Film Review: Inside Out

As a complete deluge of rain pours over London, I am glad I took myself to see a movie about emotions. I have identified with Sadness so completely as the grey skies take over any sign of “Joy” in this town. But that did not stop the range of emotion from coming through the screen during this new Pixar film.

I have been a fan of Pixar since the first Toy Story, and I herald Monster’s Inc. to be in my top  favorite films. But lately, Pixar has been missing the mark with its formulaic storytelling. Unfortunately, Inside Out is no different. When Pixar came up with its stellar technique, they decided if it wasn’t broke, there was no need to fix it. But after countless films, the 1, 2, 3 steps have gotten old.

The film begins with Riley’s birth and thus her emotions: Joy, Disgust, Sadness, Fear, and Anger. Joy is the one to be contended with as she dominates the early years of Riley’s life with the occasional elbowing from Anger and Disgust, in particular with broccoli. But as much as Anger and the others try to have their balance in Riley’s early life, it’s all about Joy.

But when Riley turns eleven, her parents move her from Minnesota to San Francisco, far from her friends and familiar ways of life. Joy sees this as a business challenge rather than a negative and starts head-on being happy and full of smiles. However, when a dead rat makes itself known and when her sleeping bag becomes her bed, Riley’s emotions Disgust, Fear, and Anger start to pay attention.

Joy now has her hands full keeping them away from the “control panel” in Riley’s head.

Successful at first, Joy continues to have Riley look at the bright side. But Sadness, having been pushed aside for too long is officially bored. She decides to start touching the stockpiled marble memories Joy has collected turning them into blue balls of sadness.

Joy tries desperately to stop her from destroying all of her hard happy work, but this inevitably causes Riley’s core memories to be dislodged from a memory containment center forcing Joy and Sadness to the memory vault far away from headquarters. This leaves Disgust, Fear, and Anger to rule the roost turning Riley into a sullen, depressed, pre-pubescent girl her parents are not happy with.

While Joy and Sadness try to make their way back to headquarters through a series of failed attempts through the various portals of Riley’s personality, Riley is not fitting in at school, disobeying her parents, and losing her true self.  It’s not until Joy and Sadness make it back to headquarters that Joy learns it’s not all about her and her control over Riley’s life. She has to relinquish some control and let Sadness have her place.

* * * * *

The film has a nice moral, as all of the Pixar films do, but it’s the same formula with the same morals as all of the other films. At first, I thought it was me. Maybe I’m jaded being a few years older. But there were a couple of children sitting behind me in the empty theater who were as bored as I was toward the third act of the film. You can always tell by the amount of kicking of the chair and the moans and groans.

Instead of being geared to children of a certain age, the film seems to be geared more for the parents dragging their kids along. There was a lot more interacting with the parents in this film and dealing with adult themes like how to talk to a belligerent child and relocating across the country. We hear a lot more conversations with the parents speaking to “investors” and about the missing moving van–things children would never be able to comprehend. So those lines are directly written for the parents.

But even as an adult, I got bored in the middle of the movie. It’s like the film has two different directions that aren’t congealing together. You have the Emotions who are fighting their way back to “headquarters” and then the story of Riley adjusting with her parents in San Francisco. I understand that the Emotions are colorful and bright to appeal to the kids, but even some of their dialogue lines would fly right over their heads.

Sadness and Joy are accompanied by Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong, through a deconstruction path of the brain. This turns the characters into different art forms from a cubist abstract form to a Matisse-like two-dimensional shape. I will admit, the animation has certainly improved since Toy Story being showcased in this portion very well. But to my point, the jokes would not register with children.

A little later in the story, as the characters run through Imagination Land full of houses of cards, graham cracker castles, and creatures that cry candy, Sadness says something like, “Is this all going to be so interactive?” I chuckled, but the children behind me moaned, “Can we go home yet?”

Overall, the film was ho-hum and more of the same from the animation company I have held in such high esteem since the 90s.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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