Thursday, June 25, 2015

Inside... Forward... A Full Review of 'Inside Out'


Inside Out... Pixar's latest... An animated treasure...

There is so much to say about it, if you ask me.

Before you read on, this is the SPOILER HEAVY review. If you haven't seen the film and want to remain surprised, but still want to know what I thought, here's the spoiler-free review...

Okay... Moving on...

Inside Out...

Director Pete Docter is kind of the quirky man of Pixar, from my point of view. Monsters, Inc. and Up are definitely more on the delightfully oddball side of the Pixar palette. If John Lasseter is that big, goofy, heartfelt sincere side, if Andrew Stanton is that epic-in-scope, gargantuan, and sincere side... Docter is the quirky, weirdo, oddball, and sincere side.

Inside Out is purely Pete Docter...

Docter got the idea around 2009, the year his Up was completed. As his daughter began to change as she grew up, there came the genesis for Inside Out. Like many a great Pixar film, it is a personal story for Docter and one that he wrote to understand his daughter during such a time. It's his gift to her, and his gift to the world...

Docter pitched the project to Pixar nearly a year later. An original story called Newt was having issues, which is nothing new in the world of feature animation. Its director Gary Rydstrom was removed from the project, so the brass asked Docter if he could take it over. Docter presented Inside Out, and that was the film that moved forward instead. They all loved it for obvious reasons, there was so much potential for heart and humor, a creative setting and a cool interpretation for how the brain works, it had Pixar written all over it... However...


I almost get the sense that Pixar also loved Pete Docter's idea because it represented what could possibly be their biggest challenge yet. So many of their films have an emotional core that's often unsurpassed in the world of big-scale, mainstream feature animation, having that special kind of mix of humor, heart, and drama that's never easy to get. Some animation studios, when they make certain films, veer too heavily into the comedy side of things and treat the more emotional content as an afterthought. Not once do I really see animated films made by the big studios that veer too heavily towards emotion whilst treating the comedy and lighter moments as an afterthought, because doing that would only leave the audience without a fun time...

Balancing comedy and drama like that is not something you can easily do, especially if you're trying to give the audience as much of a fun, good time as possible. I see so many animated comedies try to shoehorn in a sadder element or something that tries to give it more weight, and it feels contrived to me, because it feels like it's not part of the story they're trying to tell or that it's just a minor element in the grand scheme of things. Pixar doesn't do this, they try to avoid that. Disney Animation too. The other studios have shown they can do that as well, what with DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon films, Sony's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Warner's The Lego Movie, the list goes on...

Inside Out asks us "What would it be like if your emotions were little people, and they ran your brain like this?" Inside Out asks Pixar, "What if you literally explored what brings the emotions in real life, and by extension, the ones in your films?" Getting the emotional moments to work in narratives is already tough enough, Inside Out handed them a herculean task... And they pulled it off with flying colors.

Inside Out's first act recalls one of Pete Docter's other films, Monsters, Inc. That 2001 film established a whole world inhabited by monsters, how their world works, and everything else in-between. It's a creative premise that's set up beautifully in the first act, showing everything without any needless exposition. At the same time, we get a wonderful introduction to Mike and Sulley, who they are, how they work off of each other, and then we're shown who the possible threat is, what the stakes are, it's all beautifully set up in the first act. Inside Out does the same exact thing, and by the time Riley is off to San Francisco, you're already familiar with the world and inner-workings of her brain and what her emotions do.


Let's get the human characters out of the way first. Riley is likable, a very joyous and happy girl who is very much what Joy is until the move. From the get-go, we sympathize with her and we don't want to see her have a hard time. Her mother and father work well as background characters, and we even get to see a glimpse inside their minds. The rather-criticized "argument at family dinner" sequence is one of the film's funniest sequences, mostly because it does subtly show how her parents are products of their times, and how they would deal with such a situation. Luckily the human story is just the three of them, adding in more human characters would've muddled things up.


The five emotions are all unique characters, and you can see how they think one way. Joy might have her moments where she's a little unhappy, but her overall outlook defines her character and her duty. The same goes for Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. Joy is perhaps the one in the wrong in the film's first act, being so dismissive of Sadness, who is ultimately just as important to Riley as Joy and everyone else is, and shutting her out all the time. She doesn't have that kind of attitude towards the others, and as a result, Sadness wants to push her way into things. Joy is perhaps a bit selfish, too, as she was the first in Riley's mind. It's easy to cringe at what Sadness does in the first act, touching happy core memories and making them sad, and being something of a nuisance... But it's really Joy who is at fault here, and the film is her journey and how she learns that Sadness is ultimately part of life and that she is...

The very being who completes her.

Their characterizations are spot-on, thanks to the Pixar character animator geniuses and the voice actors. There is not a bad performance here, everyone is great. To say anything else about the cast would be redundant, for Pixar usually casts the right people and not actors who aren't interested in doing voice work for a "cartoon". The characters have their little nuances and their little ways. Joy is always upbeat, chipper, and tries her damnedest to make any situation as good as possible. Sadness bogs herself down, she's a lot like Eeyore, slow, droopy, talks in a slow voice, pessimistic, all everything's bad, but also very understanding and knowledgable of the world's problems... That empathy she has is something that Joy doesn't have. A scene where Riley's forgotten imaginary friend Bing Bong cries about the good times after losing his magic rocket (Riley's old radio flyer wagon with brooms) more than shows that Joy may not have the empathy that Sadness does, again adding to the theme of Sadness completing Joy.


That's to say nothing of the other three emotions. We may not see them for too, too long in the film since this is Joy and Sadness' adventure, but they are brimming with instantly likable personalities and quirks. Disgust is like a cross between a neat-freak, someone who gets grossed out easily, and a cool kid. She wants Riley to fit in and not be embarrassed or made a fool of in public. Aren't we all just that when we're Riley's age? I'm sure when you went through middle school, you didn't want to be seen with your parents or you didn't want to appear 0.1% uncool in front of someone else or a group of people. Disgust's ideas are everything a lot of us felt when we were that age, but at the same time she's fun as a character that just gets... Well... Grossed out by things. Right on cue, no less. The broccoli character design works, too.

Fear is a fantastic character, too. His design kind of reminds me of a germ, and his overall look just gives off "easily frightened person". Some of the best comedy and slapstick comes from him, but much like Disgust, his actions in the second act of the film are a good mirror of how we deal with the more negative things in middle school. When Riley cries in front of her class, there's a perfect bit where he is terrified and yells "Crying?! In school?!" Little things like that, it just hits me. When Riley attempts to go back to her old home, Fear is beyond scared, and that's exactly how we feel when we attempt to do something that we know isn't right. That nervousness, that anxiety... I'm sure this all does the same for the rest of the audience. I mean c'mon, who didn't feel funny if they happened to cry in school? Especially middle school! We can relate to it, and those bits are so subtle, it does it all without being heavy-handed. They just happen and it just clicks in your mind, "I can relate!" or "I've been there before! So true!" They let the characterizations and storytelling do the work, it's just so perfectly handled I can't praise it enough. A weak script would exhaustingly explain what's happening, here... Pixar just shows it, and let's that all do the talking.

A lot is done with Anger as well. Anger has little-to-no tact, he's impulsive, and he's willing to do things without thinking them through. He's very crucial in the film's third act, planting an idea in Riley's head, consequently driving her to run away from her new home. Aside from that, Anger is a walking volcano and when he gets angry, well, you'll see why he has such a design. In the end, he's good at heart and he realizes his errors later on. He also brings a lot of the film's best comedy, particularly when it comes to swear words.

All five of these characters take control and do their work at the perfect time. That's a massive task in itself for the writers: Determining when each emotion acts and when their human acts, how their human reacts to something, and whatnot. That right there is a huge challenge in itself, all the more making this one of Pixar's most ambitious films to date. One slight misstep and this could've gone awry in some way...

That's two major challenges that Pixar, Pete Docter, and everyone involved approached... And successfully completed...

What's another massive challenge that this film faced?

Balance.

Before we get there... One last character. You know who it is...

Bing Bong.


Bing Bong, being an imaginary friend, has one heck of a neat character design. He's pink cotton candy with an elephant trunk, a bushy cat tail, whiskers, and hobo attire, and he can also act like a dolphin. He's very funny and enjoyable to watch, but also very tragic. It doesn't seem like any long-term memories that Riley has of him exist, since the mind workers destroy memories on a whim. Even worse, this selfless character doesn't get what he desires and he ends up in the memory dump, where he'll be forgotten and disappear forever. Usually this comedic side character isn't something another animated family film would axe, but Lasseter's Disney Animation did it with Ray in The Princess and the Frog, and they do it here. Pretty bold! Imagine if 90s Disney killed off Timon and Pumbaa? Or Flounder? Or Chip?

A character like Bing Bong also shows that a funny side character doesn't have to just be funny. Sure, many Disney sidekicks from the 90s and now are somewhat crucial to the plots of their respective films, but Bing Bong is more than just that. He adds to the themes and weight of the narrative, on top of never being annoying. He's genuinely fun to watch, and it makes it all the more heartbreaking when he is forgotten forever... His story arc adds another ring of weight to this already highly emotional adventure.

These kinds of elements, like I said earlier, are balanced. The film had another big task in front of it when taking on its concept and story. How do you balance all this stuff? How do you keep the drama whilst keeping the fun and feel-good?

A perfect balance is what's needed, and they found it.


Inside Out is as funny and zany and enjoyable as it is heartbreaking, moody, and... Well... Emotional!

Like Pixar's other films, one side does not overshadow the other. Like Docter's last film Up, there is this mood that permeates most of the film, one that definitely isn't jovial. We know that while Joy, Sadness, and Bing Bong encounter all sorts of different, colorful things, Riley is suffering. The film doesn't ignore that, you feel it as it progresses. That's much like Up. Sure, things pick up when Carl and Russell end up on their big, zany adventure to Paradise Falls, but things that happened before linger: The fact that Ellie is deceased, the fact that she'll never experience what Carl is experiencing on the journey, his loneliness, the fact that they could have never children, and the fact that the two never fulfilled their dream together. Russell also has his struggles, and how his father is a deadbeat. This is all made worse when Carl realizes that the man he and Ellie idolized, the man who is pretty much the reason why they are who they are, is a monster.

Up could be a complete downer if you look at things that way. If I told someone all this before they have seen the film, they'd probably think it's not a fun film. Pixar's storytelling geniuses and crew balanced that negativity and darkness, and its lighter elements all out with finesse. Up's remaining 70 minutes or so are often criticized, but the wacky adventure with talking dogs and an exotic bird and some very well-timed comedy buffers a barrage of negative realities that are true to life. The lighthearted, adventurous half never, ever, overshadows them. Like I said earlier, the mood is still there. It hasn't gone away, the story didn't push it out of sight. Ellie's picture constantly shows up, and that's to say nothing of the sequence where Carl sits alone in the house and reads the adventure scrapbook.


Inside Out also does this. Riley's suffering and how she deals with her new life is more than enough, because it's something a lot of us can relate to. It doesn't matter if Riley moved to a new home or not, the main idea here is growing pains. You can step back and think, "But no one dies. There's no tragedy. It's just a girl moving into a new home..." It's more than that, it's about Riley facing harsher realities and change, which we all face when we grow up. That's all it needed, it had to hit home with us... For me, it did, in spades. It seems it has done so for many people as well...

Much like Up, that weight is mixed perfectly with the more jovial ingredients. Like Up's fun stuff, Inside Out's more joyous elements never negate the film's main ideas, its human story, and what it will ultimately say during the third act.

The humor expectedly soars, the film is very funny and witty. How Joy and Sadness work off of each other is great, and Bing Bong brings other laughs. The scenes set inside Dream Productions provide a lot of great gags, especially with how they make Riley's dreams. Each corner of Riley's brain brings creative stuff that you go "wow!" at, but also stuff that you get a kick out of.

The comedic and adventuruous stuff is some of Pixar's coolest, trippiest work put to celluloid. The world of Riley's brain is colorful and all sorts of eye-popping. The islands that make up her personality were an excellent story choice, and the little areas like the subconscious caves and Imagination Land add to this world greatly. All the faces they meet are cool, and the sequence involving Dream Productions is all sorts of greatness rolled into one: Movie geekery stuff, laughs, random unexpected humor, clever ideas, it's very Monsters, Inc.-esque in a way. Not to mention a speeding Train of Thought, the canyons that are long-term memory (and a wonderful bit on how random things come to mind at the most random times, Triple-Dent Gum anyone?), and Headquarters, a lovely-looking minaret-like tower. The whole intergalactic-like brain world is just a real visual treat, and one of the coolest environments I've seen in an animated film...


The film even goes for a sequence that comes close to the outright surrealism of some of Walt Disney's films, mainly Dumbo's 'Pink Elephants on Parade' and the last third of The Three Caballeros. There's a short sequence where Joy, Sadness, and Bing Bong take a short cut that's actually a chamber of abstract thought. Abstract is exactly what you get in this sequence. The animation changes styles a few times, and the characters even work off of the different, surreal animation styles to get to the other side of the chamber! Talk about going an extra mile...

So on one side you have a pure Pixar tearjerker with a very real, very human story. On the other side, you have a very fun and smart head trip adventure that doesn't leave out the weird and wild in the visual department. It's truly the best of both worlds, Pixar more than married the two together into one bold, ambitious, wholly satisfying experience...

Not an easy task. It astounds me that they were even able to do this...

That to me is what feature animation should be doing. Risk-taking. Look at how it paid off with the right minds and the right amount of dedication...

This brings me to the last thing that made Inside Out such a masterpiece... It's very much like a Walt Disney film.

A lot of people seem to assume that Walt Disney was just some children's filmmaker that happened to somewhat start animation (also untrue, Walt didn't create animation), a man interested in making "some movies" that happened to be passed down over the decades. Walt's work, I feel, is often sold short. I cringe when I see articles declaring that Walt made babysitter films his whole life, and then his company got more "adult" or more "savvy" during the Renaissance era. Walt Disney was a visionary, Walt wanted to change how people perceived the animation medium, but above all... Walt wanted to tell great stories for everyone. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs didn't become - at the time of its release - the world's highest grossing film for nothing.

Pinocchio aims for the same heights, and Walt didn't care one bit of its second half frights gave younger audiences nightmares. He didn't make the film for kids, Walt never had a target audience, the same goes for every big animation studio that was around during the first Golden Age of Animation. Warner Bros. didn't make their Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts for young audiences only, ditto MGM with their Tom & Jerry shorts and Tex Avery cartoons, ditto Universal with their Woody Woodpecker cartoons, animation was never a children's medium. Walt Disney never made films that were just for children, he aimed his films at... The audience. Everyone.

Pixar operates the same way. They make films that everyone can watch, they happen to be appropriate for a majority of the younger set to view, but the stories, humor, heart, and ideas hit the older folk. Kids can enjoy what they enjoy, adults get something out of it too. However, sometimes, Walt Disney wanted to go beyond just telling great stories. He attempted to make something bold with Fantasia and he was chastised for it. Fantasia remains one of American feature animation's boldest films. I think nothing made since comes close to what that film tries to do. Dumbo goes trippy in its second half whilst still keeping the story work under control, the very quiet and mostly dialogue-free Bambi is more about atmosphere than it is about plot or some adventure or the main character's coming-of-age journey. It's a unique kind of film on its own.


A few Pixar films, I think, go that route. The sort of "Walt tries something crazy" route. The Incredibles, I think, was the first of those kinds of features from Pixar. The five films that preceded it are comedy-adventures that are pretty conventional, but still extremely well-made nonetheless. The Incredibles is an edgy "family film", a sort of "big kids and up" story with very intense sequences, some themes that are definitely more on the adult side (Helen thinking Bob is having an affair, anyone?), and its pointed criticisms at the "everyone is special" mentality that's an issue in our world. Ratatouille? A comedy set mostly in a restaurant with very few fantastical hijinks and stuff? I'd imagine kids getting bored with that film, heck I see a lot of adults call it one of their least favorite Pixar films. I guess it needed some kind of big, fantastical thing, like talking dogs or exotic birds or something. But hey, it does what it wants to do, no matter what the audience - young or old - may think. WALL-E? A polarizing sci-fi epic with a silent first act that also comments on the state of the world today? Up? Need I say more.

I think The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up all make up this circle. That circle would be "Pixar films that really go the extra mile". Films that show what family-friendly feature animation can do, or heck, even adult-oriented feature animation! The premise and story alone are so creative, it doesn't matter what rating this film has, whether it's PG or R. Inside Out is the new addition to that circle, and that's just one reason out of so many why I appreciate this film so much.

Before I get to the film's climax, let me also bring up Michael Giacchino's score. One of his finest, one of the best in a Pixar film. Many parts of it are simply ethereal, it's highly memorable, like pretty much all of Pixar's scores. From the minute the film starts, it immediately clicks. The film is one of the rare Disney Pictures releases that actually has music over the opening Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar logos. Well, I think that's a testament to how great the score is! Forget that new instrumental of 'When You Wish Upon a Star' and the silence/hopping sound effects of the Pixar logo for a second, make way for an excellent score!

This is one of the best covers for a soundtrack for
a Disney release...

Inside Out's climax is wholly satisfying in every way, shape, and form...

With everything gone bad, Anger puts his idea into the console and sets Riley on her journey back to Minnesota. Riley runs away, steals her mother's money, and is about to board a bus that'll take her to her home state! The stakes are raised, and Joy, after realizing in the memory dump that she needs Sadness and that sadness is an important part of life, races to find the emotion she kept pushing away. A fast-paced race back to headquarters the hard way ensues. Realizing Sadness' importance in Riley's life, Joy lets Sadness handle the core memories and make some decisions, something Joy barely allowed her to do in the past... Riley then realizes her mistake, gets off the bus in time, runs home... What follows...

What follows is one big reason why Pixar is so beloved. The whole sequence where she cries to her parents about missing home, it's perfection. It's so simple, it tells everything without overdoing it in any department, it's never syrupy. It's a genuinely sad but heartwarming moment that is a massive, successful payoff to everything that has been built up...


Other animated films might bring waterworks with a death scene, or someone not getting the love of their life. Inside Out makes us weepy over a simple scene where someone cries to their parents over something that's bothering them. Why does it work? Everything that happened before, and because of everything that has been established... We didn't want to see Riley suffer from the get-go, we wanted all to be a ok in Headquarters, and here something almost went wrong and here we have all that frustration and uncertainty burning off, with the person breaking down and crying. I'm sure we've all been there before, when everything that's cooked up in our heads, everything that has bothered us about something, all of it coming to a boil... But no outburst, but a breakdown.

You feel the pain, but also her honesty and everything she's feeling. In the process, she reinvents herself as a person, considering that she loses all of her personality islands throughout the story. It is just perfect...

The sequence is also very much in the heart of something Walt Disney would've called for. Some of Walt's films make us cry over a death (Bambi's mother), or the assumption that someone died (Snow White, Pinocchio), or someone visiting a guardian who has been separated from them (Dumbo), but sometimes he had us weepy over unlikely things... Cinderella has a very sad scene where the stepsisters tear the dress that Cinderella's mice friends - her only friends in her abusive household - worked so hard to make for her. Peter Pan has a scene where Wendy tells the Lost Boys - in song - what a mother is, Lady and the Tramp... Lady and the Tramp... It makes emotional scenes out of mere little things, such as Lady's confusion over why her owners are starting to neglect her a bit, or how she behaves after she learns about Tramp and who he really is... To say nothing of the dog pound sequence! In 101 Dalmatians, Perdita - horrified at Cruella coming into the picture - becomes upset about having puppies and doesn't want to have them anymore!

Then there's one of my personal favorites...

Alice in Wonderland's 'Very Good Advice' sequence... The "break down and cry" scene from this very film, I feel, channels that sequence out of all of the emotional moments in Walt Disney's films. I think that the 50s Disney animated films don't get enough mention when it comes to discussions on emotional Disney moments, usually the discussion goes for the first five films (obviously, because of Dumbo and Bambi) or the Renaissance films. 'Very Good Advice' wrecks me. Alice gets lost in Tulgey Wood and sings a song to herself, a song about how she doesn't do the right thing, a song about why she repeatedly makes mistakes... All on top of her being lost with probably no way to get back home. It's "Self Hatred: The Song". She doesn't even finish the song! She sobs trying to do so! She bawls her eyes out, while all the quirky-looking creatures she saw in the woods cry with her in the distance. How does this scene not get brought up?!

Inside Out's climactic scene inside the house when Riley cries to her parents is just like that to me. You don't need to kill someone off for a big emotional moment, you don't need a big heartbreaking "goodbye", or anything of the sort. This sequence is perfection, and it just tops everything off so wonderfully yet it's so simple...

It was truly hard for me to put it all into words. Inside Out is just something special. It truly is. It hits you in so many ways, effortlessly, it never struggles to do such. All the things about why we think, how we go about things, how we went about things growing up... It's all there, it's just there, it's all woven into this rock-solid plot that resonates. It's all inter-locked and so consistent, it's... I just can't praise it enough... And on top of all that, you have such great characters, wonderful animation, acting, art direction, perfect pacing, lots of stakes, and the Pixar heart.

This is a forward-thinking piece of family entertainment, animated or not. Forget the "family" aspect, this is just damn great entertainment. Who says a mainstream film that cost over $150 million can't be something so profound?

Walt Disney would have loved this picture, I believe.

Best of all, it has a perfect ending. Much like how Pete Docter's first film ends with those perfect last few seconds, Inside Out ends flawlessly. The ending closes everything on a bittersweet, ambiguous note. Joy and Sadness may be back to bring balance into Riley's life, her personality islands are back along with many new ones, but puberty is around the corner along with many other things... It addresses this in a witty manner, and it just finishes up the film with that reality looming. That's all it needed to do. It's also perfection.

The credits go the Toy Story 3 and Cars route, showing us some funny bits. We see inside the heads of others in San Francisco, from the angsty pizza server to a dog to a cat to a clown to one of Riley's teachers. It's a nice little treat, the cherry on top per se...

Inside Out is flat-out perfection... Or near-perfection. A perfect film probably doesn't exist, but this one comes close. Pixar has given us a profound but hilarious and heartwarming adventure that's also a surreal, game-changing film. What more can I say? It does everything right, on top of having so much to offer...

A real "Keep Moving Forward" film in the world of animation...

2 comments:

  1. and then his company got more "adult" or more "savvy" during the Renaissance era

    If anything, the inverse is true. If anything, the 1990s were when Disney STARTED becoming aggressively kid-oriented. They'd always been a generally family-friendly company, but they really started becoming focused on children in that decade.

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  2. One thing Pixar did an excellent job at for this film was the localization! I'm not talking about hockey switched to football, I'm talking about every single text, sign, etc. switched to a country's language (Hungarian, in my case), which I haven't seen since Monsters Inc.! I know the more important countries always had that, but here, for a long time, we only got either subtitles, or a narrator telling what's written on anything! I'm very impressed, Pixar, great job!

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