I was nervous about Inside Out. Pixar was once the king of animation, making classics like the Toy Story Trilogy, Up and Wall-E, all punctuating my adolescence with magic. But that crown slipped a little after 2010’s Toy Story 3. Starting with Cars 2 in 2011, a meritless cash-in, quickly followed by 2012’s Brave and 2013’s Monsters University, both lacking the creativity and spark for which Pixar were once famous. Worse still, The Good Dinosaur was supposed to come out in 2014, but was delayed till later this year, due to concerns that it wasn’t good enough.
Upon hearing that their next film was literally about emotions, it almost sounded like a joke, the once master heartstring-tuggers dropping all pretence and literally making a film about sadness. The cynic in me felt that Pixar was a shadow of its past self.
The cynic in me can go stick his head in a pig.
Inside Out is brilliant, among Pixar’s best. Setting up its complex premise in such a way that all audience members will understand, Pixar has so much fun with the concept, taking it in interesting and exciting directions.
The film follows Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a young girl moving from Minnesota to San Francisco, and not having the best of times. Most of the action takes place in her head, with Joy (Amy Poehler) leading a team of emotions to get Riley through the day in the best shape possible.
Joy, of course, wants Riley to be happy, but sees that Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) all have their purposes in keeping her safe. The one emotion she cannot see the point in is Sadness (Phyllis Smith), who only seems to make things worse. The actors manage something impressive here, giving each emotion more depth than their names might expect, with Poehler and Dias standing out.
Through trying to suppress Sadness, Joy accidentally blows them both far from Headquarters. This leads Riley unable to feel either, with the film following their attempts to make it back in time and get Riley out of this emotional slump.
Yep, Pixar made a film about ‘The Importance of Sadness’, and it is amazing. They don’t patronise their audience with feel-good claptrap like ‘things get better’ or ‘look on the bright side’. No, it shows how being sad is sometimes healthy, and supressing it unhealthy. It shows that things change, we change, and that can be painful, but isn’t something to fight.
What is most impressive is how Inside Out doesn’t need big stakes. The world isn’t about to end, aliens aren’t blowing up the city, the only bad thing that can happen is that a little girl gets sad.
But wouldn’t that be terrible? Inside Out takes time to invest you in Riley. I cared far more about her than the entire world when I was watching Avengers: Age of Ultron. I hope other films take note: we have to care about what is being threatened for those threats to effect us.
I’m no neuroscientist, and won’t pretend to be one. However, it is great to hear Inside Out receiving praise for its understanding of emotions and memory. Thanks to the care Pixar took making it, those who struggle to express their emotions in its audience, young and old, will hopefully have a new way to talk about their feelings.
The quality of animation shows this care. Scenes inside Riley’s head feel crisp and clean, colours popping and shocking, with broad, sweeping camera movements, as if ‘filmed’ inside a specially made Hollywood studio. The outside world, however, is far more real, far more grounded.
How have I got this far without mentioning Bing-Bong?! Bing-Bong is Riley’s imaginary friend, on the edge of being forgotten, still deep in her mind. A purple elephant-chicken-dolphin mash-up, he is equal parts hilarious, lovable, terrifying and absurd. In other words, he is perfectly realised, the sort of thing only a child would imagine.
I’m still a little nervous about The Good Dinosaur, but Inside Out is wonderful. It is not simply a return to form; it is among Pixar’s best.