Inside Out (2015)

After young Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San
Francisco, her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness –
conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.

Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Starring Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling
Well, I expected alot. The latest release from Pixar, home to the likes of Toy Story and Monsters Inc etc, was always going to be an easy sell. I mean, it’s Pixar, right? Who does animated movies better than them? They have, for the past couple of decades at least, been the go-to guys for stories with humour, invention, heart and soul. Admittedly, they have been responsible for more tears than most, but only because they have had their fingers plucking right on your heartstrings, adept at bringing some of the most beautiful moments that animation has ever seen to the screen.

So naturally, we would be right to expect alot. Never mind the imposing Disney logo slapped all over the intro, this still promised the same attention to detail, colourful humour and playful life-affirming delights that have been the staple of the majority of Pixars efforts so far. When this debuted in the US charts last week at number two (the first time a Pixar movie has failed to enter the charts at number one on its first week of release) Pixar brushed the end of their record breaking feat aside, like it didn’t matter a jot. But it did. We know it did. Damn those pesky dinosaurs! Who could have imagined $91 million wouldn’t be enough, especially as Jurassic World had already been out for a week?

On reflection, some may say they had it coming. Pixar’s dominance has previously guaranteed unequivocal and immediate success, sometimes even when the product has been a little lacklustre (Cars 2, anyone). Surely it was only a matter of time before they would come a cropper? Still, we could argue that achieving nearly one hundred million dollars and second place in one week as ‘a cropper’ only highlights the successes that have been deservedly enjoyed in the past. If any other animation studio had achieved the same results as this most recent alleged stumble, then we would be truly singing their praises. All about perspective then, I guess.

So is it just coincidence then that Inside Out’s position on the chart this week happens to be echoed by more mixed feelings than we would normally expect? Opinions have been more divided by this release than many of Pixar’s previous efforts. Some have heralded its arrival with glory and trumpeting salutes of excellence, whilst others have not been afraid to claim that this is one of the worst Pixar releases to date. Opinion will always be divided, of course, but such disparity is far from commonplace when considering Pixar’s past work as a rule.

Inside Out is the story of a young girl, Riley, and her emotional well being. She is moved from Minnesota, across the country to San Francisco due to her father getting a new job, so the family, Mum, Dad and Riley (only child) set about trying to make a new home. Concentrating on the daughter, this most notably only involves her feelings on the subject of moving and her early experiences at her new school. Like a living, breathing personal diary, the story is mostly told through characters that represent her feelings that reside inside her brain, staring out through her eyes, motivating her in certain ways and collecting her experiences in the form of marble shaped memories of various colours, depending on their type. The most obvious of these; Joy, Anger, Fear, Sadness and Disgust (oddly) reside and work in HQ (the brain) and manage the girl’s everyday life. Each of these characters displays fairly predictable traits. Joy is permanently enthusiastic and pro-active, whereas Sadness, Fear and Anger are more cynical and opportunistic, though still unavoidably necessary.

Feeling more like one of Pixar’s short films, we can’t help but wonder how well the subject matter lends itself to a feature length story and often you may find yourself wondering if Pixar have lost the ability to entertain a multitude of audience demographics at the same time.  Whilst there are elements that will resonate with parents, for example, this is very much a personal, almost selfish, account of one young girl and perceived problems, viewed mostly from the character traits in her own head. This renders the star of the whole shebang as little more than a puppet, a slave to her emotions, and that may not sit well with those that want to teach their children that they are in control of their own destiny.

By its conclusion, the internal characters have been rounded just about well enough to understand them and their motivations, even if they are a little one-dimensional and cliched, most likely to satisfy a younger audience than Pixar have possibly aimed at before. This just feels like a movie aimed at the very young and as such may well alienate those who have already reached teenagehood. The story is a simple one that we can all recognise of course, feeling lost, unhappy and alone in a place you don’t understand and this is well delivered and the denouement will, like most of Pixar’s work, make you appreciate what it is to be human and also having you grabbing for your hankie.

Overall, it struggles to entertain throughout, as much of the content is based around characters that you never really get to feel engaged with in such a short space of time, being so personal to the main protagonist, and there are periods of exposition that feel superfluous. There are some great set pieces, both colourful and exciting, which the younger members of the audience will especially appreciate, but there is no denying the fact that Pixar have clearly reduced their reach, potentially on purpose here, to concentrate on a new generation of more innocent, wide-eyed customers. A nice idea, but this will likely have much more limited appeal than previous efforts.

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