If Pixar’s storyline were meant to be like a well-developed movie, then Inside Out would be the moment of redemption. Following two movies whose reutilization of original material – Cars 2 and Monsters University – heavily shackled each one’s ambition to reach the golden standard of the company’s usual creativity, and one whose internal turmoil deteriorated an intriguing concept – Brave; the outlook of, finally, having a completely new flick, and one without any reported production issues, hitting the theaters seemed like a fresh opportunity for rehabilitation.
As it turns out, Inside Out is not rehabilitation; not at least in the sense of being one little step towards showing the world that the animation wizards are back in business. In the case of this real life movie, Pixar’s transition from a studio struggling to match the house of Mouse to one that finds the recipe to a cartoonish Nirvana is not a smooth one; it actually takes the shape of a heart rate chart of a patient that had been dead for half a decade and that suddenly awoke full of vitality. Inside Out does more than show that Pixar is back in business; it proves that, when their imagination is allowed to run free, they find places nobody else is even capable of dreaming of.
The movie chronicles the life of Riley, a Minnesota-born young girl who sees her routine turn upside-down when her family moves to San Francisco. From the moment she is born, five core emotions also start existing inside the headquarters of her brain: Joy, which tries to keep her happy; Fear, which keeps her away from harm; Anger, which allows her to fight for what she feels is right; Disgust, which keeps her from being poisoned in a physical and psychological way; and Sadness, which gets looked down on by its peers due to the perceived purely negative effects she has on the girl.
From the get go, the film apparently sets a trap for itself: characters everywhere are rightly panned for being too simplistic, so how could a flick that gravitates around five one-sided emotions find depth? The answer, of course, lies in their interactions amongst themselves. The relationship of the five entities and how they are able to cooperate directly affects the external behavior Riley presents; therefore, Inside Out builds an amazingly complex web of internal actions triggering external reactions – and vice-versa – that, aside from lending the script its powerful fuel, allows Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness to show their surprisingly varied facets and, eventually, grow alongside Riley.
Ultimately, that is one of Inside Out’s greatest triumphs. It builds a very intricate story with bricks that, by themselves, would not be all that interesting; it finds, within supposedly one-dimensional personages, a depth that few animations have dared to touch. The big change that occurs in Riley’s life naturally sends the control room of her brain into massive disarray, and the difficulty the emotions have in coping with what is going on leads the girl – and her family as well – down a path ridden with conflict.
The mess is so considerable that, after brawling, the five emotions accidentally cause both Joy and Sadness – the movie’s stars – to be ejected from the headquarters and thrown into the wilderness of Riley’s brain. Their journey to get back to where they belong, the explosive chaos that is created by Joy’s distance from the control board, and the many attempts they make to mend the harm they have done to themselves and to Riley comprise most of Inside Out’s running time.
It is, undoubtedly, a great premise, and it soars to unimaginable heights because of the work’s greatest prowess: the constant sense of wonder its endless creativity causes in the audience. Starting from its first few seconds, Inside Out pulls the curtain on a realm that is awe-inspiring. Through colors, visual cues, shapes, and pure magic, Pixar materializes the astounding complexity of the human psyche in a universe of highly appealing design. It is an unparalleled audio-visual work of art that turns an awfully abstract subject into something incredibly didactic yet psychologically coherent.
Memories are glowing orbs whose colors reveal the emotion most closely attached to it and are stored in sleek compartments; key personality traits are wacky islands floating out on the horizon like gorgeous clockwork carnivals; and a giant dark abyss marks the location in which everything that has been forgotten is sent to slowly fade away. As Joy and Sadness are suddenly thrown out of the comfort of the control room, viewers are invited through a wondrous trip – which, to be fair, in a few points feels to drag slightly – where elements like fears, the imagination, the subconscious, dreams, nightmares, trains of thought, imaginary friends, forgetfulness, and other phenomena of the mind gain life in amusing, funny, heartwarming, and unbelievably clever ways.
A whopping twenty years ago, Pixar introduced itself to the world by building a universe in which toys, with all their limitations and quirks, came to life in a believable and intelligent way. That same strategy was used take us to places where bugs, monsters, cars, robots, rats, fish, and others starred in impossibly touching adventures. Inside Out does the exact same thing for the mind, but it feels like a much bigger victory because not only does it deal with a matter that possesses an astonishingly hard-to-grasp nature and an intricacy that is unparalleled as far as animation – and maybe movie-making itself in general – go, but it also produces laughter, tears, and moments of sheer awe in a level of its own.
Walt Disney’s idea was to create entertainment that pleased kids and parents alike, offering a plot that is easy to follow for the infants but also bringing in emotional messages and undertones to keep the older folks hooked. Arguably, Inside Out stretches that cloth as far as humanly possible, and some might say it tears that fabric apart. While youngsters will be concentrated in its more superficial humor and its seemingly straightforward characters, adults will be blasted – by the second – with deeper jokes, tongue-in-cheek references to vices of the human behavior, and some rather entwined bits of psychological analysis.
However, as a project whose thematic ambition is without equal as far as animation goes, Inside Out’s only issue – one that is completely negligible to grown-ups – is that a few of its plot developments might alienate some kids, for their full comprehension requires a level of maturity that is unreachable to the little ones. The apex of the movie’s script, as an example, is an extremely poignant (yet low-key – as Pixar usually thrives in doing) commentary on how Sadness is totally vital to human growth and how trying to bury it or pretending it does not exist is a major road-block in the way to any sort of life-changing enlightenment.
Whereas an audience that has yet to reach their teen years may not see Inside Out as a pastime as engaging as Monsters Inc. or Toy Story, those that are able to grasp all incredible messages, references, and blinding sparkles of creativity that Inside Out emanates in every one of its 94 minutes will find an animation of unequaled ambition. Only a company with the boldness of Pixar – one that gave the world thirty minutes of silent animation in WALL-E, and a plot centered around an old man and his deceased wife in Up – could dare to pull something of this scope and intricacy off. In the end, the daring maneuvers are finely delivered and the project lands on the silver screen with style. Who knew that a company that shone in dealing with matters of the heart, even those belonging to originally inanimate objects and creatures, would reach its imaginative pinnacle with matters of the mind.