Final Rating: 9.6/10
Wall-E. Up. Ratatouille. Toy Story. Finding Nemo. These are the battle of technology, limitations, culture, self worth and the very world one lives in. Pixar has managed to, time and time again, introduce children to harsh realities while reminding adults what it felt like to imagine. Children are eased into a more mature mindset, and adults are told to never fully let go of their youth. They were a studio for all ages, and everyone could agree on their films. Until the slump after Toy Story 3, Pixar was pitch perfect. Cars 2 came out as the studio’s grandest failure and was a sign that everyone has their mistakes. Brave was a solid film that still missed out on what made other Pixar greats… well… great. Monsters University was fun but it added very little to the Monsters Inc. story. There was a vulnerability that opened Pixar like a gaping wound, and with Dreamworks finally figuring out a story that was well worth investing your time into (How to Train your Dragon), Pixar finally had competition. It was on the level of any other struggling American animated studio. It was mortal, and it was touchable. Like the film Ratatouille taught us, anybody can cook: It just may not end up being the best dish you’ve made.
However, another Pixar movie taught us to just keep swimming, and that’s what Pixar did. They continued, despite the backlash, and they ended up delivering what is, astoundingly, one of their best achievements yet: The psychological, metaphysical journey Inside Out. We’ve seen ambitious Pixar films before, and Inside Out can potentially be the grandest Pixar movie in a sense. It may not possess the huge message that Wall-E had, nor does it take on a huge journey that Finding Nemo or Up had. In fact, it doesn’t even have the small scale adventure within a confined space like Toy Story or Ratatouille. However, this all takes place within a young girl’s mind, and this battle within ones self speaks loudly because of how small in scale it is. In the world we know, it is a tiny fight. Within her head, this is a challenge that seems larger than those within any of the films previously mentioned. Sure, Riley is a bit agitated and replies with sarcasm, but in her head, this is the destruction of worlds and societies.
These are the fighting emotions we all face. Like the big bang, the world for Joy (Amy Poehler) stats out of nowhere. She curiously begins Riley’s life as a cheerful baby, and she already knows her duties as a piece of Riley’s psyche. However, Sadness (Phyllis Smith) immediately introduces depression into Riley’s life, because how can one know what happiness is without the opposite? Soon enough, Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) all join in and they take control of the biological vessel known to the world as Riley. It is their responsibility to make this new human safe and sound. While her parents, played by Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan, take care of her in her life, her emotions have to do their job inside of her.
They do a good job within the mesmerizing world Pete Doctor has created for us. The human brain, as a consciously emotional machine, is a systematic world that functions in a way that will make complete sense to you. It is like many metaphorical representations we have seen before but unique and different in a way that will forever make you pressed to not be reminded of this film instead with each subsequent representation you will see from now on. Like Penn and Teller, the magic trick was revealed but bested in such a way that you cannot come close. With each plot point that takes place in this world, you are either given an explicit response in Riley’s life (Riley feels upset when Anger is in charge) or you get one that is implied (without spoiling, you can gather that something is no longer a part of Riley’s existence because it crumbled in her world and because she has hit an age where it no longer matters to her). With memories kept in orbs that replay like Vine videos, we get a colourful world that has spheres upon spheres stashed away in the back of Riley’s mind like a labyrinthian archive. It is a colourful mess, but so are all of our daydreams.
The different parts of Riley’s mind take an already astonishing world and twisting it furthermore. You get a brief look at the deconstructing part of the brain that over analyzes. You see the movie studio that creates dreams. You understand that people forget things because their thoughts are erased and dumped into the abyss. Personalities are societies that thrive on interest and die on boredom or neglect. Imaginary friends end up being homeless vagabonds that find pits in the brain to live in (so they have shelter and so they are also not forgotten). There are so many clever ways that this world works. The best part is that most of these details make only a small bit of sense as you watch. It makes enough sense to further the story and to not inundate you with information. As you leave the movie and remark on its feats, you will slowly realize just how detailed it truly is.
Inside Out is an emotional ride because it shows how devastating the mind truly is. A harsh reply or a quick embarrassing moment can be the destruction of worlds within an adolescent. Within the brains of others, we see the emotions are all uniform. Riley’s parents’ emotions all look like one another, and so do the emotions in the brains of those we see towards the end of the film. For Riley, her emotions are all so different because they haven’t discovered the crux of what Riley truly is. Once the movie is done, neither have we. We didn’t need to, because knowing the calculated strategies that go behind basic movements in her life are all we required to know that Inside Out is a success. We aren’t even seeing a huge change in character. We aren’t seeing Nemo’s bravery kick in that determines whether Nemo is a child or an adult in maturity. We don’t see Andy recognizing that the toys in his life must go on without him. We see Riley make a decision. She is still a child who is confused with her feelings. That alone is a triumph, and it is one we all face daily.
Many of us are stricken by mental distraught. We have depression, anxiety, trauma and self doubt. Inside Out makes us laugh at these problems we all have. It also works as a catharsis, especially through its heart ripping midsection. You’ve seen the start of Up and the end of Toy Story 3. Once you see Inside Out, you will have a large chunk of time that is guaranteed to make you have to fight back tears. You will witness an obstacle that a character struggles with, but then you will realize what this means in the grander scheme of things. As Inside Out teaches us, sometimes you need sadness to ease your way into happiness. It is a moment that touched me like Wall-E did: In such a way that I was reverted back to a child that was shown how the world works as I sat wide eyed. We live in a time where childhoods are disappearing because of technology. Inside Out has brought back an imagination large enough to get lost in, and it does so while discussing the foggy-minded-thoughts one with depression will have. It’s a great escape during a relevant time.
The voice acting is top notch (Richard Kind deserves a mention for his grand slam performance as the cotton candy imaginary friend Bing Bong, who brought much heartbreak into my viewing experience). The animation is breath taking. The colours are vivid. The highs are hysterical and the lows are cataclysmic. You’ve been moved by Pixar before, but this may move you more than any film of theirs. There isn’t one key moment that will touch you, but many instead. You will leave not feeling inspired as you have by other Pixar movies. You will leave, though, feeling comforted and nurtured. As someone with depression, I can now thank that curious character that just wants to know what joy is like within my head. No, my emotions haven’t gone away, but it feels a bit better imagining that there is a sense of control there. Our toys aren’t alive and we don’t have superpowers. Our thoughts aren’t living creatures or civilizations (not that we know of, anyways). It just feels good to imagine, because it brings solace to both the good and the bad we experience. Maybe that spell will disappear in due time.
Maybe it will not. The trip within the film will never leave you, though. It is the rare case of a Pixar movie that demands a sequel in a time where we were sick of sequels being announced (apart from The Incredibles 2; That can arrive any day now). I could watch these emotions control human bodies for hours upon hours. That is the beauty of Inside Out. We all take part in these adventures every single second of our lives. We can identify with a world we have never even thought of before. Never have we identified so largely with a Pixar story. We were all relatable to one another, and we were still introduced to something refreshing. Inside Out proves that sometimes our biggest stories take place just inside the mind, whether it be through reminiscing on memories, daydreaming (or actual dreaming) or even just on the self reflection of how we feel. Inside Out is an animated film that is so good that any film will be damned to come near it as a contender for film of the year (expect it to be another Best Picture nominee for Pixar).