Has ‘Pixar Fatigue’ set in for anyone yet? It did for me, especially for every Pixar movie that came after their 2009 masterpiece, Up. And especially after 2013’s Monsters University, it seemed that the Pixar hype train was slowly screeching to a halt. But that same train picked up a full head of steam the moment the first teaser for Inside Out was released last October, and it hasn’t slowed down since. Inside Out is the Pixar’s long-awaited return to form. Not only that, it’s probably their best work in the last seven years. Seriously.
The film follows 11-year-old Riley Andersen (Kaitlyn Dias) just after she and her family move from their Minnesota roots to a busier, hipster-infested San Francisco after her father lands a new job. As with most ‘small fish moves to a bigger pond’ stories, Riley struggles with the daily hassles of moving to a very uncomfortable new home, making new friends in a new school at an age where cliques are everything, the turmoil of early adolescence, and trading in a familiar childhood for a more mature life.
By itself, the backdrop of the story is interesting enough (albeit a tad typical), but this is Pixar we’re talking about. The meat of the story focuses on the colorful depictions of little Riley’s thoughts, specifically, the five emotions that dictate a lot of her actions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Anger (Lewis Black). A good chunk of the movie plays like an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, where the five emotions watch the life of Riley (literally, through her eyes) and offer some one-sided commentary and witty banter among each other.
Two of the five emotions display a lot more depth than the one-dimensional nature their names imply, but the rest, sadly, retain their one-dimensional characteristics. But since this is a movie about emotions (which inherently have no character traits to speak of), and how they interact with each other to give depth to a human being, I can forgive the one-note performances by a majority of the cast.
Surely, the abstraction of the mind and body is certainly, relatively novel, but it’s not the newest concept in the world. In fact, far from it! Nearly every cartoon of my generation’s childhood has had an episode where certain body parts or mental processes are given personification. I think that episode of Spongebob Squarepants where Spongebob had to forget everything except ‘fine dining and breathing’ is the best example of this:
But what sets Inside Out apart from old Nickelodeon cartoons and the mixed bag that was 2001’s Osmosis Jones? There is only so much novelty a moviegoer can handle before they notice the gaping holes in the story and the poor treatment of the movie’s themes. But make no mistake; no such thing happens in Inside Out. The representations of Riley’s subconscious and unconscious thoughts, as well as the silly shenanigans they get into go hand-in-hand with some of the most profound themes ever tackled in any animated movie.
Exactly how do we explain to a child the following: Alienation? Homesickness? Depression? Loss of innocence? The concept of melancholy? The bright colors and the funny characters all serve to take these concepts, that are frightening for any family to deal with, and make them accessible to all audiences (and with a surprising amount of sensitivity too!) Although admittedly, the movie is Rango levels of deep, that is the reason why this movie is best watched with the entire family: because children going through the same struggles Riley is going through will be able to relate to her, and the parents have an opportunity to rediscover these same emotions in order for them to be able to understand their children better.
I could mention how happy I was that my favorite comedian of all time, Lewis Black, was practically made for the role of Anger. I could rave about how Poehler’s and Smith’s incredibly nuanced performances as Joy and Sadness respectively are the hinge on which the plot revolves around. I could say that I cried like an 11-year-old girl during a pivotal scene involving Joy and a key character I can only describe as a ‘figment of a little girl’s imagination’. I could go on and on about how, like Riley herself, my emotions rapidly ping-ponged from laughing-like-a-crazy-person to on-the-verge-of-sobbing every five minutes. I could also comment on the technical side and say that the sound mixing and score are phenomenal (though not as noteworthy as Up), or comment on how the visual, stylistic choices for the different emotions and parts of Riley’s mind were absolutely apropos (the color, shape, and animation of the characters, etc.) and the use of the entire spectrum of colors at the visual artists’ disposal.
But in the end, that’s not what makes this movie the masterpiece that it is. Like Riley in the movie, this is movie is definite proof that Pixar has matured. Even further beyond WALL-E, beyond Up, and even beyond Toy Story 3‘s tear-jerker of an ending. The excellent voice acting by a star-studded cast, the relatively fresh and unique setting, the lovable characters, the tight if not cookie-cutter plot, these all make the movie great. But the mastery of its themes is what elevates Inside Out to a whole other level.
This is definitely my favorite movie of 2015 so far. And it sucks to think that Pixar couldn’t possibly top this with The Good Dinosaur. And that makes me sad.
Pixar’s Inside Out. It’s definitely ‘more than a feeling’.
Catch Pixar’s Inside Out in Philippine theaters everywhere this August 19.