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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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