Pixar have always specialised in making multi-layered films that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults in equal measure. They have also developed a truly astonishing ability to tap into a parent’s deepest emotions, such that while their kids were quietly enjoying the animation of the first few minutes of “Up”; Jessie’s song from “Toy Story 2” or Andy leaving for college in “Toy Story 3”, their parents were sobbing hopelessly into their sleeves. Inside Out, the new Pixar animation, is a very subtle case in point. And it’s also far too clever to be wasted on kids.
Inside Out chronicles the middle-class trauma of 11-year old Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) who has to leave the bucolic charms of Minnesota (did she never see “Fargo”?) to be dragged to the uncultured wasteland that is San Francisco where her father’s struggling start-up venture is based. Here she has to cope with the ‘horrors’ of a new house, a new school and getting selected for the school ice-hockey team, one of the previous loves of her life. So far, so yawn. Except that we as the audience experience all of this through the emotions in Riley’s head brought vividly to life by Amy Poehler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Lewis Black (Anger), Mindy Kaling (Disgust) and Bill Hader (Fear). They all sit – Star Trek Enterprise style – at a console somewhere behind Riley’s forehead, watching what’s going on and controlling her emotions to suit. Through their HQ windows they can see in Riley’s brain various “islands of personality”, typifying things like her family ties; goofball sense of humour; love of ice hockey; etc.
When things go badly awry, Joy and Sadness are pitched out of the control room and dumped into the depths of Riley’s long term memory (an area bearing a shockingly multi-coloured resemblance to the Hall of Prophecies in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”). With no joy or sadness in her life, how can Riley cope? There follows a desperate mission to return Joy and Sadness to the HQ, aided and abetted by Riley’s long-lost imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind), before her life is permanently wrecked by bad decisions.
Let’s start with the positives on this film. Inside Out is enormously inventive. If the Indiana Jones series drove an interest in kids doing degrees in Archaeology (and I can’t find any statistics either way on this), then the same could happen for Psychology as a result of this movie. At the very least, you can see how kids with issues of anger management or depression could really get genuine value out of this simple movie by visualising and therefore understanding their problems better. The sociological impacts of the movie might actually be quite profound.
All the leading actors lend their voices to very believable characters, with Diane Lane (Martha Kent from “Man of Steel”) and Twin Peak’s own Kyle MacLachlan also being very effective in voicing Riley’s Mom and Dad respectively. The animation team do a splendid job in rendering both the wild excesses of Riley’s brain and the seedier foggy streets of San Francisco. (In these later scenes I was strongly reminded of both the scary ‘dog bit’ from “Mary Poppins” and (more geographically appropriate) Herbie’s suicide attempt from “The Love Bug”).
Michael Giacchino again comes up trumps with a moving and highly effective score.
And that trailer. Boy, that trailer! If I ever wanted to see a film more this year after viewing a trailer, it was this one. Brilliantly zipping from Riley’s brain to the Mom’s brain to the Dad’s brain and back again, and making “Brazilian helicopter pilot” a defining synonym for day-dreaming lustful women.
Unfortunately, and disappointingly for me, this sequence was also the best bit of the film. We spend 90% of the rest of the film inside Riley’s head. And whilst there are wildly inventive moments in that world – for example, while she sleeps, the day’s memories are being dispatched to long term memory, and the Hollywood style movie studio kicks into dream productions – some of this running time is borderline dull. Much of it is Ying and Yang ‘buddy movie’ stuff that we’ve seen countless times before. Whilst kids will no doubt remain mesmerised by the antics, the comic potential of the interplay between the emotions in different people’s brains is barely tapped again. (Almost in recognition of this lapse, we get treated to a very amusing mid-credits sequence zipping in and out of human and animal brains). If there is a sequel to the film (and it’s notable that the console “puberty” button was never hit), then with any luck John Lasseter will instruct his team to provide more of this type of content: there is comedy gold to be mined there.
On possibly a purely personal note I was also rather distracted by the animation of the hair of Joy and Sadness: perhaps it worked better in 3D than 2D, but it looked to be a bad photoshop paste effect to me.
As I mentioned up front, the film is subtly moving. And it is. An important lesson it teaches (‘teaches’ like being hammered round the head with a candy-covered truncheon) is that it’s “OK to be sad sometimes”. Do you remember the time around age 11 or 12 where you grew up just enough that Christmas Day didn’t seem QUITE as thrilling and exciting as it did when you were 6? And didn’t that cause those joyful present-opening “core memories” to be tinged ever so slightly with a haze of nostalgic sadness? This film amplifies those feelings through a prism of faint regret, and older viewers should be prepared to shed a tear or too over the lost joys of years gone by. The genetic code of “Up” was clearly preserved in amber and being slowly and randomly released by Pixar. You have been warned.
So in summary, “Inside Out” is a great film and well deserving of your cinema dollar, but perhaps a smidgen disappointing in its execution when measured against the bar set by that glorious trailer. Needless to say, it will still make a fortune for Disney and Pixar though and good luck to them.
Finally, I must comment on the traditional Pixar short ahead of the main feature. I’m not sure if this is actually the case, but I at least like to think of these shorts as some sort of rite of passage production by newcomers into Pixar to showcase what they are capable of. And if that is the case then, on the basis of “Lava”, Pixar’s future is rosy. Telling the musical story of an old Pacific volcano seeking the love of his life, the short film is an animated delight that had me grinning from ear to ear. I just lava-d it! Do NOT arrive late. Do NOT miss this.
Fad Rating: Inside Out – FFFF.
Fad Rating: Lava (short) – FFFFf.