the chance to 10 years ago. It is a great message to both children and adults that had me tearing up inside that theater, twice. I can live with the fact that it’s a shoo-in for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, if this is the caliber of story we’re dealing with.
I only had one problem with my viewing experience: the short film LAVA. It is easily the worst Pixar short since Tin Toy. Take a trip to either the bathroom or concession stand once you see the first set of Disney/Pixar logos and you’ll be safe.
FINAL VERDICT: If you see only one movie this year, see this one. If you can see more, also make time for FURY ROAD.