WRITTEN REVIEW – Inside Out (2015)
Directed by: Pete Docter
Written by: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve & Josh Cooley
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling & Kaitlyn Dias
Music: Michael Giacchino
Release Date: July 24th 2015
Pixar Animation Studios has become a beacon of creativity and quality over the last 20 years. Starting on a high note with the incredible ‘Toy Story‘, the company has been revered as some of the greatest story-tellers in mainstream animation and mainstream cinema in general. With over a dozen Academy Awards and a back-catalogue of beloved franchises and characters, a lot of people started to become very concerned with Pixar after 2011 when ‘Cars 2‘ was released, followed by ‘Brave‘, ‘Monsters University‘, the constant delays of ‘The Good Dinosaur‘ (coming out later this year) and the announcement of more sequels as opposed to original concepts.
While Pixar haven’t been on their A-game over the past 3-4 years, their recent films still stand head-over-heels above their contemporaries and still producer solid, commendable work. But now they’re back with an original concept and one of the most anticipated films of the year; ‘Inside Out‘…and it’s the best movie of 2015 so far.
‘Inside Out‘ revolves around an 11 year old girl named Riley (voiced by Dias). However, she’s not the main character. She’s the setting. It turns out, every sentient creature on earth has five emotions inside their head which controls/influences their actions; Joy (Poehler), Sadness (Smith), Fear (Hader), Anger (Black) and Disgust (Kaling). Joy has been running the show as that is Riley’s primary emotion, but when her parents move to a new home across the country her emotions start to go haywire which is exacerbated by Joy and Sadness being thrown out of “headquarters”, leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust at the metaphorical wheel. Joy and Sadness need to get back to headquarters before Riley’s life and state of mind starts to completely fall apart.
While the British Board of Film Classification (the BBFC) has rated ‘Inside Out‘ a U movie, meaning it’s acceptable for all audiences, I personally believe that children under the age of 10 will not be able to understand everything that happens in ‘Inside Out‘. ‘Inside Out‘ is easily the most mature and complex film that Pixar has ever created and as a result, those under the age of 10 will find the themes and ideas lost on them. Though they may still enjoy the bright colours.
That emotional maturity and clever story-telling through metaphor is what makes ‘Inside Out‘ not only a deeply DEEPLY affecting movie, but one that is genuinely special and should be seen by anyone over the age of 10 or 11 because through these five, highly marketable characters, the world they inhabit and the story that Pete Docter is trying to tell manages to capture the essence of the human condition. See, while the five emotions inside Riley’s head (in fact they’re in EVERYONE’S head and not just Riley’s) may seem like one-note characters due to them being named after singular emotions, they are multi-faceted.
Without getting into spoilers with examples, Disgust is clever and good at reading other people, Anger isn’t just a one-note angry person but he is actually quite cunning and conniving at times, though with the best of intentions. Sadness has a quiet intelligence to her, Fear is no-nonsense and by-the-book in order to PREVENT harmful situations happening to Riley instead of just being afraid of them all and Joy…well, Joy is a quietly subversive character and is the key to ‘Inside Out‘ working as well as it does.
See, Joy is actually a bit of a dick.
Yes, she ultimately has the best of intentions for Riley and wants everyone to be happy and as she is Riley’s dominant emotion she winds up taking control. She is seen as the leader by the other four and she is more than willing to take control of as many situations as possible. But that’s also part of her problem. See, Joy was the first emotion that Riley experienced and she came into being before the other emotions. But Sadness shortly followed and Joy has dedicated a portion of her life trying to prevent Sadness from having any sort of influence over Riley. On Riley’s first day of school in her new life, her instructions to Sadness are to stay inside of a small circle that she draws with chalk. Joy’s over-bearing need and inability to understand the point of Sadness’s very existence (Sadness is a bad thing. Why would anyone want to be sad?) leads her to being rather insufferable. In fact, you could argue that Joy is the villain of the movie.
But it’s all for the best of intentions and there’s no doubt that Joy has a deep love for Riley and wants her to live a happy existence and to embrace the joyous things in life. One of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful scenes in the movie has Joy re-watching a happy memory while Riley sleeps (where some dreams come from) and as Riley ice-skates on a frozen pond in the dream, Joy mirrors her and skates around in front of the projector that is showing the image inside of headquarters. It’s a quietly beautiful moment and informs so much of Joy’s character.
The pairing up of Joy and Sadness not only works thematically and comedically for most of the movie, but the unsung heroes of ‘Inside Out‘ come in the metaphor of pairing Fear, Disgust and Anger together in order to try and help Riley through this difficult period. Those three emotions, in the mind of an 11 year old, are entirely reactionary emotions and a form of self-defence meaning that once Joy and Sadness are kicked out of headquarters, Riley goes on the emotional defence and this posturing means that she ultimately starts to lose herself. In the first 11 years of Riley’s life, mini-islands have formed inside her head which reflect different aspects of her personality and her core-identity (Family Island, Hockey Island, Goofball Island, Friendship Island and Honesty Island). Without Joy at Headquarters and the emotional stress of the move taking its toll on Riley, these five islands start to disintegrate.
What we’re watching when that happens is Riley’s entire personality break down and it’s just as devastating as it sounds.
No, the world doesn’t need saving in ‘Inside Out‘. There are no grand battles, no ticking clock that Riley herself needs to meet in order to save the life of a family member or whatever. But the stakes of ‘Inside Out‘ feel immediate, real and you care about them. Riley is a good kid and seeing her struggle at this difficult time is heartbreaking. One of the most important scenes of the movie is after the first day of the move and after a terrible experience the emotions are unsure as to what they can do. But Riley’s mother steps in and tells her that she is so grateful that she’s trying to stay positive and how much it means to her parents that their daughter can keep smiling throughout it all.
THIS SCENE is the turning point of ‘Inside Out‘. This is the scene that defines Riley’s attitude for the rest of the movie. It’s the most vital scene of the film. This is the scene where Riley feels like she MUST be happy. She has to be strong for her entire family and she has to keep smiling (and by proxy, Joy has to keep smiling). She has to carry the burden of the family during this time. But she can’t do it. She can’t keep smiling and it’s just too much for her to emotionally bare.
‘Inside Out‘ is such a highly commendable film because it has the audacity to teach children a vital lesson; that it’s okay to be sad. That sadness is important. Sadness allows others to know when you need help. Another important scene has Joy and Sadness meet Riley’s childhood imaginary friend Bing Bong (who is part elephant, part cat, part dolphin, part cotton-candy and cries candy) and he becomes upset. Joy tries to snap him out of it with boundless optimism but when that doesn’t work Sadness just sits down next to him and listens to him which makes him feel better.
Sadness is a good thing. It’s a complex lesson for children to learn, but ‘Inside Out‘ is so well constructed through visual-metaphor and brilliant storytelling that it not only lands, it resonates. In fact, ‘Inside Out‘ is possibly the best and most compelling portrayal of depression ever put to film and is able to convey what is an incredibly complex concept into something digestible for audiences. One complaint certain critics have had with ‘Inside Out‘ is that Sadness disrupts some of the core-memories “for some reason”. This is one of the few times where a contrivance of the script actually works because that’s the thing about depression; you can’t control it and it just happens sometimes. Also, when you spend 11 years repressing an emotion it’s going to come to the surface eventually and Sadness almost feels compelled to do so because of this.
Now, we’re over 1,500 words into this review and you probably think that ‘Inside Out‘ is an incredibly emotional movie which has nothing but tears. While there are a lot of tears (‘Inside Out‘ broke me three times, incidentally) there are also a lot of laughs and there’s a lot of fun. While ‘Inside Out‘ is not the first movie to have the conceit of emotions personified inside someone’s head or having a factory-type aesthetic inside the human brain, it’s the first movie to do it THIS well and with this confidence which is probably why it’s being touted as so original.
Everything from the interactions between the emotions, the visual humour, some of the set-pieces such as when Joy, Sadness and Bing Bong travel through “abstract thought” as well as the sheer inventiveness of where dreams come from and background gags is just incredibly funny and enjoyable to see on the big screen. One scene has Joy travelling on the “Train of Thought” where she knocks over a box containing “Facts” and “Opinions” and mixes them all up trying to put them back in their place.
“Happens all the time! Don’t worry about it.”, explains Bing Bong. Brilliant.
It’s a really funny movie and the reasons the emotional moments hit so hard is for the same reason ‘Up‘ is often regarded as Pixar’s best movie; because it wields both sides of the spectrum so confidently and so deftly. Its emotional moments land so well because the high moments are handled with such conviction. For every scene of Riley breaking down, there are at least 4 of 5 gut-bustingly funny sequences or concepts.
The voice-cast is absolutely terrific across the board. Amy Poehler walks a fine line between grating and endearing and really turns Joy into a wonderful, three-dimensional character who doesn’t know that what she’s doing is the worst thing possible until it’s too late. Bill Hader grounds Fear who, despite the name, isn’t always scared or frightened, he’s just an enjoyable snob. Mindy Kaling comes across like a girl in her late-teens in terms of attitude and even in her fashion sense for Disgust and Lewis Black is terrific as Anger who reminds me of a stereotypical grumpy-dad character. But the MVP of ‘Inside Out‘ is Phyllis Smith as Sadness who is consistently funny but also immensely sincere and is perfect casting for this difficult, complex role. Special credit must also be given to Kaitlyn Dias, the 16 year old actor who plays 11 year old Riley as well as Richard Kind who plays Bing Bong and truly elevates what could have been a stereotypical “comic relief” character into something with real pathos and meaning. Bing Bong is an exceptional character.
The character designs are incredible with Sadness and Anger taking the cake. Sadness is the personification of a “buzzkill” visually and I love the suggested “Napoleon Syndrome” that Anger’s squat appearance gives him, as well as the tie and trousers. All the characters are a masterclass in design and they’re endlessly expressive.
Of course, the movie looks gorgeous from the designs, textures, lighting, clothing, the world, it’s what you’d expect from Pixar. The journey through abstract thought is one of the move inventive sequences of 2015, the story-telling through visual metaphor is perfect and the mundane real-life world makes the imaginative world inside Riley’s head feel all the more compelling. The internal mechanics of ‘Inside Out‘ and the effective world-building never ceases to amaze and this should be a joy to watch on repeat viewings.
But let’s not forget Michael Giacchino’s score which could be the best score he’s ever done. Certainly his best score since ‘Up‘, it’s multi-faceted, it’s intense at the right moments, subliminal and emotional and just a wonderful listen – particularly when the movie enters its devastating third act and things start to spiral out of control for these characters and the stakes get higher and higher and the layers of sub-text start to get unravelled into what could be the bravest third act Pixar have yet attempted. And this is coming from a company that threw its main characters into a fire pit in the third act of ‘Toy Story 3‘.
‘Inside Out‘ is not only the best movie of 2015 so far, it could very well be Pixar’s best stand-alone movie (whether or not it’s better than the entire ‘Toy Story‘ trilogy depends on the test of time). It’s a movie with seemingly endless layers to its world, characters and themes and when coupled with the confidence and conviction that comes from an animation company with 20 years of experience, the end result is simply incredible. It’s a masterfully told story that I can’t recommend highly enough. ‘Inside Out‘ is the type of movie that makes the entire world better by its mere existence and is ESSENTIAL viewing to anyone over the age of 10. Yes, it’s nice that psychologists will have a field-day picking this movie apart for worthy online think-pieces and editorials, but ‘Inside Out‘ has a masterful screenplay in-spite of that analysis, a perfect voice-cast, ingenious character designs, a world with beauty and creativity around every corner and the guts to say the unthinkable; it’s okay to be sad sometimes.
I give ‘Inside Out‘ 5 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 8th Aug 15