Monday, June 22, 2015

Inside Out

It's a great time to go to the movies! This is yet another film I've had my eye on for a while (as evidenced by its inclusion on my list of most anticipated films of the year), but like Tomorrowland it had a great deal of secrecy about it. Not much was known about Inside Out except the fact that it was exploring the mind of a little girl. It sounded kind of like Pixar taking on Inception, which I was definitely intrigued by. Then as the trailers came out, I started to see where they were going with the story, and it was clear to me then that this was going to be a return to form for Pixar in a way we haven't seen since 2009's Up. Or at least, that's what I was hoping for going into the theater. Perhaps I had too high of expectations, but given its brilliant premise, I felt fairly confident that Inside Out was going to deliver.

Riley is an eleven year-old girl with a seemingly perfect life. Her parents love her, she has great friends, a great house... what could possibly go wrong? Well, her father takes a job opportunity in San Francisco, uprooting the family from their comfortable Minnesota home and forcing Riley to abandon her friends in the process. This causes chaos inside her head, as her emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust) struggle to find a way to cope with the unwelcome changes in Riley's life. Joy, in particular, is finding it difficult to control the situation, as she takes pride in making Riley's days happy. On the first day of school, however, Sadness gets her hands on a pleasant memory of Minnesota as Riley is introducing herself to the class, which results in a tearful breakdown that makes her classmates (not to mention Riley) a little uncomfortable. Frustrated with Sadness's meddling, Joy attempts to revert the memory back to a happy one when the core memories forming Riley's personality are bumped out of place and go shooting off into the labyrinth of long-term memory along with Joy and Sadness. As the two divergent emotions attempt to find their way back to Headquarters, Fear, Anger, and Disgust do their best to handle the crisis until their leader can return.

I just want to say right off the bat that this is a GENIUS concept! There is infinite potential for storytelling in this film, and they explore so many ideas that I wish I could have seen it several more times to soak it all in before writing this review. For those who are bemoaning the unoriginality of big studio films, I think I know what happened to all of the great ideas... they're in this movie! All of the creativity of Pixar is on full display in this film, and there's hardly anything about Inside Out that I've ever seen before. How often can you say that? There's no doubt this will get a ton of Oscar Nominations - definitely Best Animated Film, probably Best Original Score, and possibly Best Picture - but I would be furious if this didn't get recognized for Best Original Screenplay. Inside Out is probably the most original film to come out since Inception, which can be either a good or a bad thing depending on the person... but for me, it's exactly what I wanted! 

It's not just original ideas that make this movie great, as Pixar yet again delivers its signature blend of humor, originality, and heart that allows both adults and kids to enjoy their films. With the fertile ground of emotions at his fingertips, director Pete Docter (Up, Monster's Inc.) demonstrates the joy and sadness that memories can provide us at different times in our lives. Having a story about human emotions makes it relatable to everyone, and I certainly found myself reflecting on my own childhood memories (both retained and long forgotten) with fondness and melancholy. Growing up is a bitter-sweet inevitability, and each of us forgets moments that we once cherished as we move on to new experiences. Inside Out is kind of an existential film that makes you look back on childhood and the passage of time with profound simplicity, and it brought the whole audience to tears more than once with the subtle feelings it evokes.

Like I said, though, this is anything but a one-trick pony (or rainbow unicorn), both bursting at the seams with imagination as well as mining the unexpected humor inherent in the universal experiences of memory and thought. As only Pixar can do, they use exposition as comic relief, making really funny jokes about the long term memory that we sometimes inexplicably hold on to (like excruciatingly catchy songs from commercials) and what we no longer find important (such as the years we all devoted to learning the piano). Exchanges where we see inside the minds of multiple characters are particularly enjoyable, as we can all relate to the hilarious frustration of trying to communicate non-verbally with someone who's not quite on the same page.

What I found especially fascinating, however, was the portrayal and architecture of the mind. Pete Docter reportedly consulted with professional Psychologists to ensure that a certain amount of realism went into their depiction of the mind, which, as a Psychology major, I greatly appreciated. The little manipulations on the control panel performed by Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust seemed like the firing of neurotransmitters, sending chemical signals in response to specific stimuli.
Apparently Pete Docter decided to explore this concept when his daughter went through something very similar to what Riley does in this film, and he wanted desperately to find out what was happening to his happy little girl to make her so miserable. It's really a brilliant idea, and the commitment they put into it is equally remarkable. I wouldn't be surprised if Inside Out was used as a reference in beginning Psychology classes in the future, and some people may even come to understand their own occasionally erratic emotions better after seeing this movie. It's a film that could do a lot of good, and by extension I think it kind of legitimizes the struggle of those suffering from depression and other conditions.

I could go on and on about this movie, given how densely-packed it is with intriguing ideas. I didn't even mention the performances, which were terrific across the board (especially Amy Poehler, who seems born to voice the bubbly Joy). The animation is exactly what we've come to expect from Pixar, and the score by Michael Giacchino is one of his most memorable as well. Suffice it to say, Inside Out is a tremendous achievement of creativity that I think everyone should see. True to its premise, this film carries with it the full spectrum of emotion that should appeal to all ages. Younger children may not understand the story completely, but I think it could be a useful tool to teach kids about emotion and how our minds work in a funny, entertaining way. It's a story with layers and layers of complexity, and as such should definitely hold up (if not improve) on repeat viewings. This is up there with Jurassic World as one of my favorites of the year so far, and I give it a solid four stars.

INSIDE OUT is rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action