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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: Inside Out (spoiler-free)


Before I get into an analysis, let me answer the two questions I hear most often.

1. Is it good for young kids? Yes. There is no content that is particularly age-sensitive in the film. There are serious themes, like dealing with sadness. But most of the stuff that might be slightly kid-inappropriate is double entendre and pretty cutesy.

2. Is this the best Pixar movie ever? Not to my personal taste. And to say it’s in the upper part of the Pixar group, quality-wise, would suggest that there is a lower part. For me, Cars & Cars 2 are about it for “the low end.” Again, personal taste. Will there be a movie that strikes me more profoundly than going underwater in Finding Nemo and really feeling like we were in that space for an entire film? No. A rat that cooks… and the movie is almost flawless? Can’t say something was better than that? Wall-E? Has any film been better than the love, life, and death sequence in Up? And who am I to not include the Toy Story movies or Monsters, Inc? Inside Out is another game changer. That is what Pixar does. Go. You will find out where it fits into your sense of the Pixar oeuvre.

Now… the movie…

This is not the first time someone has had this idea or made it into a movie. But the decision to create a five-emotion team for “HEADquarters” was very smart and the central premise of the film—as we mature, emotion becomes more complex—is there from the earliest scenes, even if we have no idea that this is where things are headed.

The external story—the human tale—is of a very happy family (husband, wife, 11-year-old daughter) that has moved to San Francisco from Minnesota. All the stresses of moving—and some problems—are in play, as well as a girl who is about to encounter the joy of being a teen.

This is an interesting point at which to pause. The lead character is a girl and she is about to come of age, but her gender is a non-issue through the film. And my 5-year-old brought something up after seeing the film that I hadn’t even processed after seeing the film twice. The emotions in the heads of both the mother and the father were single gender, male or female. But the gender of the emotions in the girl is three female and twho male. The film doesn’t deal with this at all, but it brings up all kinds of interesting ideas about whether those emotion evolve or will the girl grow up to identify her sexuality in a unique way or is every person’s emotional make-up up for grabs?

Back to the movie…

The internal story—of the emotions—is pretty classic. A mismatched pair have to go on an unexpected journey and through their experiences and challenges, they learn to value one another. But this is animation and an entirely imagined internal universe, so it is not your typical journey. As an audience, we get both the pleasure of familiar ideas (like long-term memories or lost memories) brought to life in wonderfully creative ways and concepts we might never expect (deconstructive thinking).

If anything defines the overall sensibility of Pixar, it is this idea of the very familiar seen in a fresh way. They have recently taken to positioning it as a series of “What If”s, but I think it is more than that. It’ a “what if” combined with a grounded reality that is utterly familiar to the audience. Ratatouille isn’t just “what if a rat could be a great chef,” but what if that rat did it in a kitchen that offered every cliché of restaurants we all know? Wall-E isn’t just “what if a robot was the last being on earth and desperately wanted to find love,” but what would clear the earth of humans that wasn’t the end of humanity and spoke to every fear we have about electronic support making us lazy and disconnected?

Inside Out is about one specific step in growing up. It may be, in some ways, the end of innocence… but it’s hardly the giant leap into the teenage abyss of fear, loathing, and wild insecurity. But it’s glory is in that simplicity. It allows Team Pixar to bring every detail to life in tremendous ways.

Here is the non-spoiler version of a spoiler. Bing Bong. One of the great Pixar or Disney characters of all time. Just deal with it when you see the film. I’m not telling you anything more.

I really, really like this movie… and also think it is a little overrated. I don’t quite get the idea that it leaves critics in a blubbering puddle. Maybe it understands some of their emotions better than they do. I don’t know. It’s a beautiful, emotional, whip-smart movie, but I choked up once or twice. (Bing Bong!) I didn’t have to keep myself from an embarrassment of tears… and I am a soft touch.

See it. Experience it. It will likely be on my Top 10 list at year’s end. It is that good. I just don’t think it’s that good. But I can’t imagine anyone who won’t be able to relate to elements of the film. It’s hard to think of anyone who won’t be happy to have had this movie experience. And this is not a movie looking for the middle of the road, safe thing. So that is an enormous achievement.

P.S. I did cry at the short before Inside Out, called Lava. Like I said… pushover.

9 Responses to “Review: Inside Out (spoiler-free)”

  1. EtGuild2 says:

    Spot on. Aside from Cartoon Saloon (Song of the Sea, Secret of Kells) and Studio Ghibli it’s the best animated feature for me personally since “Rango,” but I had to do a double take reading Peter Debruge’s write-up among others. (haven’t seen Lumenick so teary since Ben Stein’s “Expelled”).

    Post-summer 2011 we’ve been in the first real trough for animation quality in the last 25 years, and given Pixar’s recent run of mediocrity (though I will defend “Brave” to my dying breath) I wonder if that combination caused some review inflation.

    Still, yeah, Bing Bong. And maybe my favorite casting ever with Lewis Black.

  2. movieman says:

    “Lava” is wondrous.
    In its perfect melding of “happy” and “sad,” it makes an ideal companion piece to “Inside Out.”
    Could there be two (more) Oscars in Pixar’s future?

  3. Smel says:

    Amen. Except it definitely won’t make my top 10 list. It’s mildly charming, mostly due to the humor, but watching Inside Out wasn’t a revelatory or overwhelming experience for me, and I’m quite baffled by the effusive praise it’s gotten so far.

  4. Kevin says:

    I think it’s Pixar’s best and it would be my favorite film of the year if it wasn’t for the unbeatable genius of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

  5. EtGuild2 says:

    “I think it’s Pixar’s best and it would be my favorite film of the year if it wasn’t for the unbeatable genius of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.”

    It’s funny, I didn’t have a single studio film in my top 10 last year. It’s only June and I have two that might be hard to dislodge.

  6. Pj says:

    Inside Out is definition of middle of the road meh.

  7. Yancy Berns says:

    INSIDE OUT is the best and smartest movie this year. The only reason to actively dislike it will be that it is going to be very popular. Have we gotten to the point now as a film culture that mainstream always must and definitely be avoided? The best two movies of this year by a long, long way, are INSIDE OUT and FURY ROAD. Very rare that they both happen to be very mainstream efforts, but there it is.

  8. michael bergeron says:

    IO was good, even great, when it was being philosophical and clever but much of the film is characters trying to outrun things falling down, not unlike san andreas … Lava was also very good yet geologically incorrect

  9. Smith says:

    Definitely one of Pixar’s (and Pete Docter’s) best. This is a bar raiser. When mainstream storytelling can be this smart and ambitious, it really makes it hard to accept the middling slop that comes out most weeks. I thought the film rushed through some of its most emotional beats in the third act, but otherwise I’d call this pretty close to perfect.

    I thought Lava was kind of bizarre, though. Why the hell is the female volcano tall and pretty while the male volcano looks like Jabba the Hutt?

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin