A little background
So look, we all know Pixar puts out quality stuff. Right? Since 1995, they have been putting out (for the most part) some of the highest caliber animation of all-time. In fact, I have already talked about how they really changed the animation game when they introduced Toy Story to the world when I wrote about our Toy Story night here. And I would be repeating myself if I talked about how they masterfully combine the visual with the emotional with pretty much almost everything they put out. They have truly become a benchmark for great animation. Actually, a benchmark for great cinema.
Now, obviously all that would be somewhat repetitive with points I have already made. So I would never say it here.
See what I did there?
I will say that for a very long time, summer has belonged to Pixar. Starting in 2003 with Finding Nemo, they have had an awe-inspiring run of awesomeness, with maybe a couple of missteps (which I know I keep alluding to and will get to in a second…foreshadowzz!!) From 2007 to 2010, this studio went on one of the most impressive streaks I can think of – releasing beautiful, incredible films each year that all belong on a list of anyone’s favorite animated features. Ratatouille. WALL-E. Up. And the film I consider to be the best Pixar to date – Toy Story 3. Pretty amazing when you think about it.
Then came 2011. And with it, the first bad movie I think Pixar ever put out. Look, I don’t love the original Cars by any stretch but I wouldn’t necessarily call it “bad.” It did some interesting things and coincidentally was actually the first movie both of my kids saw in a theater. Myles saw it in original release when he was 2 and Owen saw it as a kids’ matinee when he was 2. So it holds a place in my heart, even though Larry the Cable Guy’s voice to me is like scraping camouflage-painted nails on a moonshine-soaked chalkboard. Cars 2, however. Ughtown. Terrible. Through and through.
And all of a sudden, I started to worry. Pixar was, in an instant, not perfect. And that was a bit jarring. It was nice to know I could always expect great things from Pixar. And now they had a blemish on their perfect record. But ok, fine…one misstep. I could handle that, right? Then, in 2012, they released Brave. Which I actually think is a good movie. A very good movie, actually. Up there with some of the others I have mentioned? Not quite. But still…not a bad film at all. So the blemish was…I don’t know…half cleared up? It was like Day 1 of Proactiv for Pixar. The cleansing process had begun.
And then…in 2013, they release Monsters University. I don’t know man. This, much like Cars 2, felt like a tacked-on attempt to just capitalize on known commodities. Like, they figured since they had so successfully expanded the Toy Story universe, it would be a piece of cake to do so with Cars and Monsters Inc. And both were left feeling lazy and uninspired. So yeah…two kinks in the armor now. And I started to worry a bit. Can I not count on Pixar like I had in the past? Well, they have def won me back with Inside Out. Cuz I know they were concerned. With winning me back.
I am going to try my best to make this review as free of spoilers as I can but eh…best laid plans. Amiright?
OK, so first off – LOVED Inside Out. Overall, if I gave thumbs reviews – two thumbs up!
Stars? Five stars.
Gary Colemans Dressed as Mr T.? 7.
Oh, 7 is the most Gary Colemans Dressed as Mr. T you can receive. Doy.
As with any really good Pixar feature, Inside Out works on three levels – visuals, story and erm…emotional connection, I guess? But yeah, this one? Three for three.
Let’s sort of start at the top and peel away the layers. The visuals. Wow. Pixar always does an impressive job of creating these immersive worlds no matter the starting point. The sea. Space. Monstropolis. Andy’s room. Paradise Falls. Even Radiator Springs. I mean, really…that’s where Pixar upped the animation game, no? They used this new medium of CGI to create these vast and seemingly limitless worlds. And in Inside Out, they have done it again.
Inside the mind of Riley, an 11 year-old girl, lies an expansive universe of memories, personalities and depth. Going into Inside Out, this was a question I had in my back pocket. Honestly, how vast could they make this world? But much like the actual mind of an 11 year-old, inside Riley’s mind lies an ever-expanding web of thoughts, processes, challenges and imagination. Pete Docter and his team have really created something beautiful with Inside Out.
OK visuals, check. Now how about that story? To me, the story of Inside Out felt so fresh and different and bold. I’m not talking about the whole “people inside our head” thing. Which may seem at first blush a little Herman’s Head-ish but is much, much more ambitious here.
But I more mean the dual layers of storytelling going on here. On the one hand, we get to watch the story centered on Riley and the intersection of transition and upheaval as she copes with leaving behind not only the home she’s known her whole life but also her childhood. I mean, that right there? A movie. But beyond that, we also get to experience the dynamic between the emotions inside her – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust – and how they react to these changes in Riley’s life.
The characters in Inside Out (and just as importantly, their voice actors) are really a key piece of what make this movie work. Amy Poehler is, per usual, awesome. I mean, when is she not? She brings a good chunk of Knope-timism to Joy combined with a true feeling of someone that cares about what she brings to this world (this world being for Joy – Riley). She is…wait for it…a joy. Thank you, thank you. But obviously, Joy is amazeface.
But all of Riley’s emotions work extremely well together. Bill Hader’s Fear, Lewis Black’s Anger and Mindy Kaeling’s Disgust are all perfectly cast and create a really well-rounded ensemble. I have to say I loved Disgust a lot. But Phyllis Smith’s Sadness? Love her. She was like the Ross of the whole group. Except I didn’t want to punch her and didn’t harbor any secret wish she and Monica would enter into some sort of Gellar suicide pact.
Honestly, everything worked here. It was funny (I mean, that cat at the end alone? HA!), it had so many tender moments, it made you think…I mean, pretty perfect stuff here Pixar. Again, totally 7 Gary Colemans Dressed as Mr T.
[not sure…these might be spoilers]
I read that Pete Docter based the story of Inside Out on personal experience. I guess he based it in part on his childhood as well as his observations regarding his own 11 year-old daughter. And that personal insight really pays off here. Watching both Riley and Joy struggle with what it means to let go of the unfettered-yet-unrealistic happiness of childhood took me on a crazy emotional ride. I first thought back to my own 11 year old self. And then I thought on my own kids – one of which is currently at that age.
And ugh, it IS hard moving from childhood to those, gulp…young adult years. On the one hand, you have all that childhood brought you pleading with you to stay. To keep playing with your action figures. Hugging your stuffed animals. Living without grief. Or consequence. Or the burden of self-awareness. To feel like anything is possible and that within your little world, everything will always be alright.
But at a certain age (maybe 11), the world opens up to you. And with it comes all the anxiety and pressures and sadness of, blah, reality. And that is really a hard thing. To let in all these other feelings. And to understand that life is not 24/7 awesome . That life can sometimes be hard. And messy.
But it’s not ALL hard and messy. Life is really a beautiful thing, right? And without the hard and messy, we can’t really appreciate the awesome. And that’s what this movie is all about. Sadness and Joy (and Anger and Fear and Disgust) all have a place and play a role in making us the people we are. Let’s face it. If life was all Smurfs and Tootsie Pops (or whatever the kids are into these days), then we’d never evolve. We would never look to make things better. We would never hoist those we love on our shoulders and out of those dark places. And at the risk of being too meta, maybe truly good films would never shine without the Cars 2’s of the world? Too meta? Eh, yeah…ok.
So yeah, this movie is there. For all those still in the wondrous throes of of childhood. All those trying to make sense of the murky waters of adolescence. And all those that can still look over their shoulders once in a while and recall those unencumbered moments. It really is a beautiful thing to behold. Thank you Pete Docter and thank you Pixar. I absolutely adore what you have created.