In my oh so humble opinion (hey, stop snickering), Pixar has been in a bit of a slump lately. Oddly enough it seems like while Disney’s animation unit has made a number of improvements in storytelling and overall entertainment in the past few years, the once-flawless run of films Pixar was putting out became rather dull and uninspired.
Part of this is resorting to sequels which had initially been espoused as the direction they would not head into. I can forgive the first Cars, realizing I’m not in the demo for a NASCAR theme (unless it’s Days of Thunder since that’s Top Gun on wheels!). But Cars 2?!? That should have been titled 2 Ugh 2 Blech. And Monsters University?!?!? Considering it was centered at a place of “learning”, someone should have known better than to write that script.
Now of course, there are exceptions. The Toy Story franchise has managed to make sequels some would consider better than the original. I’m worried about what #4 will bring us but it may be okay if they are truly launching off a new series of adventures with characters other than Woody and Buzz, letting the nicely wrapped up initial trilogy of events stand on their own. I’m also worried about what Finding Dory might wash ashore considering Finding Nemo seemed like a standalone film that wrapped everything up in a neat little bow but again, time will tell.
Thankfully, Pixar’s latest is something original and the studio has, for the moment, hit pause on the sequel train. Inside Out is a rather ambitious story idea. The premise is that each of our emotions has a physical embodiment within us and they help to guide us along in life. Basically, imagine that the crew of the USS Enterprise ran your emotions from your cerebral cortex … I’ll let you discuss which crewmember represents each emotion (I find that this may be easiest with Deep Space Nine but please feel free to use whatever incarnation of the franchise you prefer).
Getting back to the film at hand, the five main emotions represented in Inside Out are Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear. They are the emotional sherpas for 11-year old Riley, a generally happy little girl having to cope with the stress of moving to a new city and all that it entails (new school, new friends, unfamiliar settings). Of course, in order to create conflict, a mishap by Sadness spirals Riley’s outward emotions out of control and it’s up to each of the internal emotions to right the ship.
There are plenty of clever ideas, metaphors, and concepts at play here. The notion that certain core memories create the foundations of our personalities is well developed and factors in greatly to the story. Perhaps most important to the overall arc of things is the interplay of emotions, and how it’s by combining them that we are able to express more complex feelings and relationships. It was also nice to see the inner emotion teams of each parent from time to time. Not only did it provide some of the best comic relief for the adults in the audience, but also showed the differences and qualities of the emotions we develop over the course of our lives.
If I had to nitpick, and you know that I have to (I’m like a critiquing shark, if I don’t do it, I might die), there are some significant pacing issues. While the movie clocks in at a typical runtime for kids films (94 minutes), a huge chunk in the middle slows down the movie quite a bit. I found myself getting more than a little restless, as did some of the kids in the audience. However, the film pulls it together in the end and I’m certainly not ashamed to admit I had a tear or two rolling down my cheeks in the final scenes.
Inside Out is the best effort Pixar has put out since Toy Story 3 … which isn’t saying much considering what those films in-between were … but still, it’s a sign that the lack of creativity and emotional engagement we’ve received of late might hopefully just be a blip on the radar for the studio that once could do no wrong. With that said, I wouldn’t put this on a pedestal or match it with some of their best work (Wall-E, Up), and unless you have little rugrats who are dragging you to the theater, this can safely be seen at home when it becomes available in that market.
MPAA rating: PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Directed by: Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen
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