Movie Review: Inside Out

It’s a bit more difficult to see and review movies these days. Here’s a good one though.

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Starring:
Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling
Directors: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen (Monsters Inc, Up)
Rating: PG
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It’s probably safe to say that the dwindling reputation of Pixar has been one of the most widely discussed trends, in one way or another, of cinema this decade. Following the superlative Toy Story 3 in 2010, the relatively run-of-the-mill (though masterfully animated) Brave attracted far more negativity than it deserved, simply because it wasn’t quite as memorable as any of Pixar’s previous non-Cars output. When Monsters’ University hit a couple of years ago, it’s comparative lack of originality hurt its perception, though I really liked it. The wonderfully original likes of Up, WALL-E, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo seemed like the product of a different Pixar era, particularly as Disney Animation Studios’ run of stellar recent films began to take over the animation spotlight. So it is shaking out as somewhat of a surprise (though it really shouldn’t be) that Inside Out is exactly the kind of film that Pixar fans have been waiting for. It ticks all the boxes – Unique, visually arresting, and above all emotionally resonant.

Inside Out tells the story of Riley, an 11 year-old girl from Minnesota who moves to San Francisco with her parents and in doing so faces the most stressful emotional rollercoaster of her life thus far. Riley may be the focus of the story, but she isn’t the protagonist – that role belongs to Joy (an enthusiastic Amy Poehler), one of the five “emotions” residing within her head. Joy is the oldest and most prominent emotion in Riley’s life, a situation made clear in the film’s wonderful opening scene, but she shares Riley’s head with Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), whose job it is to react appropriately to different occurrences in Riley’s life. While she sees most of her co-tenants as necessary evils, the ever-optimistic Joy goes to great lengths to ensure their influence on Riley’s day-to-day life is minimal. When the big move happens, this becomes increasingly difficult for her, and her stubbornness ultimately leads her outside the brain’s “control room”, marooned far away with only a handful of Riley’s most important memories and Sadness to keep her company. While the other three hapless emotions are alone at the controls of Riley’s brain, Joy must find her way back to headquarters before the damage caused by her absence becomes too great to repair.

If this sounds to you like there is a lot of suspension of disbelief asked of audiences throughout Inside Out, you are right on the money. Co-directors/co-writers Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen had to invent an entire set of rules on how their metaphorical brain-world works, and while at times it feels like they are making stuff up as they go along, the story mostly sticks to its own logic. It’s a zany kind of logic – the type that finds our heroines on movie sets, in nightmarish catacombs and even in two dimensions at times, but with the odd exception it does flow smoothly enough, and unsurprisingly for Pixar it looks fantastic. The minor characters inhabiting said brain-world are some of the craziest ever seen in a Pixar movie, which is really saying something. They provide plenty of laughs to complement the main five, who with the exception of Disgust all feel like they have a strong role to play in moving the plot along.

Much like WALL-E and UpInside Out has its duller moments, where not much is happening outside of generic chase sequences and predictable ‘high-stakes’ action. During these moments the movie really sags, as Joy’s defining character trait starts to become annoying within the context of the unfolding events and her nostalgic tendencies resurface a few too many times. However, like Pixar’s best efforts the movie does have a point to make. Unlike WALL-E and Up, all the payoff comes at the end, when Inside Out stops playing around and hits home with some megaton emotional beats. More than any other film in recent memory, it really earns its final scenes, which extend well into the credits and are well worth the price of admission.

Inside Out does have a few minor flaws in its pacing and characterisation, but they don’t ultimately add up to much within the context of what the film is trying to be. Everyone should be able to get something out of the film, as the loss of childhood wonder is relevant to us all. Fans of one of Hollywood’s most beloved animation houses can rest easy – Pixar is back, baby.

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As for the cinematic pre-movie short, LavaPixar takes a different tack from recent shorts and sets its entire story to a tropical-flavoured musical number. It mostly feels like a show-off platform for the studios environmental effects rendering tech, but it’s good fun.

THE VERDICT

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Good:
Unique premise, looks great, emotionally evocative, good laughs, final ten minutes are golden
Bad:
Momentum dips, limited characterisation
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4.5 VsI N C R E D I B L E

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