Original Release: June 19, 2015
Directed By: Pete Doctor
Screenplay By: Pete Doctor, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Lewis Black, Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling
From the first soft note on a piano to the moment the credits roll, Inside Out shows us the culmination of years of Pixar perfecting its formula. While Finding Dory and The Good Dinosaur both came after this film, and I wrote about them at their initial release, I think it’s fitting that the last article in Vault Pixar is Inside Out. I’ve come to believe, over the past few days of thinking about this film, that it might actually be the most technically perfect of all the Pixar films. Every moment is precious and beautiful. Every line of dialogue or adventure through a Cloud City seems to resonate with double and triple meanings. Inside Out speaks to a higher level of human understanding. Its story is complex and it opens the door to speaking about mental health with children. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take this one step at a time.
The story of Riley is a simple one. After her family moves, she goes through the typical growth period of learning to deal with a new home, a new school and new friends. She has a hard time adjusting and despite her family wanting her to keep positive, she finds it hard to adjust. Finally, she decides that the only way to deal with the circumstances is to go back to her old home as a means of getting back to a sense of normalcy. This all seems simple enough, but when we zoom into her head and see the complex emotional turmoil going on within her, it all becomes quite a bit heightened. We ask questions like, what if she loses the will to feel joy? What if she becomes dead on the inside? What happens if she loses all sense of what makes her so special? These are the questions answered by the real stars of the film, her feelings.
It would be so easy to make Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust into one dimensional characters. I mean, their names basically ask for it. Yet, somehow, these emotions end up being wildly complex. I think the big choice here that makes this happen is asking why the emotions exist. Fear is a great example. He’s not just there to make you jump at scary movies. He’s there to keep Riley safe. He shows restraint and hesitation. He’s the voice in our head that makes us say, “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t go down that dark alley.” This is just one example. All of the characters show this level of depth, most of all Sadness, who shows that tears and emotions can be used to heal and create happiness where once there was none.
The relationship between Joy and Sadness is so pivotal. After all, from the outset, it might seem that these two could not be more opposite. Yet, only by realizing that these two are intrinsically locked together do the characters realize what has been missing from Riley’s life. Sadness allows us to let go so that we can move towards joy. To have one without the other is simply impossible. These two characters play this balancing act marvelously. One moment, Sadness has us laughing as she refuses to stand up because she’s too depressed, while the next second, Joy has us in tears as she tries to let go of old happy memories.
Bing Bong is a fantastic addition to the cast as well. Not only does he make for some excellent laughs, but he also plays an important roll in showing what happens inside our brain as we age. While imaginary friends might be forgotten, they still shape our emotions and the person we ultimately become. The moment when he fades away after helping Joy is easily one of the most heart wrenching moments of any Pixar film. We cry as it happens, but truly, how many of us can really recall our imaginary friend. If only our tears were also made of candy so that we would have that comfort.
Inside Out is wildly inventive. From showing us how dreams are made, to the imagination, to the sub-conscious, every sequence is genuinely interesting and never feels forced. Of course, some of the best scenes of the film involve jumping inside of other character’s heads. The dinner scene where we see inside Riley’s parents minds is probably my favorite of the film as it takes the central idea of the film and combines it with hilarious circumstances to both make us laugh but also to really establish this world and bring us to the realization that these complex feelings are not relegated only to Riley. We all struggle with Fear and Disgust and the way they play into our lives at the wrong moments.
Inside Out is both laugh out loud funny and deeply moving all at once. It’s beautifully written, directed and animated. With one of the most complex stories of any Pixar film, Inside Out transcends animation or whether this is a film for kids or adults. This is something more. I felt that I left this movie understanding something more about myself. It allowed me to look inwards and understand my emotions on another level. It’s a film that stays with you and makes you think about its concepts. I recall seeing this with my partner Carl for the first time in theaters and how after it, we had a discussion about emotions for hours. Even now I find my thoughts drifting to its implications. It’s that good. So while I might not call it my favorite Pixar film, I certainly believe that as of right now, it is the best as far as message and quality.
At long last, the time has come. From the cowboys and rats, to robots and feelings, we’ve watched every single Pixar movie and taken a closer look at them. It has been an amazingly gratifying experience and I’ll have a post up within the week with all the articles in the series, including The Good Dinosaur and Finding Dory. Saying goodbye is never easy, but somewhere else, our Vault-like skills of discovery and consideration are needed. Somewhere, castles float in the sky, dragons exist and neighbors come in all shapes a sizes. A new Vault project is just around the corner and I can’t wait to get started. To all who have come on the Pixar journey with me, thank you. Now, as they taught us in Up, let’s go have another adventure.