Sure, reviewing Disney films are a little out of character for me, but I love more than just cheesy horror movies and weird science fiction, ya know? Plus, I’d consider this to be firmly planted in the fantasy genre. Or at least, it’s the magical realism/mundane fantastic that Disney has become well known for.
No matter, 2015 marks the return of the big Pixar summer movie once more. While they’ve given anthropomorphic life to bugs, toys, and even the very monsters we dream of, this time Pixar tackles something a little bit different. By that I mean, bringing life to the very metaphysical itself. More specifically, feelings. The story focuses inside of the head of an 11 year old girl named Riley, on the move from some unnamed suburbia in Minnesota to San Francisco. As a departure from what we’re used to, this film is a slice of life with just a hint of Disney fantasy to add a touch of whimsy. Plus, after a lackluster series of trailers (including an upcoming Disney project that looks like it took the safe route), this film was quite the delightful change of pace.
More after the jump! (Slight spoilers ahead)
Our film opens up with the birth of Riley, then a newborn baby. Her first emotion, happiness, materializes and begins to observe the wondrous new world around her. That is, before a new emotion (sadness) joins her as a slight sibling rival. As Riley enters childhood, more emotions show up and develop, as well as memories that help to create her personality (in the form of lands that go to and from the central hub.) However, as the emotions prepare for life ahead, they hit a hurdle… or rather, a “For Sale” sign. In order to keep morale up, Joy shoves Sadness off to do remedial tasks (such as rereading all of the thought manuals) during a long car ride into San Francisco. As sadness fails to find a proper place in the hub station, things begin to go bad for Riley. Stress from moving away is getting to her, as the emotions begin to go haywire themselves. In an attempt to salvage a mistake caused by Sadness, Joy and Sadness are stranded on the outskirts of Riley’s mind, racing to get back before severe damage is done.
What really drew me in here was the character interactions and progressions, and just the characters themselves. Despite being based on an emotion, each character was more than a mere archetype. Sure, each has their own personality quirks; like how Disgust is snooty, Anger is grumpy and thickheaded, and Sadness is somber. However, there’s more to them than that. For example, when Joy was lost and confused, Sadness proved to be knowledgeable in a situation and compassionate in others. Though to be fair, human emotion has a lot more depth than we typically give it credit for. Besides the characters individually, I enjoyed how they cooperated and fought amongst each other, knowing their strengths and weaknesses. Take the scene where Disgust uses sarcasm to rile Anger up so his fiery rage creates an opening for Joy and Sadness to enter the hub. This is the characters working together in their own unique way by playing their strengths to their advantage. All around, something pretty cool to see. Now, the Mon and Dad in reality were parents looking out for their daughter, but we didn’t see too much of them to see where they were going. Granted, we didn’t really need to. Also, seeing the mini plots going on in their own heads ranged from marvelous to simply hilarious. After all, none of us are perfect. Another thing that I found interesting was how Riley’s head had mixed gender personalities, including the relatively ambiguousness of Sadness. While not a big part of the movie, it was still pretty interesting to see.
The stories themselves were a balance of mundane slice of life with the whimsical, as I mentioned above. The story outside of Riley’s head was coping with a new way of life and facing some personal dilemmas along the way. As things become more challenging, she learns to cope with depression and isolation, then learning the consequences of drastic action. This plot arc is an all around touching and heartwarming drama. The other story is as dramatic, but is also a race to restore lost order that could send their world spiraling into chaos; very much a fun Disney adventure. And ya know what? Neither story pulls away from each other. In a sense, the two blend in a harmony that reminds me of the works of Miyazaki more than traditional Disney films.
The film was rife with the in-jokes and nods that you’d expect from a Pixar movie, as well as a couple you might have missed. The one that stood out to me was actually two, the dream about Riley’s San Francisco new home. Not only does the atmosphere look and sound like The Haunted Mansion, it literally is! Or at the very least, the streetside apartment transformed into the Haunt. Plus, the dead rat from a prior seen comes back as a zombie version of Remy from Ratatouille.
And, as someone who grew up on the Toy Story movies, I loved shoutouts like a Sunnyside Daycare appearing in a childhood flashback, a popular girl wearing a print of Sid’s iconic shirt, and the equally iconic red star ball found in another childhood flashback. In addition, the imagination land had a board game with Nemo on it called, “Find Me.” Of course, this film had tons more easter eggs than that, but those were among the ones I caught at first glance.
As you’d expect with any Pixar project, the world of Inside Out is a truly beautiful one. Take the world around the hub. Now, while the world of Riley drew me in as the colorful and engaging world of Pixar that I’ve grown accustomed to over many a year, it’s the fantastic world of the emotions that drew me in. And the best part is, Pixar knew this and knew it well. In fact, the post move landscape of San Fran adds a really interesting juxtaposition to the fantasy world of Riley’s mind. As Riley begins to grow into childhood, the sparsely populated landscape overlooking the “thought dump” canyon begins to become more and more developed. And by the end of the movie, there’s quite a bit going on! Kinda brings me back to all those world building games I loved as a child, like Sim City and later Rollercoaster Tycoon.
And even beyond these little islands, there were so many imaginative interpretations of the mind. We as the audience were treated to a wide variety of creative concepts from abstract thoughts in the shapes of abstract art to the world of dreams as a Hollywood production studio to a literal train of thought. And just like with the bleak abyss that is the thought dump, other stark images throughout the film still looked beautiful and fascinating to look upon.
All in all, I’m not sure I have really anything critical to say. If anything, this is the movie for kids who grew up with Pixar’s Up. Many of those kids are becoming teenagers now, starting to understand the anxieties and challenges that Riley has begun to face. It’s like how my generation grew up with Toy Story, feeling the sadness of letting go of your childhood in order to move on with life. It’s the right movie for the right time, with plenty to remember for countless years to come. All in all, Inside Out receives 9.5 imaginary-boyfriends-from-Riley’s-Imagination-Zone-stacked-in-ladder-formation (how does that work) out of 10.