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Inside Out (2015)
A Review by: Jeff Turner
Dir: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen.
Written by: Meg LeFauve, Pete Docter, Josh Cooley.
Produced by: John Lasseter, Mark Nielsen, Jonas Rivera.
Featuring the voice of: Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Richard Kind, Kyle Maclachlan, Diane Lane.
Now Playing at: Aksarben Cinema, AMC Westroads 14, Marcus Twin Creek Cinema, AMC Star Council Bluffs 17.
I have been watching Pixar movies practically since exiting the womb, and have loved the exponential majority of them. I could never nail down a favorite, some days it’s THE INCREDIBLES, others it’s UP; others it’s RATATOUILLE. Many of their films are so consistently delightful that they easily hold up against the test of time.
They had been in something of a slump recently, CARS 2 was forgettable, MONSTERS UNIVERSITY couldn’t shake a feeling of pointlessness, and Brave was met with a mixed reception. Their latest film, INSIDE OUT is an absolute delight from start to finish. Easily the funniest family film I’ve seen since THE LEGO MOVIE, and the most genuinely heartfelt since UP. Pete Docter was involved with both films, so maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here.
I had an opportunity to see INSIDE OUT early, as of this typing the film has still yet to open wide for another day. Initially I figured that it would only be about a ten dollar ticket, so I invited a few friends, none of them could make it. Then of course, the ticket turned out to be twenty dollars. Through some fault of my own, I am not a rich man, so twenty dollars is a lot of money for me. I was glad that the people I talked to couldn’t make it, but I was about to feel really stupid if I didn’t walk out of this movie having enjoyed it.
For the extra money, I got a poster, and they included a tour of the PIXAR studio given by the director and producer before the film. This wasn’t bad, this could easily fall victim to being hokey and disingenuous, but they used a camcorder to give it an organic feeling. It was pretty nice, I’m glad I saw it. I did get a laugh out of when they went to John Lassetter’s room, and he really seemed like he didn’t want to be recorded. He seemed like he was waiting for them all to leave so he could go back to work and he was amusing about it.
11 year old Riley moves from her hometown in Minnesota to San Francisco, because her father got a new job. She has a hard time adjusting to her move, being uprooted from her school, friends, and community to a place that seems intimidating and alien. All this while going through an age and a grade level where the kids are progressively getting meaner. High school lite, these are all problems many kids will experience before their teenage years. Docter handles this subject matter gently, writing characters that you can believe and get invested in.
Her emotions, Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith), Anger (voice of Lewis Black), Disgust (voice of Mindy Kaling), and Fear (voice of Bill Hader) manage Riley’s subconscious and her memories. With Riley struggling to adapt to her new home Joy and Sadness are uprooted. They have to get back to headquarters before Anger, Disgust, and Fear do something regrettable. This leads me into an aspect of the movie that I found to be absolutely fascinating. There was a Q & A after the movie, and Pete Docter said that when he makes movies, he technically makes them for adults. What he means by that is that although these are kid’s films, there is deliberate thematic depth and humanity placed not unlike something you’d see in a more adult-oriented movie.
Joy and Sadness have to protect the core of Riley’s humanity as she takes those steps into adulthood and the world threatens to tear her apart. This is a surprisingly heavy movie. The film wisely wears its heart on its shoulder, and elicits no small reactions. I either cried like a baby or laughed the hardest I’ve laughed in a while, and it was all genuine. The movie will turn you into an empath. Resistance is futile, it really is.
During the Q & A, Docter said that to write Riley he spoke with many of his co-workers about their biggest traumas growing up. You can see that there was effort to make this kid believable, to create characters grounded in humanity. That’s half of the reason that INSIDE OUT works. Because of the terrific script.
One thing I loved about this movie from beginning to end was the voice cast. Rarely does this film have the problem that many animated movies do, where the choices of celebrity voices seem completely arbitrary and don’t suit the characters at all. Of the five main characters, they are all well cast, with Amy Poehler as Joy being the standout. The only one who isn’t necessarily bad, but just seems like it could have been a role played by anybody is Bill Hader’s Fear. It’s necessarily an indictment against his voice work, it’s just that you don’t automatically make the association with Hader that you do with the other four.
I’m not one that picks up on voice acting often, mostly because I don’t see a lot of animated movies for these reviews. When I do, many of the voices cast don’t grip me in the slightest. Amy Poehler is perfectly cast. For those who are fans of PARKS AND RECREATION will find her performance especially delightful as it really seems like Leslie Knope is bouncing around in this girl’s head. She makes this part her own and makes the movie all the better because of it.
INSIDE OUT is constantly creative, coming up with a never-ending parade of new ideas. There’s a sequence where they move through the part of Riley’s brain reserved for abstract thought, and they’re ‘deconstructed.’ Riley’s dreams are produced by brain cells that play the roll of movie producers and direct actors through the dreams she has. You can guess how this movie is going to end, but you can never guess how it gets there. That’s the fun of it.
Something that was great about this film were the consistently hilarious running gags. Running gags can often result in diminishing returns but here they are consistently punchy and welcome. There is a running gag where the movie goes inside the heads of other characters to see how their emotions are reacting to whatever the situation is that is going on. These offer great payoffs because they reveal new things about these supporting characters that we might not have guessed otherwise. There’s another running gag where Lewis Black’s Anger is trying to access something at headquarters but then an annoying jingle for a brand of gum plays. Lewis Black’s delivery sells these parts, for Black is the master of making yelling funny.
INSIDE OUT is handily one of my favorite films of the year thus far. It is a brilliant achievement from a studio I have had a lot of faith in since as long back as I can remember. I love PIXAR films, and I am happy to sit through some of the downslopes, as long as they keep people on who are constantly thinking of movies like this. Films like this are why animation can be a brilliant medium.