There is no doubt that animated films are some of the most brilliant and innovative pieces of filmmaking around. At the forefront of that is obviously Disney, who have ruled the animated world for nearly 100 years – can you honestly believe that Mickey Mouse has almost been around for an entire century? However, in the 1990s, something new arose – Pixar. The studio started out making films with considerable heart and warmth, and over the last twenty years, have evolved to the point where a film simply being associated with the brand of Pixar is an automatic mark of quality for that film. It isn’t without reason – Pixar has honestly ever made one bad film, which was Cars 2, and that was far more mediocre than it was bad. Pixar makes fantastic films filled with humour, heart and absolute warmth.
Pixar gives humanity to things we wouldn’t imagine could have humanity. Toy Story gave toys feelings. Finding Nemo gave sea creatures feelings. Monsters Inc. gave monsters feelings. Cars gave motor vehicles feelings. Well, it would seem that Pixar really broke the bank and become metaphysical with Inside Out where they gave emotions feelings. It seems strange, and dismissive, but that is exactly what they did. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing at all – in fact, I find it very endearing and original (even if it was conceptually similar to the forgotten situation comedy, Herman’s Head), and I did really love this movie. But let me just state from the outset, this was not the masterpiece I was expecting.
What I loved most about Inside Out was the fact that it took such an original concept, which is also exceedingly complex, and it made it endearing and unlike anything they have ever done before. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what the film is about (because it seems to be fast becoming ingrained in pop culture), but in case you don’t know, Inside Out is about a girl named Riley, who has her emotions represented as sentient entities inside her mind. They are Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader). They each control an aspect of her personality, but in natural Pixar tradition, something goes wrong, and the characters are launched into an extravagent adventure to solve the problem. It isn’t a new structure, but it is a reliable structure, and with colorful design and a great cast, the story works.
The cast of this film is great. Amy Poehler is such a great comedian, and her voice is perfect for the bubbly and excitable Joy, but she is also able to convey the feelings of sadness that come across her character. Phyllis Smith is fantastic as Sadness, and she embodies the character’s depressed, bleak outlook, and her performance is clearly influenced by the classic character Eeyore. Lewis Black plays Anger, who is strangely adorable, and Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling are fantastic, but I wish they had a bit more to do. The film is stolen by Richard Kind, who is absolutely brilliant as Bing Bong, the candy-floss elephant imaginary friend of Riley. Kind has always been such a reliable actor, both in voice roles and in live-action performances, and he makes the character, who would otherwise just otherwise excessive, surprisingly endearing and memorable. His character has perhaps the most emotional moment in the entire history of Pixar, one that rivals the ending of Toy Story 3 in making you an emotional wreck.
Of course a film about emotions is going to make you aware of your own. That is one element of this film that I feel was done so well. It is a very funny film that will put a smile on your face, but it will also make you weep. There is so much emotional resonance to this film, and in some moments, it is more reflective of our own lives than any live-action film. It is this unique touch of emotion that takes Inside Out from being just another film for children, and instead makes it a film that everyone can enjoy. Inside Out manages to use its audience that is drawn to it to great effect – it plays on our emotions, but is never falsely sentimental or cliched. You feel the emotions as they resonate with you, which I think is fantastic. Everyone who cites this as their favorite film of the year are not wrong in their reasons for doing so – if this film connects with you, it really is something extraordinarily special.
Pixar has been making so much money for the last two decades, and at this point, they have such a built-in fanbase, and their brand is so recognizable and beloved, they could easily sell out (they seemed to test their luck with Cars, but thankfully they didn’t do too badly there). They know they are revered for their quality, and they do their best to match that quality with everything they do.
However, I do need to be a slight killjoy here and say that Inside Out is nothing compared to some of the Pixar classics. It may be some childhood nostalgia here (I was born the same year as Toy Story, so I have grown up with Pixar), but while Inside Out is a fantastic film, it doesn’t have the special touch that Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc. and A Bug’s Life had. I can’t quite put my finger on what made those films so brilliant, and what Inside Out is missing, but if I was to hazard I guess, I would probably say that it is humility. The aforementioned films were all risks – the studio was still young, and they had very little assurance that the public would embrace talking toys, adorable bugs or playful fish. However, the public devoured those films with very little hesitation, and they demanded more. It almost seems that Pixar knows that no matter what they do, they are going to make money, and also have immense critical acclaim. That isn’t too say they rest on their laurels, or that they are manipulating their brand, but instead they have the mindset that they don’t need to worry too much, because they know their films will be great. People will always watch Pixar films. I know that I most certainly will, and each day, a child is introduced to Pixar, and they too are captivated by its brilliance. I just felt that as great as Inside Out was, it just lacked…something. However, the film is what it is, and I can’t criticize it that much, because it was still an absolutely wonderful film, regardless.
Inside Out was a great film. The cast was wonderful, the score was fantastic and the story was original. I was delighted throughout it. It is a wonderful film that I really did love. However, like I have alluded to, it is not the end-all masterpiece that will be hailed as Pixar’s crowning glory. I expect the film to be on my list of favorite films of the year, but perhaps not in the top tier, because I have seen some better films this year already, but it is definitely one of the best. Perhaps a rewatch and some reflection will warm me up to the point where I too feel as excited about this film as I was expecting, but when you’re expecting a film to absolutely blow you away, it is very rare to reach those expectations. But if anyone could do that, it would be Pixar. Regardless, its a fantastic film that I loved, and I am sure anyone who watches it will love it too.