Friday, June 19, 2015

Review: "Inside Out"

Director(s): Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen
Runtime: 94 minutes

Pixar has a long history of finding unique ways to hit our emotions. This is, after all, the studio that got us to care about plastic toys, fish, and robots. Yet the studio has never confronted the very nature of emotion until now. With Inside Out, directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen have turned Pixar's power to the trickiest of concepts to visualize: human memory, emotion, and imagination. These three parts of thought have such a conceptual limitless to them that pinning them down with concrete imagery can be daunting. One risks creating a world that feels too slipshod to work as a setting for sincere drama. Thankfully, after a few years of divisive offerings, Pixar has made a remarkable turn around with its latest. Docter, Del Carmen, and the whole Pixar think tank have creating a vibrant, resonant, and emotionally mature tribute to the vastness of human feeling. 

As portrayed here, each human mind is dominated by five key players: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Anger (Lewis Black). The emotions are in charge of handling responses as well as the formulation and storing of memories, which take the form of colored orbs. 

We first meet these five inside the head of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), an eleven year old girl whose parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) have just relocated from Minnesota to San Francisco. Without giving away too many details, things go awry when the emotions try to adjust with the move to California, and Riley's emotions are thrown into chaos. In the upheaval, spritely leader Joy and downer Sadness are knocked out of central command and stranded in Long Term Memory. 

Following in classic Pixar fashion, Inside Out is built around a quest to find something/one important after being separated by larger forces. Joy and Sadness' journey back to HQ is mirrored in Riley's own desire to go back to Minnesota, the source of all of her best memories. The internal journey, however, proves to be far more imposing than the external one. Riley's brain is filled with an array of brilliantly designed locales that allow Docter and Del Carmen to have a great deal of visual fun along the way. Some ideas are more literal (a train of thought is just that), while others rely more on invention (dreams are created on sound stages like movies).

Yet with so much room for dazzlement, Inside Out never strays from its main story for the sake of spectacle. Poehler and Smith are smartly cast in their respective emotions, and the focus on such polar opposites creates an unconventionally winning buddy adventure. Poehler brings that Leslie Knope optimism to Joy, creating a well-intentioned, yet occasionally narrow-sighted go getter. Smith, a regular on The Office, brings an authenticity to Sadness, without dragging down the film's overall mood. 

In fact, at the end of the day, Sadness might actually be the true hero of Inside Out. Sadness, as an emotion, is so often discouraged that it's often viewed as a negative. No one wants to feel sad, of course, but it's an emotion that fares better when it's faced head on, rather than repressed. The magic of Inside Out is that it refuses to turn Sadness into a Debbie Downer-esque punchline. She's valid, and in some cases, the one best equipped to handle what's going on. 

At 94 minutes, Inside Out feels extra brisk, so it's a testament to those involved that the deeper moments hit as hard as they do. More than any of Pixar's previous films, Inside Out is the sort of kids' movie that will resonate far deeper with older audiences. The kids can come for the zippy adventure, colorful vistas, and slapstick comedy, while everyone else can come to laugh through the tears. To label Inside Out as a "kids' movie" feels condescending, given that it's all so rich with ideas and emotional honesty. This one really is for all ages. 

Grade: A-

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