Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Inside Out (2015)

Fig 1 - Inside Out Poster
Inside Out (directed by Pete Docter) marks the fifteenth feature-length film by Disney Pixar, which subsequently achieved the studio's eighth Oscar win for Best Animated Feature. It's a coming-of-age story that focuses on the character of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a young girl whose life is turned upside down upon reluctantly moving to San Francisco with her parents. In conjunction with Riley's story, we follow the five core emotions in charge of her feelings and memories. These emotions are anthropomorphised in the form of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), who must share a single control panel responsible for Riley's emotional states. The move sends Riley's emotions into a frenzy that is made worse when Joy and Sadness are whisked away by the pipe responsible for storing memories. They soon realise that if they don't return to the control center of Riley's mind, she may well do something she regrets, or worse - lose those emotions forever.

I think the core concept that Inside Out toys with is done in a tremendously creative, albeit simplistic, way. Understandably, the writers had a lot of options in terms of navigating the cerebral terrain, and as such were forced to whittle down from twenty-seven just five core emotions in order to not over-complicate the narrative. I think this was ultimately the correct way to go, however the 'internal' world as a whole felt somewhat claustrophobic to me. Admittedly, the parts of the film I enjoyed the most occurred within the minds of those around Riley. Segments that showed the core emotions from external perspectives seemed to give the film a much less insular flow and honestly, I could have done with an entire film on the basis of 'hopping between brains'.

Incidentally, the film has no definitive antagonist in the traditional sense. I am of the opinion that Joy is the closest we get to a 'villain', despite the fact that she comes to terms with the idea of Sadness by the end of the film. Initially however, Joy is almost unbearable in her ruthless positivity and clearly takes issue with any input that isn't in favour of Riley's happiness (much to the exclusion of Sadness). That said, the characters of Fear, Anger and Disgust are somewhat sidelined in favour of Joy and Sadness, as the film constantly seems to be juggling with what to do with them. Ultimately, Anger is put to great use an unexpected McGuffin that shatters the glass of the central hub (which for some reason is impenetrable to chairs) with his 'fire hair'... Additional elements that felt entirely McGuffin-esque include the song-fueled cart from Riley's childhood and her 'imaginary boyfriend' who is cloned absurdly into a tower of suicidal angst. These 'solutions' just felt too coincidental for a film that is clearly the product of considerate and intelligent writers.

Fig 2 - Inside Out - Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Joy
Pete Docter, who also co-wrote and directed Monsters, Inc. (2001), is once again incredibly ambitious in executing the establishment of a complex universe. Like with Monsters, Inc., the film takes place in a fantasy world working in unison with the 'real' world, which immediately calls into question the open-ended functionality of this agreement with the viewer. For example, it is established that all characters within the Inside Out universe have five core emotions controlling them. However, it is also established that these emotions themselves can express an array of emotions, thus eluding to the possibility that they too are driven by a complex group of internal beings. In a film with such densely rich detail, it just felt like something that wouldn't have been too 'meta' to touch upon. And also, how do Sadness's glasses stay on?

I'm splitting hairs, obviously. But in all seriousness, the film does leave a few blaring questions unanswered, which is disappointing coming from the creator of Monstropolis which felt so tightly constructed in establishing it's 'rules'. For instance, when Joy and Sadness are removed from the central hub of Riley's mind, only the other three emotions are capable of controlling her. At this point in the story, Riley spirals into something of a depression, which is inherently controlled by the emotion of sadness. It is perfectly clear that her life is void of 'Joy' in this instance, but the way these emotions are established would technically have Riley become an angry and fearful child, revolted by everything. Obviously the premise is set-up this way in order to eventually clarify that 'Joy' and 'Sadness' are complex emotions that must work in unison as we get older, however I just though this was a reasonable nitpick. In addition to this, at one point Fear decides to leave the central hub the same way Joy and Sadness were taken, however the tube rejects him since "emotions cannot give up". This just felt like a glaring contradiction to me since, as with the case of Joy and Sadness, Fear is bombarded by memories that attempt to force him through, yet he is still ejected. Funny, that.

This was my second time watching the film and, for whatever reason, I had a more difficult time getting past the tonal shifts between the 'real' world and the 'internal' one. To me, Riley's mind feels like it takes place within a completely different film to her reality. The brightly-coloured (albeit repetitive) landscape of the internal world felt like a total juxtaposition to the monochrome reality of San Francisco, making the film feel like the love-child edit of a movie for young children and a movie for adolescents.

Overall, I think that Inside Out is one of the most flawed Pixar movies to date. However, it's core concept and visuals are as inventive and rich as any of it's predecessors, and I'm sure it'll go down as one of the studio's greats. I don't dislike the film by any means, I just have a lot of mixed emotions...


Fig. 1 Inside Out Poster (2015) From: Inside Out - Directed by: Pete Docter


Fig. 2 Inside Out Screenshot (2015) From: Inside Out - Directed by: Pete Docter


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