In some ways, Inside Out feels like an elaborate cop-out. It’s as though Pixar’s plan all along was to create three unoriginal movies in a row – a sequel to Cars, a formulaic princess movie called Brave, and an unwanted Monsters Inc. prequel – just to make it seem like they’d returned to their days of wickedly creative greatness by advertising their next movie as just that, when in reality it’s essentially a slightly more endearing rip-off of Osmosis Jones with a dash of Herman’s Head.
That’s the key word here, though: “endearing”. This is, if anything, a film that’s going to be enjoyed by kids and I’d also say it’s a movie they deserve. The idea of little creatures that live inside of your body and control it is indeed nothing especially new, but the way this film executes it is exhilarating. I still would have preferred an Incredibles 2 but we’ll get there.
We follow the personified emotions of a little girl named Riley and those emotions are Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black), because those are apparently the only emotions humans are capable of feeling. They live within her head, in the oh so cleverly named “Headquarters”, to basically control her feelings and create memories/ideas based on each of their designated emotions. The film mostly concerns their increasingly troublesome attempts to keep the conscious mind of Riley under control during a difficult moment in her life, with her family moving around and what not. This gets worse when Joy, normally the one in charge, is separated from the group, because hijinks, along with Sadness and a bunch of positive core memories that Riley could use. The memories, I should point out, resemble little orbs that go into tubes when they’re planted in our brains and I wonder if Christopher Nolan agrees with this interpretation of how the human mind operates.
As the negative emotions try to keep Riley’s state of mind in check, resulting in her isolating herself from her parents (voiced by Diane Lane and surprisingly Kyle MacLachlan) and just becoming all around ustable (but in a “funny” way), Joy and Sadness try to make it back to the Headquarters. In a pool of forgotten memories, they meet what was once Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind) who tells them they can return to the Headquarters by riding the “train of thought”. I won’t give away too much more plot, though let’s just say that the movie isn’t long enough at this point for the train of thought to bring our heroes home without something going predictably wrong.
I know that I and others like me might be too old and too aware of the actual complexity of the human mind to fully buy what this movie’s selling. But the film was made for kids; kids who might be intrigued by the idea that small, colorful alien-thingies live inside of them and manipulate the way they feel. Maybe it will comfort them when they’re sad but cannot explain why? Maybe it will make them feel more at peace with, well, feelings? Perhaps so. I just hope this doesn’t give them a dumbed down understanding of concepts like depression and turn them into future Onision fans. Or schizophrenics but that’s not as bad.
This movie, I’m trying to say, is not quite the masterpiece I get the impression that people are trying to pass it off as (what with it only having a modest Rotten Tomatoes score of 98 and all that). I like many things about it, such as the voice acting, especially Amy Poehler as Joy, and all the pretty colors. Had there been a little more for us adults in the audience that made the film a little smarter and perhaps a little more darkly honest about what our minds might evolve into later in life, it might have been the kind of psychological study I would’ve liked to see get animated by Pixar. Although, again, I’m not sure how much that will appeal to kids.
While I appreciate Pixar’s trademark attention to detail and, as I said, the colors of the visuals in Inside Out, there is still something about this that feels a little too cartoony and generic for Pixar. Or at least, the sheer potential Pixar shows. I started thinking about this when I watched the YourMovieSucks review of this movie, and “Adum” pointed out how disappointed viewers must have felt when they saw the preview for Pixar’s upcoming The Good Dinosaur and got to see a silhouette of seemingly hyper-realistic dinosaurs in a well-detailed setting, only for the film to then show a bunch of generic-looking cartoon dinosaurs which, apparently, is how they’re supposed to look in the final product. This is another thing that might be getting progressively dumbed down in the world of Pixar movies. They could easily make a hyper-realistic movie about a world ruled by dinosaurs but it’ll probably appeal more to little kids if they make the dinosaurs cutesy and cartoony – and alas, Pixar seems fond of the latter option. I can only hope they try something “bigger” soon.
At the end of the day, Inside Out is still pretty darn sweet. It is visually creative enough to get a pass for the ideas it steals from Osmosis Jones and it’s cute enough to be fondly remembered by children; both “children at heart” and actual ones.
Note 10-09-15: This review was supposed to be published in August but I didn’t get around to finishing it until September. I was likely inspired to do so when I attended a Disney/Pixar party at my new university and the vibe put me in the right Pixar mood. Here, check out my Anton Ego from Ratatouille cosplay.