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RAVE REVIEW: Pixar’s “Inside Out”

RAVE REVIEW: Pixar's "Inside Out"

Inside Out has
attracted more attention in the press and social media than any other animated
feature in recent years. Articles about making it have appeared in papers across
the country, trailers for it remain popular on the Web; the film drew a
standing ovation at Cannes, and critics are lining up to praise it. (As of this
writing, it’s rated 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.) There’s a reason for all
this attention: Inside Out is an
exceptional film, even by Pixar’s elevated standards.

As has already been widely discussed, much of the story by
co-directors Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen (screenplay by Docter, Meg
LeFauve and Josh Cooley), takes place inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley Anderson
(an agreeably believable Kaitlyn Dias). She’s a happy, sunny girl, who enjoys
hockey, her family and spending time with her friends. But Riley’s world is
turned upside down when Mom (Diane Lane) and Dad (Kyle McLachlan) move from their
native Minnesota to San Francisco to start a new business.

Riley’s response to this psychological whiplash is expressed
by the five principal emotions within her mind: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness
(Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill
Hader). As they attempt to cope with the demands of their new environment, they
jockey for position, squabbling over who should drive the console of Riley’s
mind. How do they react to new sights and people and challenges? How do they
keep creating the cherished memories—represented by golden glowing orbs—that
keep her multi-faceted personality functioning?

When Joy tries to keep Sadness from tingeing happy “Core
Memories” with sorrow, the characters get sucked into the storage system and
dumped in the labyrinth of long term memory. With Anger, Disgust and Fear left
in control, Riley’s personality abruptly changes. She cries on her first day at
her new school, quarrels with her parents and quits hockey. In the depths of
Riley’s mind, Joy and Sadness watch helpless as theme-park like lands that have
been essential features of Riley’s character crumble and collapse.

 

In the dark canyons of her subconscious, the mismatched pair
meets Riley’s forgotten imaginary playmate Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a
clown-chimera who cries candy. The sense of loss that inevitably accompanies
growing up has been a feature of many Pixar films, as it was in Lewis Carrol’s
“Alice” books, and Bing Bong’s story recalls the poignancy of “Jessie’s Song”
in Toy Story 2. With Bing Bong’s
help, Joy and Sadness are finally able to return to the control center and
steer Riley back to her proper course.

The Emotion characters all have clear, easy-to-read shapes
that reflect their identities. Docter used this design philosophy in Up, where Carl was essentially a cube
and Russell a turnip, but the artists push it farther here. Production designer
Ralph Eggleston and his crew provide the characters with an interior world that
no one has ever seen, but feels like what the subconscious should look like. In
one inspired moment when Joy, Sadness and Bing Bong stumble into the realm of
abstract thought, the characters morph into Cubist-origami versions of themselves,
only to devolve into colored shapes and, finally, lines.

The animation of the Emotion characters is considerably
broader than the humans, and broader than anything Pixar has done. The artists clearly
studied the comic animation in the old Disney shorts by John Sibley, Woolie
Reitherman, Art Babbitt et al., as
well as Warner Bros and Tex Avery cartoons. The wilder movements reflect the
exagerrated designs of the characters. After the almost oppressive realism in
many recent CG films, it’s refreshing to see such effective use of cartoon
movement. (When Anger’s head burst into flame while he yelled, a friend’s son
sitting near me commented, “Oooh, just like Daddy!”)

Docter said the key moment in film’s creation came when they
realized the importance of Sadness, both as a character and a concept. When she
reveals to Joy that many of Riley’s happiest memories are actually tinged with
sorrow, she presents a basic human truth: Happiness is seldom, if ever,
unalloyed. This key sequence reflects the insistence on balancing a laugh with a
tear that was a hallmark of Walt Disney’s filmmaking philosophy, which the
Pixar artists have adopted. It’s a touching moment that echoes including both the
death of the mother and the frolic on the frozen pond in Bambi, or juxtaposing the loneliness of the Toys Andy has outgrown
with the hilarity of Spanish Buzz in Toy
Story 3
.

Inside Out ranks
among Pixar’s most mature films, and can be watched on multiple levels. Kids will
enjoy it as a straightforward adventure. Parents may wince as they recall
memories of what they had to endure with their own children. Adults will reflect
on own their growth and troubled path to maturity. Never mawkish or
sentimental, Inside Out uses fantasy
to present a bittersweet truth about life. Many critics seem surprised that
animation can handle such deeply felt material, just as they were surprised by the
depth of Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio, Dumbo and Spirited Away.

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