Unlocking Your Mind
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Pixar has an uncanny ability for taking concepts that sound utterly ludicrous on paper and crafting them into the most profound stories imaginable. An old man and a boy bond over life in a house floating away on balloons? A rat wanting to become the greatest chef in Paris? A bunch of plastic toys that are secretly alive? None of these ideas sound like something that would make children laugh with excitement and adults cry with emotional catharsis, but when Pixar is at its best, those very ideas become masterpieces. With the advent of the merchandise mine but otherwise completely ludicrous Cars franchise, there was some trepidation that Pixar was losing that knack for multi-layered storytelling, but it was largely written off as a one-off, entertaining misfire. The subsequent sequel to the talking cars followed by the average Brave and the middling Monsters prequel renewed those fears that Pixar was losing its creative ability to fall back on predictable franchise cash cows. The announcement of Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur as original projects was a welcome one and if the latter is anything like the former, we’re in for a real treat. Inside Out is an absolute masterpiece and the best Pixar property since the equally sublime Up. It’s bursting with flavorful characters, a pitch-perfect cast, and a subtle yet powerful message at its core.
Inside Out was billed as the “movie about emotions” and true to its word the story (at least on the surface) largely revolves around the mind of a girl called Riley, with the occasional, hilarious detour into the minds of her parents and other minor characters (stick through the end credits). Riley’s sudden move from Minnesota to San Francisco (which arguably couldn’t be more different) sets the plot of the film in motion as she struggles to reconcile her new life with the one before that had held everything together for her. In one aspect, moving doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. It’s, by definition anyhow, picking up stuff from one location and simply transporting it somewhere else. But if you’ve lived somewhere your entire life and the entirety of your cognitive development has occurred there, to be ripped away suddenly and transported somewhere far, far away is a fairly difficult thing to do. To the credit of Inside Out, it never treats Riley’s move as a small event or inconsequential in any fashion nor does it elicit blame to anyone involved. For Riley, this is her greatest life-altering moment and for her parents, it was a matter of necessity and the film holds both points of view up to the audience without providing a judgmental tone, finding a resolution that understands both.
Beneath the surface of a tale of emotions lie the reality of how complex human emotions can be and how often they work in tandem. In the film, the complexity is whittled down to five characters, which is still impressive considering human emotions are often dumbed down between happiness and sadness. The five emotions represented here are Disgust, Fear, Joy, Sadness, and Anger, with the primary antagonism being represented through Joy and Sadness. Joy believes her role to be the most important in Riley’s life and certainly everyone gives her that deference almost intuitively. Every time that Sadness tries to interfere at all with Riley’s core memories – the memories that rank as being the most important markers in her life – Joy stops her, even relegating her to her own little chalk circle so she doesn’t interfere with Riley’s first day at school. In constantly trying to push Sadness away, Joy ends up getting them both out of headquarters and leaving the other three in charge. Disgust, Fear, and Anger are all competent as their emotions, but without the other two, they leave Riley miserable and soon she begins to lose all semblance of having an emotional self. For Joy, she even attempts to abandon Sadness in a desperate attempt to save Riley’s emotional core but in doing so finds herself falling to lower depths than ever before.
As humans, it is perhaps imbued within our very DNA to run after happiness as the most sought after emotion (taking the five within the film into consideration). No one wants to be sad for even a moment, let alone spend their entire existence wallowing about in it. No one wants to be afraid, for we would much rather feel confident. No one wants to be angry, because even though it may feel empowering to grasp anger and spew it out, it only leaves behind at least some melancholy in its wake. No one wants to be disgusted because deep down we’d rather approach the world and the people around us with an empowered appreciation. But everyone wants to be happy. Certainly Joy, perhaps confined within her role, sees the world from that point of view and the film always positions her right at the center (like the picture) above to emphasize that point. Unfortunately, that point of view is extremely limited, negating the entire existence of a spectrum and leaving behind a considerable amount of the human experience. It isn’t until the film’s climax where Joy recognizes the importance of giving enough space for everyone to exist within Riley’s mind as equals, an importance understood by all the other emotions before her.
Inside Out is at its core about the importance of understanding the complexity of the human experience. I can’t recall a film marketed to children whose central message is that sadness is a part of that very human experience, that it not only needs to be accepted, but understood. I don’t know if Inside Out is the pinnacle of Pixar’s achievements so far, but it would be fairly difficult to argue with someone who does place this film at that pedestal. The writing is immaculately sharp, crafting moments of cathartic realizations and intricate wit and intertwining them effortlessly. The animation as always is impeccable, with the shots of a traffic jam in San Francisco especially inspired for its pure evocation of reality. The voice actors are simply superb and it seems quite evident that Pixar couldn’t have found better actors to fill the emotional roles. Amy Poehler, is perfect as Joy. Bill Hader’s turn as Fear is particularly hilarious. Mindy Kaling is superb as Disgust, her tone imbued with just the right amount of sharpness and tart. Phyllis Smith gets the star turn here as Sadness, filling in this character who feels forgettable and isolated with a touching pathos. Lewis Black effortlessly embodies Anger, who besides being galled by San Francisco ruining pizza with organic ingredients and broccoli, nearly steals every scene he’s in. As great as these individual actors and characters may be and the truly are, true to the film’s core message, it’s when they’re together that the real sparks fly. Inside Out knows that we want to be happy, but more importantly it understands that for joy to truly matter, it cannot hope to stand alone.
Title: Inside Out
MPAA Rating: PG
Directed by: Pete Docter
Produced by: Jonas Rivera
Screenplay by: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Story by: Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Edited by: Kevin Nolting
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Dates: May 18, 2015 (Cannes), June 19, 2015 (United States)
Image Courtesy: Pixar Post