Inside Out (2015)

Directed by Pete Docter
Written by Meg LaFauve & Josh Cooley and Pete Docter

Pixar has changed the game with animated films more than a few times. Initially, of course, it was with the release of the first ever feature length computer animated film, Toy Story, which proved the method could not only be financially and commercially successful, but also that computed animated films could be a viable and convincing storytelling medium. Any more it seems hand drawn animation is a thing of the past, with Disney’s The Princess and the Frog almost marketed as a nostalgic look back the style. Pixar’s successful, in addition to its innovation, has stemmed from its masterful storytelling and endless imagination. These two powerful elements in the Pixar tool belt have allowed them to present more mature content in the realm of “kid’s movies”, with Inside Out perhaps being the most mature yet.

Modern day animated films always have their share of pop culture references to entertain the parents, but with Inside Out, Pixar takes it one step further by crafting a story that is not only relevant to the children in attendance, but has a lesson or two for the parents and other grown-ups in the crowd. Riley is a young girl whose father has recently received a new job opportunity in San Francisco, uprooting the family from their seemingly idyllic Minnesota homestead. Leaving behind friends, school, and the frozen pond where Riley fell in love with the game of hockey, Riley soon finds herself out of place in San Francisco. Her emotions (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear) are experiencing change for the first time too. When Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) get lost, Riley becomes withdrawn and depressed as the two core emotions must find a way to get back to headquarters in time to save Riley.

To say that Inside Out is not a comedy would be misleading, as the film has plenty of funny moments worthy of a chuckle and some full out laughter. However, the film manages to be much more mature and clever than it is actually funny. The end result is a film that Pixar appears to have intentioned to have a slightly more serious core than most of their catalogue. Toy Story 3 and Up are other examples of this. The co-existence of Joy and Sadness at first seems like an oxymoron. Why would Sadness be essential to anyone? Sadness is such a Debbie Downer, we should just get rid of her and we would all be so much happier! What Pixar and director Pete Docter are exploring here is the essentials of psychology. Not being a psychologist myself, I cannot scientifically comment on the portrayal of emotions here, but as a human being I can, and I must say the five emotions characterized in Inside Out are not only relatable but endearingly and frighteningly accurate.

The pure imagination and creativity of Pixar’s past marries itself with their ambition and emotional resonance with the creation of the world inside our heads. With each turn comes another region in our minds for these characters to explore. Sure, there is some explanation, which could have been more show than tell, but there are moments here from my memories and my childhood which surely play on the universality of growing up. Once the initial excitement of a new house, a new city calms, the realization of a new school, of new friends sets in, and it’s not easy to get through. We see this through the experiences of Riley, and how it begins to spiral out of control with the absence of Joy and Sadness. It is not that she isn’t happy, or isn’t sad, these emotions aren’t there altogether. It is in this realization that Pixar shows us the torment and damage of depression.

Although Sadness seems like, well, such a sad thing, it is an important emotion to express, right along with Joy, Fear, Anger and Disgust. These are how we communicate with others how we are feeling, and by losing these emotions altogether, we lose our ability to communicate, to sympathize, to help heal, to get through the times we need to get through. As Riley’s emotions mature, we begin to see her emotions work in sympathy. And while the brief moments we see of other people’s emotions at work, most notably Riley’s parents, are mostly for comedic purposes, Pete Docter and team give us brief glimpses into how these emotions work together in an older, perhaps more life experienced mind. Once again Pixar has delivered with an important message at the heart of its film, full of imagination and even a laugh or two to keep even the most emotionless interested.

***1/2 – Great


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