Over the last month in my Seuss on Screen series, I’ve ripped apart the terrible Dr Seuss films one by one. Complaining about everything from lazy writing to deviation from the source material, I haven’t left a single fibre intact.
However, the time has come for some positive words. To shower praise on a film that deserves to be placed on a pedestal. Pixar’s Inside Out. I’ve been hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t seen this movie yet, but I’m sure there’s people who haven’t, so a warning. Spoilers ahead.
My favourite Pixar film is Up, and anyone who’s seen it will know why. I’d heard Inside Out was good, and the concept seemed creative, so I was pretty excited. Once I found out that Pete Docter was at the helm (director and writer of Up), I was sold. I simply had to go. I went and saw the film on my 23rd birthday this year, because I’m an adult. My partner and friends and I, all in our twenties and thirties, crowded into the theatre. And let me tell you now, this film did not disappoint. I think we enjoyed it more than anyone else in the theatre. Including the kids. Inside Out is everything I was told it is, and more.
First, the story for the two of you who don’t know it. Inside Out takes place inside the head of an 11 year old girl named Riley. Her five emotions are manifested in Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. Riley has recently moved from Minnesota to San Francisco and is struggling with the adjustment. Through an accident, Joy and Sadness are sucked out of headquarters into the rest of Riley’s mind, leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust to run the show. It’s up to Joy and Sadness to return the core memories back to Headquarters and make Riley happy again.
See, Riley’s mind runs on her emotions and memories, which are coloured according to what emotion she was feeling at the time. Most are stored away in Long Term Memory Storage, but there’s 5 core memories, which come from a vital moment in Riley’s life. Each core memory powers the Islands of Personality (Hockey Island, Honesty Island, Friendship Island, Family Island and Goofball Island). With no core memories, the Islands are shut down. Riley can’t show emotion at all.
Throughout the entire introduction I was going “Brilliant. Brilliant”. It was just ingenious. There’s so much potential for creativity and imagination with this set up and believe me, the movie takes full advantage of it. From Riley’s dreams being made on Dream Productions movie sets to a hilarious running gag that explains why you can’t get that catchy song out of your head, the world of Riley’s mind is wildly creative and fun. Imagination Land, French Fry Forest, Cloudtown, all these places made me feel like a child again. Every second of commentary on the mind (“These facts and opinions look so similar!” “There’s conductive reasoning, there’s deja vu, there’s language processing, there’s deja vu, there’s critical thinking, there’s deja vu…”) rings true. There’s a joke about ice-cream related brain freeze, they talk about memories fading, they’ve really explored all the possibilities with how the human brain and emotions function.
There’s so much comedy in this, but the best thing about the comedy is that it all comes from the concept, not a reliance on pop culture references. In fact, in terms of the pop culture nods, I counted four. (I swear I was the only one laughing at the Chinatown reference!) The comedy comes from the world, and the characters.
Anger, Fear, Disgust, Joy and Sadness are such wonderful personalities and they’re so much fun to watch. They’re more than just stereotypes, and this comes across strongly in the voice acting. What perfect casting. Amy Poehler as Joy is a smiley faced optimist with the most infectious energy, Mindy Kahling is a riot as the sassy Disgust, Bill Hader is hilarious as a hysterical Fear and Phyllis Smith hits every note as Sadness. But the one who steals the show, for me at least, is comedian Lewis Black as Anger. His biting delivery and dry humour is beyond pitch perfect.
These emotions work off each other brilliantly and their character arcs are rock solid. The Emotions go beyond simply being scared or happy. Fear is“really good at keeping Riley safe”. Disgust “keeps Riley from being poisoned, physically and socially,” and Anger “cares very deeply about things being fair,” And when Riley is unable to show any emotion, it’s a true representation of depression. Depression goes beyond being sad. It’s having nothing. I’ve heard the filmmakers consulted heavily with psychologists during production and my hats off to them. The way emotions and feelings and their relationship with what’s happening around you is so well represented in a way children can understand and identify with. Psychologists now are actually using the film to treat children and help them process their feelings, and you can see why.
Despite the charming humour, they also know the power of silence and visuals. There’s a number of moments in the film that give the characters and the audience a chance to draw breath. Look at Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend. He’s one of the funniest characters in the movie, but he isn’t always the life of the party. He has several crying moments, such as when his rocket is sent to the dump. That moment sets up the character/story arc with Joy and Sadness later without rubbing your face in it. This, any horrible family film who happens to be reading this, is how you create pacing and foreshadowing correctly.
And now it’s time to talk about my absolute favourite aspect of the film. The moral.
Joy has to learn the importance of Sadness, and so does the audience. In the end, Fear, Disgust, Joy and Anger are all powerless to stop Riley running away. Only Sadness can get the idea out of her head. Only Sadness can make Riley feel anything again. Only Sadness can signal to the parents that Riley isn’t ok. And it’s without doubt one of the greatest scenes in cinema history. It shows the power of all emotions, and the importance of not masking your feelings. It humanises the parents, and shows the connection Riley has with them.
But after all that, Riley doesn’t have her typical happy ending, where she gets to go home. She learns to live in San Francisco. Just how it would play in real life. And this is a story about real life. When Bing Bong sacrifices himself for Riley and Joy, he doesn’t miraculously return. He stays forgotten. And it’s tragic, but it’s also real life. I know a lot people were very touched by that moment, because it brought back memories for them. I remembered my imaginary friend Michelle at that moment, and it was bittersweet. This is a film that is not afraid of the truth, and is not afraid of reality.
In today’s world, with the explosion of technology and social media, depression and feelings of inadequacy are rampant. With sites such as Facebook and Instagram, we can choose the persona we present to the world, and in desperation to feel like we have it all together, we often present the highlights and exaggerate how perfect life is. But the truth is that nobody’s life is perfect, and it’s ok to admit that not everything is bunnies and rainbows. Inside Out knows this, and I can only give it a standing ovation.
It’s rare that I say this, but this is about the most perfect movie you can imagine. Everything about this movie is the pinnacle of quality entertainment. And the best thing about it? It’s not just for kids. This movie has a message that is vital for every human being to know, especially in the 21st century.
I am so grateful a movie like Inside Out exists. It has everything. Wonderful characters, great acting, brilliant writing, creativity, originality, beautiful animation and a moral which is desperately needed.
For all these reasons and more, Inside Out has found a very special place in my heart. It’s a movie I can proclaim as a masterpiece of animation. An instant classic. Like everyone else, I simply love this movie and I’ll gush over it til the day I die. If you haven’t seen it, get that DVD, stat.