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Pixar Returns to Its Glory – My Review of Inside Out

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[Some spoilers included]

I am not a movie guy except when it comes to Pixar. When one of the main honchos came to Davidson this fall to talk about the math behind their animation, I dropped everything to get to the lecture. I even wrote a college essay about my love for Pixar, talking about how Woody helped form my identity and personality. But maybe because I haven’t loved any of their last three films, I have been quite skeptical of Inside Out since I first heard about the concept years ago. And with the release of the worryingly bad trailer of The Good Dinosaur, the next film – and the one that was scheduled to come out in 2014 before getting scrapped and entirely remade with a different director – I was beginning to accept that the end was coming for the Pixar dynasty. A lot rode on Inside Out.

In an age with increasingly few original ideas in filmmaking, notably at Pixar, Inside Out was refreshingly different in every way imaginable. This was an idea up with the very best. Somebody hit gold. But while the idea and backdrop for the story were so interesting and clever at every turn, the movie stood out to me in how it made its larger points.

Those larger points the film made about life, emotion and memory never felt preachy, as the questions the movie asked weren’t explicit. The film separated itself from its own plot, which felt strangely secondary, instead offering these questions by approaching its characters in a unconventional way. The characters represented concepts and thought patterns more than they did typical characters. Characters such as Anger, Disgust and even Riley, the subject of the film, hardly left a mark, and weren’t developed like in a typical movie. But as suggested by the characters being humanized emotions, the film was about emotion itself rather than its characters, which was embodied by the entire cast and the design.

So when Riley’s imaginary pseudo-elephant Bing Bong sacrificed himself for Joy’s sake, the sadness I felt wasn’t about the loss of his character, but rather about the stark realization in one’s own mind that some of our most treasured childhood memories and possessions are meant to be left behind. One criticism I’ve heard of the movie is that it’s slow at times. But I appreciated that in a way, because impactful scenes like the one described above weren’t followed by another action scene. Rather, they were followed by moments when I as a viewer could allow myself to reflect.

And I thought the message was rather astute, and one not often spoken about. Sadness is not all bad after all. Being happy is good, but we need the full range of emotions in order to appreciate what is most meaningful. And without being sad, we would lose some aspects of our ability to communicate. When does Hollywood ever tell us that?

This was not your typical movie for many reasons like that. The pacing was funky with the two and sometimes three parallel storylines. The characters didn’t all need to be developed. But everything was intentional and made to allow people to think about their own childhood and relationships. I left wondering what my pillars are and which memories are at my core. How does that shape me? And how does time work into this all? I found the scene were she was asleep and the train of thought stopped particularly intriguing in that sense.

I certainly won’t remember this movie for the characters. There’s no Woody for toddlers to love. Joy was not especially compelling. And without those characters, I would imagine that this movie won’t be as meaningful for the younger crowd. But this is so much more than a kids movie. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it was not made for kids, despite its label. This is a film for everyone willing to think and reflect.

But none of that took away from the emotion in the film itself, which had moments that rivaled those of the most tear-jerking Pixar films. Between Bing Bong’s disappearance and Riley’s return home, this film made you feel the emotions it commented on. And those scenes were doubly powerful in that aforementioned connection everyone can feel to similar situations.

The film easily could have felt gimmicky. With every new place the characters ventured in the mind, there was more potential to make jokes and do things that no films had done before. But I thought the director toed, who also did Monsters Inc. and Up that line perfectly, utilizing the land that was made but rarely letting it distract from the point of the movie. Notably, impressive and clever things like their looks into the minds of animals were saved for the end credits. Sure there were a few gimmicks thrown in at times to show off, but it didn’t get distracting. And there were quite a few funny moments through it all.

In the box office in its opening weekend, the film was a smash hit, breaking records for the highest opening weekend for a film with an original idea of any genre, surpassing Avatar. Despite losing out to Jurassic World for the top spot, the film is Pixar’s 2nd highest grossing at this stage, behind only Toy Story 3. It seems people are eager to refill the void there’s been since Pixar stopped making truly great films a few years ago.

Looking forward at the wave of sequels on Pixar’s upcoming schedule, I am especially grateful that Pixar took a chance on this one and made something truly different. They knocked it out it of the park, putting it alongside Wall-E, Toy Story, Finding Nemo and the greats of the last two decades. I thoroughly enjoyed everything that Inside Out did.

What did you think of the film? Please comment below. 

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