“Inside Out” is a very unique way for Pixar to cap their first 20 years of motion pictures. 11 year old Riley Anderson is our star, as she begins her middle school life having to move to San Francisco. The weather is warm, the friends are new and there’s a dead mouse in their new home. Her parents mean well, but they’re trying to adapt to a new situation too. As Riley begins a new phase of her life, she needs full emotional command. Unfortunately, something happened to Joy and Sadness.
“Inside Out” is far beyond fantasy, science fiction or comedy-drama. It had to have been a tough sell to go to Pixar and say that you want to do a psychological family film about life as an 11 year old girl. The story itself is fairly standard as parental job changes lead the crew from Minnesota to San Francisco. The culture clash is apparent as most of Riley’s loves are left back home, while the local pizzeria serves gross hippie pizza.
The closest comparison I have for the film is the Disney 1943 short “Reason and Emotion”. While it was created during the World War II propaganda era, it was the start of Disney diving into cerebral issues. Sure, they never spent that much time exploring the depths of the mind. I’ll take what I can get and expound from there. If you haven’t seen the short, check it out below.
Joy is the central figure of the film and I believe from the trailers that I would be sick of her by the end of the first reel. However, there’s an earnest back and forth between Joy and Sadness that creates something amazing. It’s the flipside of ownership of the personal experience. Sadness feels she’s always in the way, while just wanting to take part in Riley’s life. Meanwhile, Joy feels the personal responsibility of keeping Riley afloat.
Watching Joy take pride in Riley’s accomplishments hits a moment of true beauty, as Joy skates along with Riley’s memory of being out on the frozen lake. Striking a cue somewhere between “The Band Wagon” and “The Truman Show”, Joy goes beyond Riley’s core personality trait. Joy wants to be the parent in Riley’s life and this film marks the first time she has to understand Sadness.
What can I say about Sadness? Phyllis Smith continues to be one of the most underrated character actresses in American film. Smith turns the sad sack into an art form for the modern day. While Sadness helps shape Joy’s perspective of what Riley needs, she also offers up something special that I hope audiences take away from the movie.
Emotional perception is based on perspective and timing. If you live in a frozen moment, then that memory is always tainted. However, humans partake in a continuous line of experience that carries on until the day they die. While the early scene with the Mom and Dad’s emotional selves felt forced, I did appreciate the effort to include the emotional landscapes of others. Nothing is that bad, as we all share in the experience.
I’ve had several people try to get a feel for the movie, as it’s not an easy sell. You’ve got the Pixar brand, but people want to know if they should expect Up or Monsters Inc. Well, you’re not getting either. Pixar has created something new and that is something to be respected. Come early and check out the new Pixar short “Lava”. The titular song is catchy and gets stuck in the brain rather easily.
But, what about “Inside Out”? Times like these are why I’m glad that I don’t give readers that much of a lead. The film isn’t perfect, but it’s among the best of the year. Over time as the Pixar film library expands, “Inside Out” will find its voice and place in history. Right now, we can appreciate an expertly crafted film that dares to be unique.