Innie Outie

Ah, Pixar.  I used to call them “can do no wrong” Pixar.  Even their films that I “liked less” were still good, competent affairs, and their very best was seriously transcendent.  Lately, however… not so much.  Brave I actually rated as Poor.  I didn’t even see their last film.  They just slipped off my radar.

Lo and behold, out pops a new film:  Inside Out.  The premise intrigued me.  The critical reception seemed out of this world.  Has Pixar returned?

Spoilers ahead!

Oh.  Hell.  Yes.

Inside Out is an amazing tour de force.  An incredibly inventive, entertaining, instructive, and moving story, filled with delightful visuals, an understated yet perfect score, and all the while delving into the ontological (the study of being, the study of “self”) world that makes up each one of us.  Yes, the ontology is simplified, but what they’ve included in a 94 min film is astounding.  There is so much to love here.

Once again for a Pixar film, I’m forced to dip into superlatives to describe it.

Some thoughts:

  • I really like how you get to see how Joy has been, effectively, bullying and controlling everyone, trying to maintain command and bludger everyone into her worldview.  And how that all breaks apart.  And how she learns she’s been incorrect in her assumptions and then learns to cede control.
  • The visualizations of all the different aspects are wonderful metaphors, and nicely influenced by brain topology.
  • I totally didn’t recognize the Paula Poundstone cameo!
  • This is perhaps the most “Miyazaki” of the Pixar films, and it’s all the more awesome for it.  The film’s events take place only over a couple of days, and there’s very little “plot” to it.  But yet there is so much story to it, told with great skill, that connects us into it.  This is, in many ways, like Totoro, a film where not much happens but we don’t care, because so much happens within the not happening, so much of the human condition is revealed and told within the fantastical and through great storytelling.  This film is like that, and it’s wonderful.
  • And let it be seen that the base concept of this film is another one of Pixar’s big gambles;  when they play that big a game, it seems they hit it to the moon.
  • Overall, the second act is, I’d say, the weakest.  It’s a fun romp through the psychological landscape, with hijinks and humour galore, but it feels mostly like a side trip for the sole purpose of said hijinks, obstacles for the sake of obstacles and the funny (without really forwarding the story).  This is what, ultimately, detracted from the otherwise brilliance of Up, and fortunately here Pete Docter (same director for both) is more restrained and while it skirts the line it never gets completely out of hand.
  • Similarly, there is much too many uses of tropes that border on clichés.  Some are forgivable (“I wish  X were here…”  cue whump of X onto the window), but others are surprisingly shallow given the rest of the film.  The couple of scenes (especially the first) where we go into Mom and Dad’s heads to see their five is downright poor and stereotypical sitcom claptrap, devoid of the multi-layeredness the main narrative pushes towards.  Le sigh.
  • I love how almost every time we see Anger he’s holding a paper, the headline of which is always, in huge typeface, the thing that’s going on that he’s about to get angry about…
  • All those great little “throwaway” jokes are often the most brilliant, be it facts and opinions being mixed up, or the running gag that manages to never get old.
  • Add to that all those great background details and bits that, if you catch them, are nicely funny and illustrative.
  • The score is delightfully understated.  Simple and non-bombastic, as it should be.  The pieces that are pure (or nearly pure) piano are especially great.  It may not be as great a soundtrack to listen on its own, but within the film, it works.
  • There were multiple moments where I was reduced to tears, moments of humanity and sacrifice and understanding and acceptance.
  • Ultimately the takeaway is so beautiful… that feelings are mentionable, and manageable, and that no one feeling is “good” or “better” vs the others.  And it isn’t about the event(s).  And we all have room to grow (and we do).

This is a movie that has an interesting story to tell, that speaks to the human condition, and does so with great storytelling skill.  I rate this film as Exceptional.

Great to see you in fine form again, Pixar.

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