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Pixar Triumphs Again with Inside Out!

July 7th, 2015
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The mad geniuses at Pixar have outdone themselves once again with their latest film.  Inside Out is magical, hugely entertaining and absolutely heartbreaking.

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The film gives life to the emotions inside of eleven-year-old Riley.  Inside her head we see the manifestations of her emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), & Disgust (Mindy Kaling).  The five emotions “run” Riley from a control room inside her head.  For the first eleven years of her life, Joy has been in charge.  But when Riley’s family moves suddenly from the Mid-West to San Francisco, her emotions are thrown into upheaval.

Pixar has always been great at world-building in their films, and Inside Out may be the finest example of this yet.  Everything about the film, and its exploration of the inner workings of the mind of an eleven-year-old girl, is so clever and well thought-out.  It’s obvious just what an incredible amount of time and attention have gone into creating the world of this film.  Every detail is so carefully considered, and the film constantly delights as we see its depiction of the different emotions and characteristics (“goof-ball island”) of a child, how memories are created and stored and referenced and eventually lost, and so much more.  I am stunned by how clever it all is.  This is all a total fantasy and yet, it all works perfectly!  Maybe this really IS how the insides of our minds actually work!!

Inside Out also, for me, represents something of an apotheosis in Pixar’s approach of making films that work for kids but are also aimed at adults.  Inside Out is absolutely a film for adults, so much so that I’m actually uncertain what kids will make of it.  This is not in any way a criticism, in fact, it makes me love Inside Out all the more.  This is unapologetically a film aimed at adults, and what a delight it is to see an American animated film (and one released by Disney, no less!) aimed so squarely at adults and not kids!  Pixar has danced in these waters before.  The opening few minutes of Up (which, like Inside Out, was directed by Pete Docter) are absolutely made for adults and not kids.  But then that film did shift into all-ages territory, a step that Inside Out never really makes.

The comparison with the opening minutes of Up is appropriate because, like those scenes, I found much of Inside Out to be absolutely heartbreaking.  Maybe I’m at just the right age, as a parent of young girls, to be hit by this film, but man did the second half of this film hit me like a sledgehammer.  I cried through most of it.  The loss of childhood innocence is an important step in one’s journey to maturity and adulthood, but this film is also bluntly honest about what is lost along that journey, and I found that to be devastatingly sad.

The centerpiece of this is Bing Bong, played to perfection by the great Richard Kind, who runs away with the movie.  They’ve been keeping Mr. Kind’s involvement in the film fairly under wraps, and wisely so.  The whole idea of Bing Bong, Riley’s childhood imaginary friend who she has forgotten as she’s grown older, is extremely rich.  It’s like a manifestation of the worst fears of all the toys in the Toy Story films, being forgotten and abandoned as one’s beloved child grows up.  Bing Bong’s final scene in the film broke my heart.  What wonderful writing, and what a phenomenal performance by Mr. Kind.

The whole film is absolutely perfectly cast.  Perfectly cast is an understatement.  To me, they found the exact right person on planet Earth to play each of Riley’s five emotions.  I was particularly taken with The Office’s Phyllis Smith as sadness, and the amazing Lewis Black as anger.  Never has Mr. Black’s particular brand of surly but good-natured humor-slash-complaining been so perfectly utilized.  He gets most of the film’s funniest lines.  Phyllis Smith is wonderfully Eeyore-like as Sadness, but she also manages to fill each line reading with so much life and heart that, in many ways, she becomes the most fully-fleshed-out character in the piece.

Inside Out is a film with a strong point of view, one with which not everyone might agree but with which I was taken wholeheartedly.  The film posits that it is OK to be sad sometimes, that one needs to experience all emotions to be a well-rounded person, and that there is often a powerful connection in one’s life between one’s happiest moments and one’s saddest moments.  I love these ideas, and I love how powerfully the film makes its case, and how well-woven those ideas are into the film’s narrative.  Compare this to Tomorrowland, which also had a distinct point of view but one not well-meshed to its narrative.  That film had to stop for characters to give speeches expressing its point of view, whereas here in Inside Out it is done far more smoothly.  By living this story with these characters, the audience is brought along to the film’s conclusion and the expression of its central point.  Pete Docter and his incredible team at Pixar just make it all look easy!

Inside Out is a triumph, an enormously, smart, heartfelt original film.  I adored it, and I can’t wait to see it again.  If you haven’t yet seen it, please remedy that immediately.

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