Most studios just don't grasp storytelling the way Pixar seems to do naturally. Their commitment to creativity, coupled with a standard for excellence that would make most producers blanch, puts them in a league they made for themselves. Their latest masterpiece, Inside Out, crackles and pops with invention, raising the bar for not just the studio that made it so lovingly, but for animation and the possibilities the medium poses. Poignant, heartfelt, and endearing, Pixar's latest outing challenges us all to dream, to feel, to be.
The film dives deep into the pre-pubescent mind of 11-year-old Riley, whose world suddenly gets much bigger when her family packs up and heads to San Francisco for a new start. Unsurprisingly, she's less than happy about the transition but masks her inner turmoil with a half-hearted smile and feigned enthusiasm. Meanwhile, inside her head, Joy, Disgust, Fear, Sadness and Anger (emotions personified as hilarious little pseudo-sprites) work to keep her happy and stable when life's pressures begin to weigh on her. But when Riley's “core memories” (bright little orbs that contain her most important moments) are separated from their appropriate spots at her inner “control center” (getting tired of quotation marks yet?), it's up to polar opposites, Joy and Sadness, to bring them back and restore balance to Riley's emotional state. Can they make it back in time before all goes to shit? Of course they will, but the how and why are the cool parts.
Inside Out could be called a lot of things. It's a celebration of emotion, a testament to the power of feeling and letting yourself feel without the shame that usually accompanies such unbridled emotion. It's a trust exercise for people who don't necessarily expect their emotions to pull them through hardship. And finally, it's a passionately written love letter to director Pete Docter's young daughter, who finds herself grappling with the same intrusive thoughts and feelings that Inside Out's Riley finds herself facing after her family moves. We could try to pin down what Inside Out is all day, but what really matters is that it's fun and has something meaningful to say.
On the surface, Inside Out may appear to be another run-of-the-mill children's flick with lessons to be learned and fun to be had but no real substance underneath it all. However, anyone who knows Pixar knows that this simply will never be true of anything the studio puts out. If there's anything their movies are not, it's nondescript. They put too much time and energy into crafting the best stories to let mediocrity even be an idea in their storyboarding room. Docter even hopped on record to say that he and his creative team remade the film eight times before he was satisfied with the final product. We'd bet money that the folks over at Blue Sky and Dreamworks don't spend half as much time perfecting their films.
Pixar has always been great at coaxing our eyeballs out of our fat heads with awe-inspiring visuals and vibrant colors, but Inside Out takes the metaphorical cake as the studio's most impressive piece of eye-candy yet. The company has tried (and succeeded) to evolve in more ways than one can count, but telling a killer story with flawless visuals has always been paramount to these masterful yarn-spinners.
Pixar has enjoyed international fame and acclaim since it first stormed onto the scene in the 1990s, but few, if any, of their endeavors reach the visual splendor or emotional heft that Inside Out so innately exudes. It's a ridiculously tough act to follow, but here's to hoping the studio's next effort can confidently stand beside this one-of-a-kind moviegoing experience.
INSIDE OUT / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: PETE DOCTER, RONALDO DEL CARMEN / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: RASHIDA JONES, DIANE LANE, AMY POEHLER, KYLE MACLACHLAN, MINDY KALING / RELEASE DATE: JULY 24TH