Movie Review: Inside Out (2015)
Pixar is perceived as having been under a slump in recent years. Personally, I think that is sort of a bum rap... for the most part. Okay, Cars 2 was not very good, and Monsters University was a serious letdown, but Brave is lumped in with their misfires, and that movie is pretty good. Either way, the studio that gave us Wall-E, Up and the Toy Story Trilogy have some work to do in order to restore their former reputation with the public. Is Inside Out the movie to do it?
Before the movie begins (in theaters) is a short called Lava. The short is a musical number about a volcano who pines for another volcano. It kind of has its charm, but is overall kind of forgettable. It is nice that Disney is one of the few companies to still put shorts in front of movies. But they can't all be "Get a Horse", can they?
The premise of Inside Out is a look inside the mind of Riley. Her mind is a control center for her emotions - Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear (Sorry, Fear is not paired with Surprise, Ruthless Efficiency or an Almost Fanatical Devotion to the Pope). All of the different emotions essentially have different jobs. Joy is the leader. Disgust reminds Riley of what she does not like while Fear keeps her out of danger, but Sadness seems to have no role. Problems arise when Riley's family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco.Joy tries to make the best of it for Riley and tries to keep Sadness away from interfering with Riley's life - especially her memories. While trying to keep Sadness from interfering with Riley's memories, Sadness and Joy are both sucked into the memory machine which means they have to tour through various aspects of Riley's mind - including her imagination and her dreams. Along the way, they meet an imaginary friend named Bing Bong. Matters are complicated when her inability to feel Joy or Sadness causes Riley to lose parts of her personality traits - such as her enjoyment of hockey. This makes access to the control room even harder.
With all due respect to the filmmakers, this is not the first time the idea of personality traits being personified has been done. Sketches, newspaper strips, and cartoons have done this sort of thing before. People have been quick to point out that this movie has a similar premise to the series Herman's Head. However, execution is everything, and Inside Out succeeds with flying colors. Naturally, the personality traits are the stars of the film. Joy is obviously constantly optimistic but a little too bossy and too much of a control freak for her own good. Sadness is the perfect gloomy Gus foil. The two funniest characters are Anger and Disgust. In a true bout of inspired casting, Lewis Black plays Anger - in other words the part the man was born to play. (One day, kids will get why Lewis Black playing Anger is so funny.) Disgust is entertaining because she's so snooty, snarky and droll but still in a very likable way - a lovable, droll geek.
One of the other things that makes that film work is the way it creates an entire world inside Riley's mind. Memories are stored in orbs which are stashed away for long term memories. There is a scene in Riley's imagination which is a pretty entertaining scene which experiments with different animation styles. Riley's dreams are created by a film studio which draw upon her memories. Her faded memories are a wasteland where they eventually dissolve. There is a really fun scene where Riley has an argument with her parents. We see how Riley's emotions handle this, but we also the "battle centers" for each of her parents and how their emotions handle it.
According to IMDB, the filmmakers consulted psychologists about how to make Riley's work, and a lot of the movie makes sense from a psychological perspective. Because Riley suppresses her sadness about the move and what happens to her, she is left primarily with fear and anger over what has happened to her. Activities she once loved - such as playing hockey no longer appeal to her, and she becomes distant with her family.
This may come off as a spoiler - or maybe not since the movie alludes to this by its plot - but Inside Out teaches that it is okay to be bad sometimes. Forget the kids, this may be a good lesson to the adults watching this with their kids - that sometimes their kids will be sad about things, and sometimes it is okay for them to let it out. Towards the end, Inside Out has some genuinely heartfelt moments because of this.
Being a Pixar film, it probably goes without saying that animation is top notch. With how much of the movie takes place in the real world, these are some of Pixar's best-looking humans. There is one weird quirk with the characters in Riley's mind. They look like traditional cartoon characters but have very realistic hair. It is an odd quirk, but one that will be forgotten about as the movie goes on.
As much as there is to like about Inside Out, the movie does have faults. For starters, the humor is kind of hit and miss. There are some serious laugh out loud moments - particularly from Anger and Disgust. The world itself provides some truly funny moments such as when they enter an imagination-land where everybody receives an award - Joy gets a first place trophy while Sadness merely earns a participant award. Stuff like that is pretty funny. However, there are a lot of awkward jokes - there is a scene where Bing Bong is pointing out the various aspects of Riley's memory and points out Deja Vu. Guess the punchline. No, seriously, guess. Humor is subjective, but I saw this movie with its intended audience and they laughed as often as I did, so take that for what is is worth. This movie has laughs, but it is not up there with Up or the Toy Story films as Pixar's funniest.
Another minor gripe is that a lot of the human characters feel like stereotypes. Yeah, the personalities are the real stars, but a lot of the movie still takes place in the real world so these scenes may have been better if these were more realistic characters and not just tropes that people will only recognize from watching other movies and TV shows. There is an amusing sequence at the end where the movie shows inside the minds of some of the supporting characters. This is kind of funny, but these characters are such obvious tropes that it doesn't have the comedic punch it should have. However, the pay-off of showing inside the minds of dogs and cats is pretty funny.
Also, one small gripe with the movie is that the five personality traits spend less time together than one might think. This is kind of a paradoxical problem: The plot calls for them to be separated, but the plot may not have worked if they were together the whole time. Still, we see how much Joy and Sadness work together, it may have been fun to see how these characters worked with the rest of the team.
Overall, Inside Out is a winner. The film is certainly a welcome break from the sequelitis of Monsters University or Cars 2. Calling it a comeback may be a misnomer since the film is on par (though maybe a little better than) the underrated Brave. However a few flaws hold it back from being in that upper echelon with Up, The Tory Story films or Wall-E. Still, Inside Out is a worthwhile flick for children and adults.
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