Film studio Pixar has been quiet of late, no film since the safe sequel “Monsters University” in 2013. Have they lost their touch and retreated to dreaded sequelitus with inbuilt audiences?
“Inside Out” indicates they have gone in the opposite direction, with arguably their most audacious film to date. Does it pay off, you bet it does.
Riley (Kaitlin Dyas) is a happy eleven year tomboyish girl living an idyllic life in Minnesota, enjoying her ice hockey and friends. She is looked after and loved my her mum (Diane Lane) and father (Kyle Maclachlan). All is well until they decide to move to San Francisco to allow Dad’s start up business to grow.
Nothing that exciting but whilst we do occasionally see the outward reality, most of the film is played within Riley’s head and more especially her burgeoning emotions. From a baby we see the characters driving her personality. Joy (Amy Poehler), Disgust (Mindly Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and of course last but no means least, Sadness (Phyllis Smith).
The control team do a fine job of keeping Riley happy most of the time, generating good memories and when things go really well, core memories to be stored away. These all lead to islands representing, family, goofball, friendship and honesty. These represent the fundamental structures of what makes Riley, Riley.
We also occasionally get to see the inner working of the parents thought process, with similar albeit “older” controllers pulling the levers and pushing the buttons.
When the family move, the control room balance is put under stress. Following a new school first day crisis, Joy finds it difficult to control the situation and things go from bad to worse. A mismatched buddy quest with sadness and joy then ensues.
If all this seems a bit weird, it most definitely is. But and it is a big one, it works outrageously well.
There are times the whole conceit feels so delicate it is in danger of collapse. If you take a moment to think about what you are actually watching, it is undoubtedly surreal. However the battle between the emotions and final realisation that all are needed and valued, is beautifully played. The film goes to some dark places, yet provides a cartoon explanation for why and how it happens, with childlike simplicity replacing all rational explanations.
The animation, story and sound effects are first rate as you would expect from Pixar. The voice work is also well cast with Phyllis Smith and Amy Poehler in particular getting some great lines and ironic laughs, of which there are plenty.
As with all humour and the best films from Pixar, there is sadness too. You will have hard hearts indeed, if imaginary “Bing Bong” pink elephant friends, rocket ships and the closing scenes do not cause your own control room to reach for the levers marked, T.E.A.R.S.
There are numerous touches which resonate, the hoovering of of no longer required thoughts, why we hear jingles that we cannot get out of heads and why when we get an idea, sometimes it is difficult to budge. Pixar stalwart John Ratzenburger (in every film so far) also gets a line as the upgraded control desk is installed, allowing more complicated emotions.
Whilst younger kids will enjoy the primary colours and some sequences, this is perhaps not ideal for younger children. Not from any scary sequences but they just wonder why their parent guardian is snuffling in the dark. To say the film works on many levels would be an understatement and is more suited for anyone from 7 to 102, the older you are the more you will enjoy the film.
Directors and writers Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen have created something out of nothing, populated with great characters and proven that new ideas can and will find an audience. It is also good to see the numerous in jokes at San Fransciso’s expense, Pixar of course is based in the area.
Complaints, arguably the abstract thought Picassoesque sequence perhaps stretches the gossamer thin link to reality too far but this is a small point and the film recovers momentum quickly. The quite literal train of thought, leaves a nearby station and moves the story along.
This is also the first year Pixar have two films out, with “the Good Dinosaur” due later this year and remember to stay for the closing credits, finally an explanation of why cats act like they do. The film also comes with the usual Pixar short film, which tops anything gone before or after for “oddness”.
Quite simply superb, equalling if not surpassing Toy Story 3, high praise indeed.
A colossal leap of faith for the film-makers that hopefully will be rewarded by audiences accepting this fantastic new inner world.
Part comedy, part therapy, part poignant but all heart, go watch it now