Four years ago at D23 Expo 2011, Pixar announced what would be its 15th feature film: Inside Out. Two years later came news of the cast and the respective characters. The first time I witnessed early footage I experienced a mix of hope and hilarity. After what has felt like an endless wait, the movie is finally out. Disneyâ€¢Pixar has developed a gift, a film that sensibly pushes the limits of animation and stretches what our brains can comprehend in a comfortable, if not “mind-blowing” hour-and-a-half format.
Let’s examine Inside Out, in terms of what it is composed of and what this movie can mean for the future of the studio.
“Inside Out is unlike anything Pixar has ever created,” could serve as a pull-quote in advertising the newest film. Hyperbole aside, all of it positive – call them extreme exaggerations – for the film are most warranted. This laudable movie can only be described as abstractly as what it represents. The main characters, representing each of the five emotions, are as amorphous as anything the studio has attempted to fashion. But as limited in their personality range as Anger, Disgust, Fear, Joy, and Sadness may appear upon first glance, these figures are not one-dimensional stereotypes. Sure, comparisons to other “one-note” Disney friends, such as the Seven Dwarfs, may emerge while watching the film, but these characters have depth.
Existing in the mind of 11-year-old Riley, a child conflicted about her new move to San Francisco from her longtime home in Minnesota, these fantastic five feelings control her every move. They carefully manipulate and store her memories. Amy Poehler‘s vivacious Joy pilots the group of emotions, from hot-headed Anger, voiced with punchy precision by Lewis Black, to Mindy Kaling‘s sarcastic Disgust. Every character has a role to play, not only in Riley’s head, but also in the direction of the film. Shaping crucial moments during the film, we come to wonder how our psyches operate. College psychology classes should embrace what Inside Out offers as a supplementary edutainment tool. I cannot think of any other animated film, let alone many live-action productions, that so thoughtfully dismantle this mental state.
My Geeks of Doom colleague Adam Frazier says it best, writing that “the movie works as one big metaphor for chemical imbalance.” That Pixar broaches this subject matter with such a level of sensitivity and sophistication only speaks to the brilliant minds constructing the mind of Riley. Even more, considering that most of the key individuals involved in this project are male, and that the main characters are from the female standpoint, I think this film defeats the argument that Pixar cannot create compelling lead female subjects. As a matter of fact, though the film centers on a young girl, no demographic – or species – is left untapped. The emotions behind Riley’s compassionate mom and sports-focused dad, though played for laughs, frame Inside Out as a commentary of how different ages and genders sometimes view handling issues. The beginning of the film’s credits even show how dogs and cats think. I would see a spin-off involving that in a heartbeat.
Viewers hold Pixar to a gold standard because of its facility to unify so many disparate elements into an easy-to-consume movie product. The laughs are there for the kiddos, but also for the parents, young adults, and seniors, too. The little blobs that determine what Riley should recall, such as the names of only a few American presidents, are ridiculously funny. Of course, Pixar being Pixar, critical questions about our lives surface. “What will happen if I do this?” “Are my priorities more important than others?” These few examples delineate what their best films achieve.
Inside Out fits right in and, in fact, heads down into more weighty territory. What unfolds when dreams collapse? Monsters University deftly tackled this matter when focusing on Mike Wazowski needing to reevaluate his career aspirations, though the movie approaches this with the idea that our personalities can become radically altered when we allow the negativity to consume our souls. This concept may be well over the heads of younger viewers – no pun intended – and it should require others to consider the impact of these abstract states well after the credits conclude. The greatest movies involve lasting effects. Call me crazy, but after only seeing it once – which will change, as I believe this needs multiple viewings – I think of this as a masterpiece. Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo can now welcome a new member to the Pixar all-star club. It’s called Inside Out.
This was exactly the antidote that Pixar required. Monsters University was not as much of a miss as some claimed, though Brave failed to reach its potential and Cars 2 struggled to even reach the “mediocre” checkpoint. Inside Out, however, proves that the masters of Pixar have not run out of steam. Their ingenious train of ideas (and thoughts) keep on coming, and that with unrelenting concentration on developing immersive stories – not necessarily just merchandise and brands – fantastical properties can materialize.
Now another question crops up. What is the future for this movie? Will it have staying power at the box office and prompt Disney to see this Pixar creation become the next Toy Story? Earnings aside, the environments of Inside Out are as varied and labyrinthine as anything the studio has attempted. Much like Wreck-It Ralph, and most certainly the upcoming Zootopia, its distinct worlds are begging for real-life depictions in the Disney theme parks. Can you picture navigating around Imagination Land or watching a 4D film from Dream Productions? Disney can mine these settings and form wonderful ideas for its vacation destinations. A recent episode of The Unofficial Guide’s Disney Dish with Jim Hill podcast suggests that, if the film proves successful enough, Epcot’s Imagination pavilion might become a permanent home for an attraction. That would be most joyous.
Inside Out asks a lot of its audience. Truly brilliant film experiences cause us to not merely stare at the screen, but to ponder, learn, and feel galvanized to do something in our lives. In this case, the movie seeks that we are more in touch with ourselves and others. I know, what a concept! Yet what started out as non-concrete when we first heard about the project four years ago is as real and impactive as they come. That is what we seek in Pixar, and thankfully, that is exactly what they delivered.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.