It’s been tough to be a Pixar fan the past few years, what with the total artistic flop of Monsters University as well as superior competition in the realm of animated film, like Frozen. That’s precisely why a downright incredible film like Inside Out is exciting for the film industry and especially exciting for fans of the once does-no-wrong animation studio. This wildly creative, emotionally-resonate and hilarious movie about what happens in our minds is not just better than the past few years’ worth of Pixar movies, it’s by far one of the studio’s best efforts.
The movie does good right from the start, with its protagonist Riley, an easy-to-like 11-year old girl who loves her family, her friends, and hockey. It’s great to have an unconventional sports-loving little girl star a movie that doesn’t simply pander to that audience. Riley isn’t a fantasy and not even exactly a role-model, but a real, honest-to-goodness person who doesn’t always make the right decision. The movie does play it safe with racial representation, unlike Dreamwork’s Home this year, but the background characters are suitably diverse for what that’s worth.
If you’re not yet privy, Inside Out’s premise focuses on the interworking of Riley’s mind, personified as five colorful characters named Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear, along with some others along the way. Most of the movie is spent in her mind, leaving the bulk of the charm to the all-star cast of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling and Jon Hader. The casting is perfect, each actor representing their respective emotion to a tee and pulling off endearing, hilarious performances.
The movie focuses on Joy and Sadness to deliver a theme about those two emotions in particular. Literally, Inside Out is about Riley’s family moving to another town during a pivotal moment of her life; the last bits of pre-pubescent childhood. Thematically, Inside Out is a surprisingly poignant, warm and complex affirmation of the relationship between joy and sadness along with all the rest of the emotions, as well as a coming-of-age story.
Perhaps the most impressive quality of Inside Out is its total and utter lack of missed potential. This fun look at the mind feels complete and massively inventive, throwing in lots of actual psychological jargon without being stuffy or confusing. From the part of the brain that produces dreams seen here as a movie studio producing short skits, to the sprawling rows of shelves containing orbs shown for long-term memory, Inside Out never ceases to be clever. It’s the kind of movie that had me constantly worrying it would misstep and half-ass an idea, but it never did. It just kept delighting and surprising.
As a work of film craft, Inside Out is magnificent. For the most part it’s standard Pixar, with a huge variety of color and the silkiest, most expressive and detailed CG animation possible for its time. At one point in the movie it takes things further, however, with experimentation in its animated style that makes it look unlike anything typically seen on the big screen. The plot calls for this shift in style in the exact same way as other animated movies, but the results are hard to argue with. Inside Out is also easily Pixar’s most cartoony movie yet, with energetic slapstick that often feels like Looney Toons.
Inside Out is a classic work of art that does more than it has to for the simple sake of being good. Pete Docter and the rest of the crew didn’t just check boxes to get an Oscar and butts in seats and toys on shelves (although they’ll be sure to get all of those too); they put their minds together and created something truly special.
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