Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ gives you all the feelings as the studio’s best film in recent years
PHOTO BY PIXAR STUDIOS
Where is it playing?: Downtown Centre, Park, Stadium 10, Sunset Drive-In
What's it rated?: PG
What's it worth?: $9.50
What's it worth?: $9.50
Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions—Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school. (102 min.)
Editor’s Note: This week’s Split Screen was written by New Times contributors Jessica Peña and Carl Harris.
Jessica: Pixar has been making us cry, laugh, and smile for 20 years now. In 1995, they gave us what could’ve been a simple buddy movie about a cowboy and a spaceman, but they didn’t. Toy Story set the standard for the studio with a poignant look at childhood innocence, friendship, obsolescence, and the bittersweet process of growing up. Inside Out is a wondrous return to those themes in the most literal and imaginative manner. We are invited into the mind of Riley, a girl who lives in Minnesota with her two loving parents. We see her develop friendships, a passion for hockey, and a penchant for goofing around. We see her make memories that correspond to small glass balls inside her head. These are color-coded to the appropriate emotion (yellow is Joy, blue is Sadness, red is Anger, etc.). No surprise, most of them are yellow. For 11 years, Joy (Amy Poehler) has captained the Riley ship valiantly until Sadness (Phyllis Smith) creeps in, turning core memories (the really important ones) blue when Riley and her family move to San Francisco. Joy just wants Riley to be happy, and soon Joy and Sadness start fighting, winding up lost in the outer reaches of Riley’s brain. Needless to say, it’s an emotional rollercoaster (literally in some parts). Carl, be honest, how many times did you cry?
Carl: It’s tough to say. It depends on whether the final count includes weeping and growing misty-eyed, or if we’re sticking strictly to the times I bit down on my knuckles lest I openly sob in the back row. A safe number would be four times, give or take a few lone tears. But considering that Inside Out’s story and direction came from Pete Docter, whose Pixar portfolio includes 2009’s Up (you know, the one that makes you cry before the intro has even ended), it’s perfectly understandable to leave the theater with eyes red and raw. Pixar’s got nostalgia and the pain of growing up figured out to an exact and poignant science; I think it’s safe to say coming of age and the loss of innocence are their thematic bread and butter. In a setting that’s basically a glittering mental Disneyland, Inside Out makes this timeless material fresh again by folding it in on itself. The trauma of Riley’s sudden move wreaks havoc on this internal world as she loses her sense of self, bringing great buildings crashing down into The Abyss of lost memories. It’s the best kind of literalization, making the material universal rather than two-dimensional.
Jessica: I totally agree! The premise could have been botched so easily by anybody less capable. I mean, not only do you have the five emotions, but you also have islands of personality (theme park-like attractions like Family Island, Friendship Island, and Goofball Island), long-term memory (a daunting labyrinth that resembles a warehouse of ball pits), and Bing Bong (Richard Kind), an imaginary friend who is a giddy mix of elephant, dolphin, cat, and cotton candy. It sounds ridiculous, like sugarcoated chaos. But it’s not. Pixar nails the balance between high concept and accessibility by grounding the story in clever details and tremendously moving characters. Ever wonder why you get songs stuck in your head? There’s an answer. What about dreams? Here, dreams are made in a movie studio setting, complete with cue cards and diva unicorn actresses (posters for previous dreams line the walls: I Can Fly!, Something is Chasing Me!). There’s such a vivid richness to this world that Pixar has created that even the low stakes of the movie (i.e. moving houses, starting a new school) take on epic qualities. Yes, it’ll make you cry, but the great lesson of this film is that crying is not only OK, it’s essential. You need all your emotions, even sadness.
Carl: You really can’t overstate how immersive Pixar’s world is (it’s difficult to walk out of the theater not day-dreaming about the architecture of your own islands of personality). They’ve created an inviting, open-ended universe, and it’s clear that they’ve done their homework. It’s presented entirely without pretense or fanfare, of course, but many of their fantastical inventions correspond to real concepts employed in the fields of psychology and neuroscience. The film’s a little like those “understanding your body” pamphlets you get in elementary school health class, but instead it’s about your identity, and it’s rendered in brilliantly colored metaphor with gags straight out of Looney Tunes. You can expect all the candor that Pixar’s known for. Happiness begins to look more like denial when your other feelings aren’t attended to, and sadness isn’t just dead weight—it’s a way to reach out to your support network. Inside Out goes beyond excellent entertainment. It offers a mature, honest, and entirely child-appropriate means for organizing the way we think about our identity, emotions, and personal development. It’s hard to imagine a nobler goal for family entertainment.
Jessica Peña and Carl Harris are probably still crying. Send them tissue via interim Arts Editor Hayley Thomas at email@example.com.