“[Inside Out] is as endearing in execution as many of its superior Pixar brethren, and it constantly evokes empathy from its audience, without feeling needy.”
Director: Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen
Starring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black
Release Date: 24th July 2015 (UK)
An ever-present notion of pleasant nostalgia pervades Inside Out; the latest animated Pixar offering. It feels like the kind of feature that future generations shall rave about in the school yard; whilst walking about with their friends; at parties.
The film that they cite as a part of their childhood. One that shaped and defined them for the better. Titles such as The Lion King, How To Train Your Dragon, The Incredibles and Coraline have served this purpose in my life, and have determined my cinematic taste, for better or for worse. I shan’t deny that I have an inherent bias towards all of them; I feel obligated to acclaim and defend these films, even with the knowledge that some of the titles aren’t as evocative, creative or as intelligent as a range of fellow contemporary animations. This is the power of nostalgia, and its persuasive partiality that prevents us all from being convinced of a film’s issues. Pixar; and more recently Disney•Pixar; have been riding the popularity of their older works for a great deal of time now, and have convinced much of the population that they’re the most consistently impressive animation studio in the business. This isn’t wholly fallacious; Dreamworks has given us How To Train Your Dragon, Kung-Fu Panda and The Penguins of Madagascar, but their propensity for underwhelming, formulaic storytelling proves detrimental for their general reputation. Disney have never been as dependable in output as many of their peers, their recent resurgence in quality stilted with the release of the disappointingly conventional Big Hero 6. The mainstream aren’t familiar enough with Hayao Miyazaki and his former animation group, Studio Ghibli, to consider him a legitimate form of competition for Pixar. Thus, the studio has cornered the market, and deprecation of their films (part the near-universally renounced Cars 2, Monsters University and Brave) is looked down upon as cheap and petty. As such, films like Toy Story 3 have garnered near-ubiquitous commendation and glorification, despite various flaws discernible within their narrative and technical departments. Expressing even minor qualms about the quality of their works generally elicits demeaning rage from fans of the studio. This inhibits the capacity for meaningful criticism, analysis and discussion; Pixar have successfully reproved denunciation of their films, whether intentionally or not. You has to admit that this is a fairly impressive feat.
To be clear, I am not here to condemn any and all who support Inside Out, director Pete Doctor and co-director Ronaldo Del Carmen’s latest release. I just hope to impart an appropriate degree of levelheadedness that seems to be lacking from many critics in this instance. To be forthright: structural concerns litter this feature; the character models lack a realistic quality that companies like Dreamworks have been capable of imbuing within their animated figures for a number of years now; an assortment of the protagonists feel one-note in regards to their motivations and personality, and expository dialogue is a constant reminder that this world that we are witnessing come to life is, in reality, theatrical and unfeasible. But there is a rambunctious charm, vitality and life to the film that makes it virtually impossible to solely degrade. It is as endearing in execution as many of its superior Pixar brethren, and it constantly evokes empathy from its audience, without feeling needy. Every time we yearn for the satisfaction of our protagonists; every time our connection with them grows; every time they endure a hardship and the film demands that we long for their endurance; it feels earned. The writing establishes a correlation between the audience and the characters, and subsequently, we feel as if we are embarking alongside them on whatever journey they seek to undertake. So many modern animations lack the sincerity and intimacy that allows a connection between a viewer and the film to grow (Home, as an example); fortunately, Inside Out sports these characteristics with unabashed delight.
The premise of this film, as relayed to us by our hero emotion Joy, is that inside the mind of developing pre-teen Riley lies a group of five different emotions, all of whom help to make Riley into the young girl she is. These emotions include the aforementioned Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black). After the mishandling and misplacement of Riley’s vital core memories, Joy and Sadness must traverse the labyrinth that is Riley’s long-term memory and personality traits, all whilst the girl is suffering an emotional crisis after moving to San Francisco from Minnesota. The concept that the director Doctor introduces isn’t particularly inventive, the premise having been utilized in a range of different settings in years gone by. But it’s the imaginative world-building and characterizations that allow Inside Out to obtrude from any generalizations or pre-conceptions that one may have formed prior to viewing. The constantly stunning size of Riley’s inner-world never fails to amaze, and the various areas explored (which I refuse to spoil) throughout prove ingenious and invigorating. Youwant to sit up and investigate alongside Sadness and Joy. It is this creativity, evinced from the opening shot to the last, that fills one with the desire to re-watch the feature again, the second it concludes.
It’s a shame that the narrative of the film isn’t as visionary or unorthodox as the world that has been constructed for it. Joy has a maddening inclination to elaborate and explain every single detail to the audience, as if they’re all children. Visual enunciation is rarely attempted, dialogue utilized to articulate anything deemed appropriate by the various screenwriters. The dialogue itself is generally impressive, the comedic capacity of the feature perhaps its strongest selling point. The film prompts laughter at regular intervals, and nothing feels cheap; every joke is hit adequately. Even the least inventive jocular endeavours (Anger’s desire to swear) primarily inspire at least grins from the audience. This crowd-pleasing attribute should allow for viewers of all ages to embrace the film, no matter their familiarity with the rest of Pixar’s body of work.
Scored by Michael Giacchino (who also composed the scores for Up, Ratatouille, The Incredibles and Cars 2), there’s an aural undercurrent of rhythmic sound-design that manifests from the first few moments in the running time. Inside Out is perhaps Giacchino’s most mature animated composition since Ratatouille, and has a keen sense of dramatic and thematic sensibilities. It’s not the most enjoyable out of context, repetition and dull droning from the synthetic section degrading the standard of the initial forty minutes, but the zippy string work and delightfully rousing leitmotific material; as well as jazz percussion and piano, make for a relatively strong outing from the composer.
Where the film faults most consistently is in regards to its pacing, which feels oddly all over the place. The feature’s various forms of conflict feel insignificant and far too numerous for the relatively concise running time; as opposed to having three or four major complications materialize over the one-hundred minutes, the film has new and insignificant obstacles appearing every few minutes or so. Thus, major adversary is continuously discounted for lesser thrills and spills, and this leaves an unsatisfying taste in one’s mouth. This kind of issue spouts from the lack of an immediate and focused antagonistic force, though the nature of this point could be argued as both positive or negative, based on your own personal view. I myself embrace the lack of designated opponent. Doctor intelligently side-steps various cliches and plot conventions in regards to an antagonist; there are a number of characters introduced during the second act who could’ve fit into this role come the final half an hour, but the screenplay refuses to fall into petty banalities. This renders a fulfillment that is somewhat strained in quantity due to the awkward structure of the film’s primary altercations.
Technicalities aside, at the very least, Inside Out is a gorgeous exploration of the emotional turmoil we all have to face during our lives as we experience change. Riley has to find a place in her new home and city, as do her subconscious company. Along the way to understanding and acceptance comes difficulty, pain and disparity. But ultimately, we all come back together. With joy comes sadness and vice versa, but there is always a positive resolution on the horizon. The film is so delicate and achingly honest that it’s hard not to reach out and want to become one with the characters and the screen; not only can you relate to their struggles and deliberations, but you can empathise with them. Too few modern movies struggle to encourage our own understanding of the cinematic perils being undertaken, but Inside Out whisks us away and enthralls us, more or less, for its duration. It’s not the masterpiece that the media will inform you it is, but it is undoubtedly enchanting viewing, that deserves a great deal of commendation from the public and critics alike. The Pixar circle-jerk may be repulsive in theory, but it’s hard not to find yourself apart of it. Sometimes, acceptance and forbearance are the only answers.