**** (4 stars)
d – Pete Docter
co-d – Ronnie Del Carmen
w – Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
ph – Kim White, Patrick Lin
pd – Ralph Eggleston
m – Michael Giacchino
ed – Kevin Nolting
P – Jonus Rivera
Cast: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
John Lasseter, the Chief Creative Officer of Pixar, the director of five of the company’s films and the Father of computer animated feature filmmaking, has been declaring throughout the promotion of Pixar’s new film Inside Out that “when people look back at the films of Pixar, Inside Out might be seen as the most important”. Mr Lasseter has said some unwise things throughout his career but this isn’t one of them. Inside Out is a true masterwork. A film of immense wisdom and vision and one that, like all great films, can change the way we interact and empathize with one another.
The first image we see is a newborn baby. She is smiling. This is Riley Anderson. We are privileged to witness her very first emotion. Remarkably, it is joy. As soon as Riley’s sense of joy takes form, Joy (Amy Poehler) materializes and a small glass sphere known as a Short-Term Memory Orb is produced in her head. From this point Inside Out tells its story in two parallel settings: Riley’s scenario in the human world and the scenario that’s going on in her mind. Though really both stories are one and the same and the seamless way that the film equates the former to be an expression of the latter is one of the many elements that make Inside Out such a brilliant piece of cinematic rationale.
Joy discloses with us the succeeding 11 years of Riley’s life. In that time she has also developed the emotions of Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), whose purpose the other emotions cannot figure out. Regardless, they all work together to insure that Riley is a stable and balanced human being. At the end of the day, all the Short-Term Memories are transferred to the Long-Term Memory Department. But the most important are Riley’s Core Memories, each of which has its own power plant island in Riley’s mind and powers a different aspect of her personality. All five Core Memories are joyful, a fact that Joy is extremely proud of.
Everything changes however when Riley and her parents move from their home in Minnesota to San Francisco. Many associate the majesty of the Pixar films with their ability to generate sequences of enormous emotional potency. In this regard, Riley’s story is at times particularly tense. A sequence early on that incites the film’s plot, which involves Riley being asked to introduce herself in front of the class at her new school, is incredibly uncomfortable.
From then, the film adopts an episodic structure that not everyone will jive with. Many will find the situations that these five emotions get mixed up in to be too cutesy or precious. At times, it tells instead of shows. I found most of it to be an exhilarating depiction of a kind of surrealism that can only be expressed in cinematic form. Throughout Inside Out I was reminded of the films of Luis Bunuel, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2002) and Chuck Jones’ Merrie Melodies short Duck Amuck (1953) – a surrealistic masterpiece if ever there was one. They even encounter Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a big floppy pink elephant with a raccoon tail who cries confectionaries and makes dolphin noises. Yeah, seriously.
The film is also a transcendent exemplification for the art of animation. A film like Inside Out could not have been made any other way. The film is the brainchild (pardon the pun) of Director/Co-Writer Pete Docter, whose previous films were Monsters Inc. (2001) and Up (2009). What have categorized his Pixar offerings are old-fashioned bravado proceedings with an audacious emotional undertone. He, along with Co-Director Ronnie Del Carmen, Story Supervisor Josh Cooley, Editor Kevin Nolting, Production Designer Ralph Eggleston (arguably the greatest designer currently living), the film’s 17 Story Artists and the entire design, animation and effects teams have delved into deep, deep waters and have resurfaced with wonder, insight and the beauty that modern-day computer animated cinema is capable of but is rarely allowed to demonstrate.
The journey Riley takes over the course of the film allows her to experience a sensation once unknown to her: catharsis. She is at a time of her life when she will decide to either accept the emotional obstacles that come her way or not. She will develop a new, more complex perspective, acknowledging the necessity to feel hurt, no matter how severe.
What’s remarkable about the film is that many will experience something similar when leaving the theatre. My convictions feel as assured as they can in predicting that Mr Docter’s film will speak to people around the world so deeply that they themselves might have a new perspective on life. When Inside Out reaches its climax, we pray for Riley to arrive at her place of cleansing. Paradoxically, in spending time with this whole other group of characters who operate in Riley’s mind, Riley becomes as special to us as she does to them. This is similar to the character of Andy in the Toy Story films.
All of us know of someone who has decided in his or her youth not to feel anything whatsoever and nothing can be more frustrating or painful for the loving observer. We want nothing more than to help, to make all their problems go away. We think we can. We ask ourselves “What is going on inside their head”? Unfortunately, some people remain detached for the rest of their lives, coming to regret this at too late a stage.
Inside Out is a movie that looks upon itself while simultaneously inviting us to step into both an impassioned and suppressed world. This may seem strange, but the only other film I have ever seen that made me feel this way is Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972). Like that film, Inside Out has the ability to do what other films can only dream of doing: The ability to change your mind. Inside Out might even change your life.