Everyone considered it an innovative masterpiece: I finally managed to see Inside out, the 2015 Pixar movie directed by Pete Docter, the same behind the great Up (2009) and Monster Inc. (2001). Do I think that it’s a masterpiece? Not necessarily. For sure I think that it’s not up there with WALL-E (2008), for instance. Did I like it? Yes I did, it entertained me and it made me think. Thus I thought about writing about it, and here I am.
As with other Pixar movies in the past, I think that the first part is really exceptional. It’s when we are introduced to Joy, the protagonist, and to the rest of the crew in the control room of the 12 years old Riley: Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust (the latter has the shape and color of broccoli, due to the common repulsion of kids for that type of vegetable). We discover how memory works, with short-term memories becoming long-term ones during the night when feeding the islands of personality such as family, friends, goofiness… all things that shape Riley’s character.
So far, so good. Original and innovative? Yes, but not entirely so: it is not the first time that we see small beings controlling the body that they inhabit. Just think about Osmosis Jones (2001) and, before that, Il était une fois… la Vie, that is the French animated series of the 80s. Where Pixar innovates is in the nature of such beings, which in this case are emotions and interact in a funny way in order to make us understand when and how each of them may prevail. Also, Pixar innovates in the depiction of the functioning of memory based on the current theories studying it (the writers worked with psychologists for this). And this is probably the best part of the movie. What happens next?
Riley’s family move from Minnesota to California (as it happened to Pete Docter in real life, actually) and she enters a critical period: all of a sudden she’s without her friends, without her ice hockey, in an empty house, and with her father seemingly too busy with his job to care about here (oh, I haven’t seen that before!). And what goes on in Riley’s head? Due to an accident, Joy e Sadness are expelled from the control room and must travel back to it by walking into the memories and the islands of personality. So on the one hand we see Anger, Disgust and Fear who try to “pilot” Riley as if nothing happened (with disastrous results, she will end up running away from home!). And on the other hand we accompany Joy e Sadness in their road trip. And here lies the issue that I have with the movie.
Basically, there is nothing left of the brilliant idea sustaining the whole first part of the movie. The central part, with Joy e Sadness trying to get back to the control room, is very similar to the rest of the road trips with two protagonists that Pixar already used and explored in the past, like Marlin e Dory looking for Nemo, or like Buzz and Woody travelling to get back home after having been abandoned at Pizza Planet. I found this part of Inside out uninspired… maybe because the Imaginationland that we see here is so much less interesting than the one in South Park!
We need to get to the third act in order to see something interesting and new again, like the changes in Riley’s memories, like the one from single-emotions’ memories to more complex and linked to more than one feeling at a time. And this is just one of the changes symbolizing the first steps into adolescence, a period which is normally turbulent and full of changes. What I want to say is that the third act is redeeming for the movie, it gets back to the brilliance of the first part.
So, what about Inside out as a whole? Two parts out of three are funny. Moreover, it’s not at all a movie made to sell toys, unlike Cars (2006) or the recent The good dinosaur (2015), which is certainly a positive thing. Animation and drawings are flawless as usual, but Pixar is used to this high quality and it almost passes unnoticed now. The soundtrack is serviceable, and the two shorts in the DVD are one extremely funny (Riley’s first date), and the other OK (that of the vulcano who wants someone to lava). In particular, the first of the two uses one of Inside out’s funniest ideas, that is entering the father’s head where the primary emotion is Anger, and it’s also extremely funny to enter the head of the kid with which Riley wants to go out to witness how deep his thoughts are…
What else? I think that the movie offers a lot of opportunities to think about how we all live our lives, our feelings, our loves and stories, and about how we relate to each other, as well as about how we keep our memories… I couldn’t help but to think about happy memories that in time became melancholic, or even sad. And I thought about things for which I felt angry about only at a later time, and about things initially insignificant and that later stayed in my memory for the strong disgust that I felt, or fear, or joy. It seems impossible to me to watch Inside out without making a trip down Memory Lane, without looking for examples matching those that we see in the movie. The value added of the work done with actual psychologists is undeniable, for instance for what concerns the memory storage mechanisms at work in a human being. This work was certainly worth it, as there is nothing trivial about how Inside out depicts how memory works.
I conclude by stating that I consider Inside out absolutely worth seeing. Cute, funny especially at the beginning and at the end, and even profound. It’s a pity that the central part is there just to make the movie a full-length one, rather than to add something substantial or actually using the brilliant idea of the emotions governing us in a control room. Probably, I still prefer Up (needless to say, especially for its first part), WALL-E (the whole first part without any line of dialogue is brilliant! Am I repeating myself too much…?), and The Incredibles (2004), but Inside out is certainly one of the best out of the 19 (so far) Pixar movies out there.