Inside Out: Pixar’s Magical Animation–Truly for All Ages

inside_out_posterInside Out, the latest film from the prodigious Pixar studio, represents a return to form after several pleasant but mediocre films, such as Brave and Monsters University.

Bold and audacious in concept and risky in experimental design (for reasons that I will later explain), Inside Out, Pixar’s 15th animation, is easily their most fully realized and enjoyable picture since WALL-E and Up.

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World premiering at the Cannes Film Fest as an official selection (but outside competition), the Peter Docter-directed film is an artistic highlight of the whole event, a film that not only brought joy and pleasure but also united a diverse and divisive gorup of critics from different countries in a way that no other film had this year.

I am not over-praising the film by suggesting that it’s a sure contender for critics kudos and Oscar nominations at year’s end.  Docter and his collaborators again have found a way to appeal to children and adolescents while at the same time providing their parents and adult viewers a smart, even witty animation.

inside_out_11Thematically, Inside Out tackles the issue of childhood–focusing on the universal ideas of feelings and emotions–in a clever and innovative way, thus continuing Pixar’s former explorations of this terrain in such pictures as Monsters, Inc. and the Toy Story franchise.

Why is the movie risky and experimental?  Because the entire plot is set within the head of a young girl named Riley, age 11, and her need to deal with a problem that many children (and adolescents) have to confront these days, moving around from one place to another.  For Riley, her family’s mobility from Minnesota to San Francisco is a sad and traumatic experience, not least because she misses her old friends, favorite places, and beloved ice hockey.

Though they are in the periphery, a mention should be made of the “real” figures: Riley’s Mom and Dad are voiced by Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan, respectively, who do a serviceable job.

inside_out_10It may or may not an be an inside joke but the choice of San Francisco as the new locale is ironic as far as filmic representation is concerned, after all the Northern California City has mostly been glamorized in Hollywood pictures, with its vividly colorful and moody hilly structure, evident in Hitchcock’s hauntingly and beautifully surreal Vertigo as well as Steve McQueen’s action-adventure, Bullitt (with is seminal chase scene).

The narrative, credited to Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley, places the viewers right away inside Riley’s pre-pubescent psyche, which is driven (and managed) by five chief emotions, which in alphabet order are Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear, (Bill Hader), Joy (Amy Poehler), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith.

That we are especially uplifted with the feeling of Joy has also to do with the fact that it is personalized by the friendly voice of the very likable comedian Poehler.  Her vibrant and enrgetic readings, which dominate the dialogue, are awlays wlecome by Riley and by us.  The other Feelings, which are tougher o personalize, and need to overcome our naturally negative reaction, are voiced in in a mode that serves well the scenario, without calling too much attention to themselves.

inside_out_9It’s hard to think of another animation in which the subject of the plot is also its locale or setting.  The various feeling are trying to guide Riley through a difficult phase of her life, one that inevitably involves loss and calls for new adjustments.

Functioning in what could be describe as a control room (if not outright batte field), obviously, they conflict with each other, as when the perpetually upbeat and Buoyany Joy is trying to abort the operation of the unassertive Sadness and the more aggressive Anger.

The setting’s geography includes Islands of Honesty, Family, Hockey and Goofiness, all of which are threatened to disappear from memory and reality as Riley gets increasingly sad, desperate, and homesick.

inside_out_8Each of the Emotions is defined by its own modus vivendi, willing to get its way through manipulation and the use of gimmicks and tricks, some of which very funny.  The film benefits from a stunning visual design, as each character is defined by its own candy-hue icon, a cute idea that may have been devised to appeal to tykes.  Thus, Joy is blue-haired, Anger is squat, top-blowing, Fear is purple, Disgust is green, and Sadness is all-blue.

There are inside jokes that young children may not get but savvy adults will admire about dreams as lavish productions of a movie studio, where the figures behave like stars on a Hollywood sound stage,  Thus, passing a candy-colored unicorn, Joy says, “I adored you in Fairy Dream Adventure Part 7.”

inside_out_7For viewers who look beneath surfaces, the astute, often subtle interplay of Joy, Sadness, Disgust and Anger also serve as symbolic representation of the ways that Hollywood movies (including children’s animation flicks) manipulate viewers in terms of emotional impact, both positive and negative, desirable and detestable.

Among many diverse pleasures, this trippy film makes the often-used notion of “Train of Thought” both physically concrete and emotionally compelling.

A dazzling exploration in abstract and cerebral ideas and an impressive experiment in color and texture, Inside Out is a fabulous entertainment for viewers of all ages.

End Note

Please be advise not to walk out before the end credits rolls down–there is a superb joke about cats (yes, cats) and their psyches.