Pixar is one of those movie companies that always seems to get your attention in an ad.
“Oh, is that a Pixar movie?? Awesome! I’ll have to check that out.”
They can do that because their name is synonymous with quality and they have a proven track record of great films (Cars 2 aside). So, even though I wondered how the (admittedly funny) trailer for Inside Out could be stretched into a full length movie, I decided to see it anyway.
And I’m glad I did, as it’s one of the most complex and amazing animated films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s also one of Pixar’s best, which is saying quite a lot.
(I should also add that I was initially hesitant about this movie because the trailer reminded me of an animated version of a segment from Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, and that seemed like a strange fit to me. But while there are some similarities, the overall tone and style of these two movies couldn’t be more different.)
The story revolves around a young girl named Riley who has just moved to San Francisco with her family. She’s going through all of the usual things young people go through (such as fitting in and finding yourself) but rather than a traditional narrative where we see and hear her the entire time, the story is told by characters representing her different emotions. It’s interesting what Pixar has done here because they’ve broken these emotions into five distinct categories: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear. This approach allows us to see the unique purpose of each emotion, and, much like mixing primary colors, their combinations can lead to wonderful discoveries. It can also cause quite a bit of trouble, and that is the crux of this story. These are her dreams, her personality, and this is her growing up. There is a lot of nuance to this microcosm inside Riley and it’s all quite unexpected and all quite remarkable.
Amy Poehler leads the group as the voice of Joy, while Bill Hader plays Fear (in perhaps the most clichéd character). Phyllis Smith adds some emotional complexity as Sadness and Mindy Kaling gives some spunk to Disgust (They’re both seemingly doing riffs on their Office characters). But it’s Lewis Black’s portrayal of Anger that stands out the most of these five. Seriously, can you imagine anyone else portraying angry rage in a more hilarious way? Yes, he may be playing himself, but who cares because he’s absolutely perfect and provides most of the film’s biggest laughs.
Still, my absolute favorite character here is Bing Bong. Richard Kind is able to inject so much life into this imaginary friend role and turn what could have been a silly, forgettable part into something so much more. The scene where he and Joy find themselves in the (literal) pit of forgotten memories is, perhaps, one of my favorite scenes in any Pixar movie and truly elevated the whole experience. In a sense, this scene made the movie for me.
Inside Out reminded me most of Monsters, Inc, combined with the emotional weight of Up (you know exactly which scene I’m talking about) and it’s no wonder: Pete Docter directed all three. I think he just has a way of getting to the bittersweet emotional core of life in a way that feels… real. That’s no small feat for a computer animated film.
So, go check it out but be prepared for all the feels. I can’t wait for whatever is next on Pixar’s plate, and how many movie companies can you say that about?