“Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems.”
After an impeccable decade and a bit of bona fide classics, it was only a matter of time before Pixar started to disappoint. No movie studio or single collection of creative minds could stay that good forever. So after the perfection of movies like Toy Story, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, the disappointment of things like Cars, Cars 2 and Brave was kind of inevitable. Actually, I’ve never seen Brave, which is kind of the point, no one saw Brave. Even good recent Pixar movies, like Monsters University and Toy Story 3, suffer from the very fact that they’re sequels and lack that initial delight that a new Pixar world can bring. But from the first trailer I saw months ago, I had a feeling that Inside Out was going to be one of the good ones.
It turns out, inside of us all, in a control room in our brains, a team of emotions run our feelings. In the world of Inside Out, we get to see this in action through 11 year old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). Inside her mind, we meet Joy (Amy Pohler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kailing) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). After a new job for her father sees Riley and her family moving from Minnesota to San Francisco, her emotions literally need to work overtime so Riley can navigate and process her new life.
When Sadness starts to have too much power in the control room of Riley’s brain, Joy starts going to more and more extreme lengths to exert her positive outlook. When those lengths prove to be too far, Joy and Sadness end up exiled in the depths of Riley’s mind, trying to save her core memories and best personality traits. While Anger, Disgust and Fear scramble to make up for the missing Joy and Sadness.
This might sound like a big call, but Inside Out might be one of the best movies Pixar has ever made. Like the others that could possibly lay claim to that title, it’s the perfect mix of a fantastical world, used to tell a very real, relatable story. And, like the others that could possibly lay claim to that title, it balances the serious and the funny, the sad and the uplifting, the sentimental and the cynical, all in perfect proportions.
Even a third tier, supporting character, like Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s long forgotten imaginary friend, is fully fleshed out and never used for the one note. He’s goofy and broad on introduction, but gets to evolve and show real depth of what he represents inside Riley’s mind. And, how she copes with this situation that would be so world changing and stressful for a 11 year old kid.
Speaking of Richard Kind, like him, every character is so perfectly cast. A lot of classic animation fans criticise Pixar for starting the now common trend of casting big name movie stars in animated movies. And while I agree that professional voice actors would often be better in animation than obvious cash grab castings, like Rihanna in Home, the real world personas of these actors really is an asset in Inside Out. Picturing the real world Amy Pohler only makes Joy more believable. Lewis Black’s real life, familiar mannerisms, animated here as Fear, make him funnier and more potent.
In the end, it’s that Pixar knack for finding emotion in universal experiences that really brings Inside Out together. Things like that old commercial jingle that stays stuck in your head for years longer than it ever should, while four years worth of piano lessons are casually forgotten in the blink of an eye. All of these seemingly little moments of inconsequence all build to make the bigger moments that much bigger.