Studio’s latest creation shows they’ve still got their signature spirit
The common heresy is that the quality of Pixar movies has been off-kilter since 2010’s Toy Story 3. The truth is, Pixar never ‘went’ anywhere; Monsters University is well worth watching. Still, one can’t deny that Inside Out is a clear return to form for the studio whose creative guru John Lasseter temporarily jumped ship a few years back in order to help revive Disney’s ailing brand. (His work there helped to craft a little film called Frozen.)
Inside Out, like nearly all Pixar’s output, works on many levels, but in the company of only a very select, special few, it reaches beyond its requirements as a film and genuinely inspires. Pete Docter, who sits at the helm of this masterpiece, repeats his last film’s (Up) formula of blending the melancholy with the funny, and seamlessly imbues each into the other.
The surface plot is simple: An 11-year-old Minnesotan girl named Riley is uprooted from her comfortable, joy-filled life when her father accepts a new job in San Francisco and takes his family along.
However, the bulk of the plot takes place within Riley’s mind, which, in its conscious form, is controlled by her five defining personified emotions of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Anger (Lewis Black).
The emotions’ day-to-day work for Riley includes deciding which among them should guide her through each of her interactions – Fear to steer her clear of hazardous situations, Disgust to keep her “from being poisoned… socially,” etc. This concept is so obvious, so close to the heart of Pixar, it seems peculiar they’ve explored it only now. But understandably they had to get it right, and true to form, they did their homework and hired psychologists to consult on the emotions and inner workings portrayed in the movie.
The main conflict involves Joy and Sadness accidentally getting sucked into long-term memory with no clear way of returning. Riley, who’s on the cusp of puberty, is left with Fear, Disgust and Anger in control of the central hub, a situation which predictably generates hysterical results.
The emotions also install memories represented by giant marbles and play them for Riley whenever she wants to recall something, and once she falls asleep, they flush most of the day’s memories out of her conscious mind and into the massive, labyrinthine long-term storage part of her brain.
It’s a pretty cool concept, and it’s executed to the nines. We’re even shown workers whose jobs are to excise old and unnecessary memories from Riley’s long-term memory—and yet there’s always that one darned gum commercial, or what have you, that never seems to fade.
The movie itself runs only 94 minutes – Pixar’s fourth-shortest film – and moves more nimbly than most every other movie the studio has made. In the broadest lens, Docter has provided an accessible, entertaining basic-outline model of human consciousness.
However, given that this movie went through many different thorough stages of development (Joy and Fear were the initial emotions to get lost), one wonders what Pixar’s team omitted. The headlong pace throughout hints that a lot of paring down went into the final editing. There’s no movie I’ve seen in recent memory whose deleted scenes I’d like to watch more.
What made Inside Out so memorable for me was how acutely and cleverly it demonstrated the inner workings of emotional intelligence. It visualizes some of the most harrowing and confusing changes which occur as we grow; we fall out of touch with old friends, we cry about the good things and not just the bad, we realize we actually loathe spending time at shopping malls, and most particularly we learn the importance of sadness and why we can’t just put these intangible things away, into the compartments out of which we live our lives, emerge and grow.