Monday, July 13, 2015

Inside Out (2015)

Directed by: Pete Doctor, Renaldo Del Carmen
Runtime: 1hr 34mins

For a long time now Pixar has been the benchmark for quality animated films that tell touching stories in beautifully animated worlds filled with clever humor that brings the whole family together. Pete Doctor has been a rising star in their repertoire of talented writers and directors. He's written the stories for some of their best films, including "Toy Story," "Toy Story 2," "Wall-E" and "Up" (he also directed "Monster's Inc," and "Up"). Lately Pixar's improbable string of highly rated hits have come down a bit, with less highly regarded films like "Monster's University" and "Cars 2." However, with Doctor back to helm a script he co-wrote many are calling "Inside Out" the best Pixar film since his last directorial effort "Up."

Pixar, on the whole, have carved out a niche making simple, but high concept stories from our childhood imagination. Here, their cleverly simple high concept story takes us inside the mind of a 12 year old girl named Riley. We're introduced to her personified emotions Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). They are the literal representations of the voices inside her head. While each of them gets their opportunity to helm the controls of Riley's emotional responses, Joy seems to run the show for the most part. She's the one keeping the others from ruining Riley's mood. Most often Joy's primary job is to keep Sadness away from the controls.

Early on, we're introduced to the idea of memories as little orbs, each containing Riley's memories. The most important of which are referred to as core memories, these are the ones responsible for making Riley who she is. Her mind is made up of towers of colored orbs, each tied to memories, and each of those memories tied to emotions. These memories can last a long time, but as we know they don't last forever. After a long enough time these memories fade, their color dims and eventually they're lost to time.

Riley and her family have moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, and of course, everything is different, even Pizza! She's lost childhood friends and places of familiarity. Joy's job of keeping her happy is thrust into overdrive as all of these memories and things that had given Riley joy are beginning to fade. But when Sadness let's her curiosity get the better of her, a simple touch of the orb starts to change one of her happy memories to a sad memory. Worse yet the inner workings of her mind and the memories and emotions stored within goes through a crumbling series of changes that begins when Joy and Sadness are accidentally whisked away from the control room tower.

This world containing colorful towers, and black and white areas of fading memories makes for a vast world full of interesting artistry that depicts the inevitable growth and changes we all go through while growing up. It's with impressive skill that they're able to portray the emotional breakdown going on inside Riley in a way that feels natural for a young teen dealing with a world of changes associated with a move. Joy and Sadness find themselves lost in her mind needing to trek their way back to the control room where Anger, Fear and Disgust have been left to the controls. Their best attempts to react appropriately to Riley's day to day events and interactions leave Riley in an understandably poor mood.

While Joy and Sadness explore the bizarre land of a young girl's mind, running into old memories and forgotten imaginary friends, what was a simple concept turns to complex world building. There is the danger that the world has become so complex that a good portion of the film could be lost on its intended audience. At times it even feels in danger of flying off the rails, yet for most of us, the visualization of the inner workings of the mind are clever enough to make sense. These inner workings only become more beautiful when we think about how our emotions can run amok, and we realize how many memories we leave behind. It reminded me of childhood, and the things we enjoyed at a young age. These things fade over time as we eventually let our childhood memories go. 

However, more importantly, through this journey Joy learns the importance of Sadness, and how sometimes they're inexorably linked. Much the way the "Toy Story" films grappled with children growing up and leaving behind their childhood toys, "Inside Out" delves into the loss of memories and childhood imagination. It's okay to be sad. These emotions birth nostalgia and appreciation for our past. Even if there's a hint of sadness to the memories we've left behind they can, in very real ways, provide us joy at the same time.

As emotional as this ride becomes, there is a good amount of humor along the way. One of the funniest scenes involves a rare exploration of the minds of people other than Riley. She sits at the dinner table with her parents and the perspective jumps from Riley's mind into that of her mother and father. The humor, of course, is relatable in that we understand the interactions, but hilarious because we get to see why and how the parents react the way they do.

Pixar's string of highly rated, well received films gets back on track with "Inside Out." It's may not be quite up to par with "Wall-E" and "Up," but it's a clever little film that seeks to explain the way our memories and emotions inform who we are and rule our day to day interactions. In usual Pixar fashion it's visually beautiful, cleverly written and the type of rare film that's good for kids while never feeling dumb down for a younger audiences.

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