I’m grateful that my cousin came into town from Ottawa this week. He had the scoop on the sneak peek showing of Pixar’s latest film, and e-mailed me about it a couple of weeks ago. We like to get together for movie nights when he’s in town, as we both write film reviews— I for this humble site, and he for a newspaper. We’re film buddies, and both capable to appreciating all types of films. I wasn’t sure if I was going to seek out this special showing of Inside Out, but with his enthusiasm added to my interest, it was a sure thing I’d be attending. Plus, the fantastic early reviews had me rather pumped.
My cousin seemed a trifle disappointed that the screening was being held in a “normal” theater, with no huge screen and no 3D. When I saw the crowd in attendance, I understood why the theater management might not be willing to give up a big screen at the same time that Jurassic World was pulling in big numbers. Our theater for Inside Out hosted a paltry 15 people or so. I suppose the $23 admission (Canadian) might have scared people off, but then they really missed out, for tonight we witnessed not only a cool bells-and-whistles event, but also the current frontrunner for best animated film of the year, three days before its wide release. It will take a few days for it all to sink in, but Inside Out may very well be one of the most well thought-out and brilliant animated films of all time.
First, let’s begin with a discussion of some of the “bonus features” of the evening. After viewing teasers for Pixar’s upcoming The Good Dinosaur and Disney’s Zootopia, the audience was treated to a half-hour tour of the Pixar animation facility, hosted by director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera. Wow, do I want to work there. Clearly a shrine to creativity, the place exudes fun and collaboration. From the individually decorated offices, to the secret bar, to John Lasseter’s toy collection, this was one sweet insider look at the animation powerhouse. Glimpses of art for The Good Dinosaur could be seen, and we got just a glimpse of the Toy Story 4 story room between the fingers of Lasseter’s outstretched hand. Of particular note was the graciousness shown by Docter in describing how much the many souls at Pixar contribute to each film’s success.
Having already felt I’d gotten my money’s worth, I was pleased to recall that we still had a whole movie to watch!
So, Pete Docter.
Remember Docter’s film Up? Remember the first 10 minutes of that film, that brilliant and poignant summary of a man’s life with his most cherished love? Yeah. Now imagine that kind of sentiment being spread across a 94-minute film. Mind blowing? Uh-huh. But that’s just the beginning of what’s great about this film.
Inside Out is, in simple terms, the story of an eleven year old girl’s emotions. Her five core emotions work together in her mind in order to help her function and generally manage her life. Life is never easy, but particularly when you are on the verge of puberty and your parents decide to uproot you and move to a city across the country. Suddenly, winter fun in Minnesota is exchanged for an old, cramped house in San Francisco, and our girl Riley has to cope with making new friends, deal with the disappointment of all she had to leave behind, and try to avoid having her parents want to strangle her because of all the snark coming out of her mouth.
While this is the story of Riley, the hero of the film is Riley’s pre-eminent emotion, Joy, played with appropriate exuberance by Amy Poehler. Joy manages Riley’s mind skilfully, balancing out the other emotions of Anger, Disgust, Fear, and Sadness. Since the big move, Sadness has become more potent, despite Joy’s best efforts to contain her. The new surroundings and situations have all of Riley’s mind in turmoil and near-panic, and the result is a practically catastrophic loss of self, and an epic struggle by Joy and Sadness to recover Riley’s sense of well-being.
I am being purposefully vague about the details here, because this film should be experienced without any spoilers. The whole construct of the film is extraordinarily clever, and is based on solid scientific principles. The way that basic psychology is given form is a revelation of creative ingenuity. It all just makes so much sense when presented this way. You could show this film to a first-year university psych class, and they’d be halfway to earning an A in their first exam. The verisimilitude of how the film presents our understanding of the mind adds immense layering to the film. Everything that happens in Riley’s inner mind represents an aspect of her dealing with her family’s move, and her struggle to cope with growing up. While the events inside her mind occur in a beautifully realized fantasy world, the basic situations she encounters in the “real world” are universal, a wise choice on Docter’s part. Such a high-concept film could have only suffered had they gone with a more complex story. Instead, we all feel the pain that Riley does, because we’ve all felt these things ourselves.
This was a film five years in the making, and one can see why. I was constantly marveling at the skill with which Docter and his team constructed their world, and how they displayed such a strong sense of how Riley’s mind worked. With so many layers to this story, I could spend many pages examining this film in a lengthy thesis. There is just so much depth to the proceedings, despite the premise appearing to be simple. And yet, the film succeeds on many levels, past its ability to impress as a singular work of creative genius. A five year old will still find it hilarious, an eleven year old may find it extraordinarily cathartic, an adult can enjoy the creativity and cleverness, and a film critic wanting to examine its cinematic (or even, may I dare to say, literary) worth can find it brilliant.
In some ways, this is one of those films even easier to admire than to enjoy, but to actually say so would be a disservice, for it is also ceaselessly entertaining. It may not have many huge laughs in it, but there are many funny moments, and plenty of inventiveness and colorful designs to enjoy. And aside from this film being an intellectual treat, I think it will be a touchstone for many kids that see it, a film that will be enjoyed when very young, but will reveal much more upon repeated viewings when seen as an older child or adult. And for those actually of Riley’s age, it just may help them to articulate for themselves the process that they find themselves undergoing. This film is an instant classic that will undoubtedly stand the test of time.
Following the film, we almost left the theater, as the screen went black for a few seconds. However, we were soon informed onscreen that we should stay in our seats for a question and answer session. After a few minutes, an apparently live feed from Sydney, Australia came on, featuring an interviewer with Poehler and Docter. Fans were encouraged to send questions via Twitter, and a half-hour interview and Q&A commenced. Docter clearly appreciated the input Poehler had, even in the later scripting phase of the film, and both were clearly proud of what they achieved over the course of the years, with Poehler joining about half-way through the process. (Thanks to Gerald Schmitz for the photo.)
Having been to this Insider Access event, I was certainly impressed enough to attend another in the future. The film is wonderful, and it is an honor to now be able to help spread the word; and the extras at this event made the additional cost well worth it. We even took home a snazzy poster. Now go out and see the film for yourselves. After a few weaker films, Pixar is back on track, and once again solidifies its status as the top animation studio in the USA.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?
June 19, 2015
directed by Pete Docter