Pixar’s latest offering, lauded as the film that makes the kids laugh and the adults a blubbering mess, is allegedly a return to form for the studio. More recent outings into the Pixarverse have shown that even this former bastion of originality has fallen under the sway of rampant sequalism.
Inside Out gives us an adventure within the mind of an eleven year old girl, Riley, who is uprooted from her home in Minnesota to live in San Francisco with her parents. It’s a tumultuous life event that brings her five key emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust into play. It’s a really interesting take, to have the vast majority of the film set inside a little girl’s head. It also works brilliantly.
This film encapsulates a rare understanding of children, that humanises them instead of pandering to them. Too many cinematic children, particularly animated ones, display a vague stereotypical childishness that in no way creates an interesting or believable character. In fact, I would really struggle to think of many examples of genuinely engaging, child characters. I suspect a lot of this has to do with the simple fact that, as we grow up, most of us quickly forget what it was really like to be so young. It’s far too easy to accept that, just because children have immature brains, that they’re incapable of proper thought. Happily, Riley is as real a character as I’ve seen in a long time. The writers perfectly capture the inner turmoil that she experiences, balancing the reality of that pain with her evolving personality. I think the notion of Riley growing from her experiences was exceptionally well delivered.
The other characters, such as they are, are quite good too. Interestingly the lazy stereotypes are rampant in nearly every scene involving Riley’s parents. I would forgive the film this flaw, if it hadn’t been so good at bringing Riley to life. The strength of her character establishes that the writers know how to write engaging characters. The fact that they failed to do so for the parents screams lazy to me, so I’ll take one step up onto my high horse and hold that against the film.
The emotions themselves, who essentially make up the remainder of the cast, are quite well conceived. Anger in particular (fantastically voiced by Lewis Black) is a reliable source of hilarity.
The film’s biggest flaw, and I feel it’s a substantial one, revolves around Joy and Sadness’ quest to return to the ‘Headquarters’ of Riley’s subconscious. It’s a necessarily dark passage when Riley’s negative emotions come to the fore as she struggles with the difficulties of her newly hostile world. Whilst in many respects this part of the story is the primary guts of the film, it drags incessantly and speaks to me of a failure in the editing department. There are several aspects of this lengthy second act that serve no purpose in furthering the storyline, and are likely to test the patience of most younger audience members (and their older counterparts). Without getting stuck into too many specifics, I had particular problems with the notion of a ‘train of thought’ that played no role whatsoever in Riley’s mind, and the entire sequence of Riley’s subconscious – which wasted a great deal of time seemingly for the single purpose of giving everyone something to cry about with the departure of Bing Bong (who was, incidentally, a completely insufferable ‘red shirt’ character).
The well developed concepts of this film were not served at all with a time wasting plot, and unfortunately I feel this damages the film irreparably.
The other significant problem I had with this film was the role played by Sadness (who was also a boring, irritating character – and a seemingly poor companion to the tedious straight character of Joy). The concluding moral that this story apparently attempts to deliver is that Sadness is a necessary emotion that is ‘counter-intuitively’ vital to ensuring ones capacity to deal with difficult times. That is, in order for Riley to reconnect with her parents she has to display sadness in order for them to understand what a tough time she’s going through. It’s an admirable sentiment, especially as it relates to making children feel more comfortable to express their negative emotions without fear of ridicule. It is not, however, particularly well delivered. For starters, the notion of Sadness being the ‘hero’ to save the day in the closing stages of the film is not a surprise at all, it’s a tediously foreshadowed ending that I can’t imagine is likely to surprise most viewers. I’ll admit that’s a minor failing, but I feel the ending could have been pulled off better without being so predictable.
Secondly, and I suspect this will open me up to the criticism of not having ‘got’ the end, but I really wasn’t convinced with the manner in which Sadness came to fix everything. That is, we’re told that Sadness ensured that Riley was able to create a Joyful memory years ago when she lost a game of ice hockey for her team. Her sadness at that event prompted her friends and family to rally around her to lift her spirits. Again, a fine concept and I guess a decent way to round things up. BUT – there is no effort to explain why Joy, Anger, Fear and Disgust collectively fail to apply this obvious solution to their current predicament. It’s widespread failings of logic like this that irritate me to no end, and it’s something that I’m holding against this film.
Overall then, Inside Out is a great idea that is pulled off moderately well. A movie that clocks in at just over an hour and a half should not have felt as long and slow as it did.