Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is an 11 year old girl living in Minnesota with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan). She is a normal girl who enjoys hockey, spending time with her friends and having fun with her family. All that changes when they move to San Francisco, and Riley finds herself having to deal with some unfamiliar emotions and situations. Most of this plays out in her head, where Riley is operated by her five core emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). However, when Joy tries to prevent Sadness from interfering with Riley’s memories, the two find themselves lost in Riley’s long term memory, leaving Anger, Disgust and Fear at the helm.
I was wary about Inside Out as soon as it was announced. I can’t say what it was, but I could never fully get behind the premise, how it could develop into a compelling plot and whether it was just too ambitious, even for Pixar. But in Pixar I trust, so I looked forward to seeing it. When it was released in America (and most of the rest of the world) in mid June, all I heard was rave reviews, how this was a “return to form” for Pixar, “a true classic” and perhaps “the best Pixar movie ever.” Big claims to stake, so understandably my interest was piqued ever higher. Over a month later came the UK release, and sadly I was unable to see it straight away. We made plans to see it on my birthday in early August, attending a double-bill alongside Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, with a delectable burger sandwiched between the two. Alas other puppy-related plans conspired against us, and we had to pick one film. Knowing I had an upcoming Mission: Impossible Lambcast the choice was clear, and Inside Out got relegated to be seen upon its DVD release, far away in November. Well that day arrived, last week, and I pre-ordered the Blu-Ray, knowing it would be cheaper to buy on release day than two cinema tickets would have been. It arrived and sat on a shelf, awaiting a spare evening. Friday appeared after a long week of work (no Thanksgiving in this country) and my initial months-long trepidation had morphed into this teeming ball of excitement that now, finally, after almost half a year, I was getting to see Inside Out, the latest Pixar film since Monsters University. It’s hard to imagine how my expectations could have been set any higher, so perhaps it’s more than a little understandable as to why watching the film did not live up to them.
I’m pretty sure it’s because of the premise, which I could never get behind. I just couldn’t get it. Pretty much every other Pixar film has been simple and straightforward – your toys are alive and just want to be played with, a lonely robot yearns for companionship, this fish wants to find that other fish – but I found Inside Out tried to oversimplify something overly complex in terms of personified emotions. What are these emotions? Are they living creatures in their own right? Did they just appear one day when Riley first experienced joy, or anger, or fear? How? Do they question this about themselves? Why aren’t these emotions more existentially concerned? Are they able to experience emotions themselves? Can Joy feel sadness, or is she only capable of happiness? Is there some malevolent omnipotent force ensuring that the world outside of Riley’s head corresponds with the turmoil inside it? Why are the emotions in Riley’s head various genders (Anger and Fear are male, the others are female) and don’t share any aesthetic characteristics, when in the heads of literally everyone else we see, even the other characters of a similar age to Riley, the emotions all correspond to their respective human? The emotions in her father’s head are male and moustachioed. The mother’s all have the same haircut and glasses etc. You’ve no idea how much this annoyed me. I’m fully aware that I’m over-thinking the whole thing, but I can’t comprehend watching this film without needing just a little bit more of an explanation. It didn’t prevent me from enjoying the film, but it meant I couldn’t fully buy into what was being shown.
Also, and this is way beyond a criticism to be levelled at the film as much as it’s just a bunch of reasons for why I should see a therapist, but this really isn’t a film aimed at me. I’m hugely intolerant and unforgiving of the way children think. The irrationality of a child’s mind fills me with nothing but frustration and impatience. A podcast I listen to a great deal is the Matineecast, hosted by Ryan McNeil of the Matinee. On his show he and his guest have a segment entitled Further Down the Spiral, in which they recommend something not movie-related that should accompany and further a viewing of the film in question. For the show dedicated to Inside Out, Ryan suggested that after or before viewing Inside Out, people should return to their childhood and watch some of the TV shows they watched as a kid, to get into the childlike mindset. Sounds like a great idea, right? Only problem is, I couldn’t tell you a single show I watched as a child. I know I watched a lot of TV, but specifically what, I’ve no recollection. There’s photographic proof that I was once a child, and had a birthday cake in the shape of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, but if you were to ask me anything TMNT related I’d say I’d never seen anything of the sort. I don’t know which turtle is which, and whether it’s Splinter or Shredder that’s the good guy. I’ve little to no memory of any aspect of my apparent childhood, so there’s very little here for me to relate to, and the idea of a conversation with someone younger than 18 just fills me with dread. The notion of an imaginary friend (here a bizarre cat/elephant/candyfloss hybrid called Bing Bong, voiced by Richard Kind) is something I find absurd, a concept I’d always presumed was made up by movies as a shortcut to showing a character is lonely and deranged.
Within Riley’s head there are five Islands of Personality, each powered by her core emotions. These islands correspond to her goofiness, love of hockey, her friends, family and honesty, and it is when these core memories become lost, along with Sadness and Joy, that the action of the plot kicks in. I couldn’t help but wonder what my own Islands of Personality might be, which when your mind is as addled and clearly damaged as mine is, that’s probably not the healthiest of threads to pull at. I’d have a family island, sure, and it would keep drifting uncontrollably towards the control centre, but would get routinely kicked further away each time. The friend island would look like those man-made Palm Islands in Dubai, but always drifting further and further apart, until eventually I couldn’t see them anymore. Movieland would be the most visited island, busy, thriving and popular, but in the same way that Disneyland is, where no matter how much there is to enjoy, there’s also a great deal to complain about. Like, everything. (The core emotion for Movieland would be the night I beat my Dad at our ritual “What have I seen that actor in?” game watching Deep Impact, and me recognising Tea Leoni from Jurassic Park 3 before he did). And finally there’s Sarcasmia, where I sit and throw rocks at everything to make myself laugh. Welcome to the inside of my head, everybody.
Upon its release, every site I could see was ranking Pixar’s then-fifteen films (all being well I’ll be seeing The Good Dinosaur this weekend), and without fail Inside Out seemed to make it into practically everyone’s top five, if not even higher. For me, though, it’s pretty damn low. Now bear in mind that of Pixar’s fourteen other films, I’d recommend thirteen (Cars 2 can drive off a cliff) and I’d say at least two thirds are out-and-out classics, but that’s something I cannot say about Inside Out. In fact I think I’d only put it above Cars 2, Cars and maybe Brave, the latter two of which I still stand by as being at least good. Everything else was far more entertaining and, just as importantly, made sense. Inside Out has too many leaps in understanding, too much made-up nonsense or inconceivable frivolities for me to fully appreciate.
The film is good, don’t get me wrong, but it just didn’t gel with me. Inside Out is imaginative, original, engaging, fun and moving, it just isn’t for me. The cast are mostly fantastic and embody their characters very well, particularly Hader as Fear, who was a highlight for me. Poehler was good as Joy and, whilst I’m not very familiar with the works of Phyllis Smith or Lewis Black, they were both well cast here too. I found Mindy Kaling as Disgust to have been underused as, unless I missed it, she didn’t really get the chance to do anything other than show an evident dislike for broccoli on multiple occasions, but seeing as how I’ve never found Kaling to add anything positive to whatever I’ve seen her in then I’m not exactly complaining. The animation is up amongst Pixar’s best, as is to be expected, but plot-wise I could see where it was going – sadness has a purpose too – from a mile away. On the plus side, the very brief moment towards the end of the film that takes place inside the mind of a boy Riley runs into is one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen all year. Similarly, the accompanying short Riley’s First Date was also a lot of fun, and is well worth the four minutes of your time it takes to watch. The preceding short, Lava, was interesting, but felt unfinished or under-planned. I’ve had the song stuck in my head all week though.
I don’t know how to rank this film. I’d advise everyone to watch it, as clearly I’m in the wrong, and this will not be the only shot I give it. It’s a Pixar film, so there’s bound to be heaps of background material I missed on my first viewing, and maybe in a different frame of mind I’ll realise all these words are drivel and it’s actually fantastic. It’s clearly a very personal film for Pixar – who knows how many of their staff have had to uproot their families and head to California, just like Riley and her parents? – but it’s that personal touch from them that makes it more alien to me.
Choose Film 7/10