As I’ve said many times before, I’m not the biggest fan of animated films. That said, if there is an exception it’ll have to be films produced by Pixar.
The studio’s latest effort, Inside Out, is an ambitious project that is taking the world by storm — notwithstanding its seemingly less attractive premise — largely thanks to rave reviews and word of mouth. And so I decided to check it out for myself.
There’s a Tumblr post being passed around lately outlining the premise behind each of Pixar’s films, with the joke being that every movie is “what if X had feelings?” So Toy Story is “what if toys had feelings?”, Wall-E is “what if robots had feelings?”, and Finding Nemo is “what if fish had feelings?”, and so forth. The one for Inside Out, fittingly, is “what if feelings had feelings?”. And that pretty much sums up the movie perfectly.
In Inside Out, we follow a human character called Riley from birth, though most of the action takes place inside her head, which is inhabited by different emotions who are personified into various characters. The lead character is Joy (Amy Poehler), and there’s also Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and so forth.
I won’t give away much more than that, but I will say it’s an extremely clever depiction of what goes on inside a person’s head, the conflict between different emotions, how memories are stored, remembered, recalled and discarded, and how all of this shapes a person’s personality.
There’s a lot more to how it works and the film will get to that as it progresses, and it’s all done with Pixar’s trademark simplicity, humour, emotions and of course colourful, stunning visuals. The most amazing thing about it all is that this heavily simplified and yet complex psychological system of feelings, memories, personality, depression and the subconscious — as told through a cartoon, no less — all somehow rings true. I’d be very interested to see if there are any educational studies into this film to see just how closely it matches up to what experts understand about the workings of the human mind at this point in time.
When you think about all the intricacies, the mutiple layers and the depth, Inside Out really is quite a remarkable piece of work. Many have gone as far as calling it “genius” and “a masterpiece.”
I’m not sure I would go that far, or even as far as what some critics like Mark Kermode have said, which is that Inside Out could become the first animated film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It certainly is a very intelligent premise filled with many clever ideas throughout, though as a piece of entertainment I feel like it still lacks a certain “wow” factor that the most compelling films have. There were times when I asked myself whether the confined limits of the premise would allow the film to truly take off. Maybe it’s just unrealistic expectations after hearing so much hype.
And while it easily passes the six-laugh test for a good comedy and has another handful of hearty chuckles sprinkled throughout, I also think the movie could have been even funnier given the ridiculously talented comedic cast (that also includes Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling and the easily recognisable voice of Richard Kind). Phyllis Smith is absolutely hilarious though.
It might be because cartoons just don’t have that effect on me, but I’m sure I’m not the only one as my wife is among several people who have told me that they think the film is just “OK”. However, I think the film is a lot more than just OK because it had an emotional impact on me that only a handful of animations have had before. I rarely get teary-eyed in movies these days and this film got me a few times. Perhaps it’s because I had gone through some similar life experiences to Riley and share some of the same memories. That’s why I think it’s actually a film targeted more at adults than children because it dredges up all these memories and emotions and nostalgia from when we were growing up.
With its imagination, intelligence, depth and ability to tug the heart strings, Inside Out is a film I can definitely see myself rewatching a few times and share with my kids as they grow older. Based on how much I enjoyed this first viewing already, I rate it…
4.25 stars out of 5
PS: The short film before the main feature, Lava, is also very sweet and touching, with a catchy tune that could get stuck in your head for days.