It’s been a while since Pixar Animation Studios truly wowed audiences. The last critically acclaimed film they made was Toy Story 3, which was released five years ago. Since then, they’ve released three other movies that didn’t receive nearly the amount of praise their other works have. Cars 2 was a shameless cash grab, Brave lacked the studio’s inventiveness, and even though I personally am a big fan of Monsters University, I am willing to admit that it doesn’t match the usual Pixar quality. To makes matters worse, their 2014 project, The Good Dinosaur, was delayed to later this year due to major creative differences. Many fans, including myself, became worried that Pixar’s glory days were over, and any upcoming releases from the studio needed to be approached with caution. At least, this is how I prepared myself for Inside Out. It’s a story that certainly seems to have Pixar written all over it, but I didn’t want to get too excited and set myself up for disappointment. So, although I’m not necessarily sure where I would rank it amongst the rest of the Pixar films, Inside Out feels like the studio is back to doing what they do best. Predictably, it is a very emotional film, but it also plays well to Pixar’s storytelling strengths. Through its strong grasp on how people think and feel, Inside Out is a fully cathartic experience.
Inside Out takes place in the mind of 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a girl who suddenly finds out she’s moving away from her Minnesota home to San Francisco. Like most young kids who go through such drastic changes in their lives, this is a lot to take in for Riley. This is pretty clear in the film, as it is framed in the perspective of Riley’s five main emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader). These emotions work in a control room inside Riley’s mind, having her react when necessary and creating memories along the way. Their jobs are pretty straightforward, but when Riley must confront with adapting to her new environment, the emotions discover this to be much harder than what they’re usually tasked with. What follows is an ingenious story about how our emotions develop at key points in our lives, particularly during the transition of growing up. It also goes into the importance of balancing these emotions, specifically joy and sadness. Looking from the outside, the emotions of a child may seem mundane and easy to get over, but what’s so admirable about Inside Out is that it doesn’t shame or belittle such behavior. Even though we barely scratch the surface of the world as children, our emotions are still just as integral to us as they are to an adult. So when a kid like Riley struggles to understand her emotions in a situation like this, life can get very problematic, and the movie is so creative in visualizing this.
Co-writer and director Pete Docter is no stranger to making emotional movies. He’s the artist behind Monsters Inc. and instant tearjerker Up, and Inside Out is arguably his most unique film yet, if not his best. Docter even decides to take a very personal angle with this film, as he based it off his own child experiences and watching his daughter explore her emotions, as she grew older. While Docter’s parental voice is often heard quite loudly in Inside Out, he also does a great job in defining his childlike voice. Coming of age at eleven years old isn’t the easiest to explain, but Docter does wonders in showing it and revealing its dark truths. While Inside Out is very much about understanding your emotions, it’s also a lot about the loss of innocence. The film shows the impact growing up has on your emotions and memories. When you slowly become older, your feelings aren’t so simple and your memories begin to show their complexities. All of these themes will probably go right over the heads of Inside Out’s youngest audience. They’re mainly there to pull on the heartstrings of the adults watching, and it works tremendously well. It also helps that the screenplay, written by Docter, Meg LaFauve, and Josh Cooley, is incredibly smart, insightful, and hilarious. Pixar has always been known for writing compact but balanced scripts, and this is another solid addition. Plus, the film is perfectly cast. It’s nice to see an animated movie with some big names that actually suit the characters they’re playing rather than are just used to put on posters and trailers. Michael Giacchino’s lovely score is just the cherry on top of all this greatness.
Even though I am very satisfied with this film, I still feel there is room for more plot. It’s far from the longest movie, and I wouldn’t have minded if it went a bit longer. While the story wraps up quite nicely, extending Riley’s emotional journey would have allowed the film to earn its already powerful climax even more. This is just a slight nitpick in a movie that is a return to form for Pixar. Again, it’s rather unclear to me how Inside Out compares to the other Pixar films at the moment, but my favorites from the studio are the ones I revisit all the time to appreciate its genius filmmaking. So, I am really looking forward to re-watching this, and hopefully soon. For now, I can still say that Inside Out is one of the best films of the year so far. It’s cleverly made, thoroughly detailed, undeniably heartfelt, and, of course, emotionally resonant to audiences of all ages. This film is a reminder that repressing your emotions or feelings is never healthy; it is always helpful to open up because we, as well as our emotions, mature from it as a result.