Ruairi McCann reveals why Inside Out is a triumph of modern animation….
It has been twenty years since Pixar emerged on the scene as modern western animation’s most innovative and popular force with Toy Story. What followed were years of commercial and critical success that has only seemingly been disrupted in recent years. Cars 2 was successful but largely disliked. Brave was better received but not to the same extent as Pixar has been used to, and Monster’s University was the prequel nobody thought was needed and was subsequently met with lacklustre response.
Then came Inside Out, thefifteenth feature from the company. The third directorial effort by veteran Pete Docter who also helmed Monster’s Inc. and Up, Inside Out matches the emotional and creative vitality of those films and arguably marks a return to form for Pixar.
Inspired by the director witnessing the change in personality and emotional range in his daughter as she grew older and his own experiences of coming of age, Inside Out follows the pre-teen Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), whose life is guided by the personifications of her emotions, Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kahling), Anger (Lewis Black) and their de facto leader Joy (Amy Poehler). When a move across the country sparks a crisis in Riley’s state of mind and her core memories are scattered, the odd couple of Joy and Sadness are forced to find a way through the labyrinth of Riley’s mind in order to return them.
In many ways, Inside Out is almost more a film for adults than children. That is not to say it would be dissatisfying for younger kids, for it is full of both well-played and well-animated slapstick humour (bolstered by the casting of prime comedic talent like Poehler, Hader and Kahling) and the animation itself is exceedingly colourful and vibrant, especially the sequence in Imagination Land where it explores some more experimental visual stylings. But like Up, there is at its core are several emotional themes that will strongly resonate with those in the audience who have experienced adolescence and reached adulthood. I have found no other mainstream Hollywood family film that has dealt with the themes of change, loss and the confusion and the debilitating nature of mental illness in the effective way that Inside Out has, all without alienating the younger audience. To go into detail about how it achieves this would require a venture into spoiler territory but I will say it is down to a combination of wonderful writing, performance and direction. The film is not flawless, its innovation is tempered by its gender normativity, in particular a certain problematic attitude to the female body as both Sadness and Joy are characterised as feminine with the unfortunate further characterization of Sadness as overweight and depressed and Joy as skinny and happy. Despite this, it is certainly one of the best films of the summer and Pixar’s best film in recent years.