I recently saw Inside Out at the dollar show. After all of the hype that this film received, I felt a little disappointed when the film ended. Not that it’s a bad film. Far from it. If you’re a Pixar fan, then you’ll definitely appreciate this one.
The gist is that the film takes place mostly inside of the head of an eleven year old girl named Riley. The main characters are her emotions, which are anthropomorphized as people, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. All of the emotions are shown to have a purpose in Riley’s life. Joy keeps Riley happy. Fear keeps her safe and away from dangerous things. Disgust prevents her from eating anything poisonous. Anger helps get her what she wants. The only emotion that seems to have no useful purpose at first is Sadness, who the others try to marginalize.
Riley has so far lived a fun life and gets along with her family and her friends on her hockey team in Minnesota. This means that Joy has been the most influential emotion in Riley’s psyche. The family moves to San Francisco and Riley’s life is turned upside down. She is out of touch with her friends and has trouble adjusting to their new house. Sadness tries to become more assertive given the saddening stimuli but keeps getting suppressed by Joy. Joy tries her best to keep Riley happy despite everything happening but this only causes Sadness to build up to the point that every memory that she touches turns sad.
An incident involving repressed feelings causes Joy and Sadness to get sucked out of headquarters. They have to navigate through the vast mindscape to get back to the headquarters. This follow the standard Pixar formula of two characters who do not like each other having to learn to work together to get what they want. Fear, Anger, and Disgust are left in control and make a royal bungle of things. The lack of Joy and Sadness causes an emotional imbalance.
The way that the mind is represented is cute and imaginative, if not particularly clever. The five emotions run the show from a room called headquarters. There is a console in front of a Star Trek-style view screen that shows what Riley sees. Memories are represented as shiny orbs that are produced in headquarters. There are core memories that form the basis of Riley’s personality and are kept in headquarters. Other memories get sent down a tube to be stored in long-term memory.
The jokes are pretty clever. The region of the mind responsible for making dreams looks like a Hollywood studio. The characters go into a region responsible for abstract thought and they turn into Picasso paintings. And you know those times when you get a song stuck in your head? That’s caused by the workers in your long-term memory sending up useless junk as a joke.
There are a few inconsistencies… or perhaps things that could be better explained. Why are thoughts in the subconscious not stored as memories? Why are the personality islands important if the emotions control Riley’s actions at headquarters? How are things like imaginary friends made real in the mind? None of these issues really break the movie for me but they do kind of linger after seeing it.
The visuals are fairly standard for Pixar. The emotions are animated using a new technique in which they are made up of little bubbles clumped together. It’s a neat looking-effect with some novelty but it’s only noticeable during close-ups. The mindscape is very colorful and fun-looking but not particularly memorable. There’s nothing on the level of the flying house from Up or the dynamic movement in The Incredibles.
Bizarrely enough, I really don’t care about the characters. I know that this is not an entirely fair thing to say, but they’re too one-dimensional. Yes, I know that they are basic emotions and that’s the entire point of their existence. They’re supposed to add up to a complete psyche when they’re together. Their personalities are suitable for simple gags and slapstick. They can carry the film but just barely.
I’ve read reviews that love Joy and Sadness and how they’re adorable. Yeah, they really didn’t work for me. It’s not as if they’re annoying or that they drag the film down. It’s just that they’re not really interesting characters. Keeping in mind that I am comparing them to other Disney and Pixar relationships like the one between Merida and Elinor (from Brave) and Woody and Buzz (from Toy Story). If the focus had been more on Riley with the emotions as more supporting characters, then that might have been a better film.
Despite those gripes, I certainly enjoyed Inside Out. It’s not Pixar’s best but it is required viewing if you’re a Pixar fan. I know that this sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise but I’m trying not to. I will say that the moral at the end is one of the most poignant one in a children’s film and is probably worth the price of admission on its own.