REEL SALAZARS: 'Inside Out' Movie Review: Poignant, Funny & Heartbreaking, Pixar's Latest Film Might Be Its Best
Pixar is one of the most reputable brands in modern day cinema. The company rose to great artistic and commercial heights by creating one unique animated film after another, all of them entertaining and yet subtly sophisticated. People, both young and old, grew up falling in love with characters from Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Wall-E and Remy among others, making them icons of pop culture as well as symbols of the existential crises that people feel at some point in their lives.
Then the magic stopped. Sequelitis had stormed the industry and Pixar was also plagued by the contagion, producing such uninspired works as "Monsters University" and "Cars 2." The company's reputation dropped as other animated studios found their own ways of creating works that were both refreshingly entertaining while maintaining maturity and artistic merit. Would Pixar return to form or would it continue its seemingly steady decline toward artistic bankruptcy?
The company's latest work "Inside Out" not only makes a statement in favor of the former option, but a rather formidable and emphatic one. Not only is the Pete Docter-directed film a terrific entry in the Pixar canon, but it might be one of the best films the company has ever created.
The film is set inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley as audiences follow a team of emotions that control her daily activities. Joy (Amy Poehler) is the leader of the group, ensuring that Riley is as happy as can be. She is joined by Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kalling). All of Riley's memories are preserved in golden orbs that are either kept in the main Control Room or sent into long term memory. Moreover, the core memories help to create islands that represent different aspects of Riley's personality.
Disaster strikes when Riley's father moves the family from Minnesota to San Francisco and the young girl is forced to cope with the greatly altered circumstance. This in turn creates an imbalance in Riley that throws Sadness and Joy out of the control room and into the recesses of Riley's mind. Devoid of Joy and Sadness, Riley lashes out and becomes a predictably unstable teen.
That is a heavy set up but in Docter's hands it is easily comprehensible and entertaining. The film lights up with one light touch after another, including a terrific sequence in which we enter the minds of Riley's mother and father as they try to cope their daughter's irritable behavior. There is nothing more fascinating than watching the character inside of Riley's mother mind complain about the father's poor parenting skills while his feelings are dozing off to a sports match.
Other engaging sequences feature the entrance into the subconscious and the world of dream making which is aptly portrayed as a movie set.
The film, which has charm oozing out of every vibrant color on display, does enter some dark territory and asks truly complex questions about control. Bing Bong, Riley's old imaginary friend, plays a crucial role in the drama in portraying how the process of time can have painful impact on some of the most wondrous memories of our youth.
In another crucial moment, one character grasps how memories are not just governed by one prevailing emotion, but can have fuller complexity. It is at this particular moment that Docter works his most profound means of storytelling, allowing the viewer to experience the scene without explaining what it means. This narrative develops further in the film's final moments, but even here Docter does not reveal the meaning, instead allowing the audience to come to grasp with the complex notion with their own point of view. It is this poignant storytelling that makes this film appeal to the most powerful of emotions and it will surely make you cry.
The performances are all spot-on with Poehler at her charismatic best. Smith provides a terrific counterpoint as sadness, reveling in the somber intonations of her voice and yet making the audience feel for her. Despite these standouts, this film is the sum of its parts, an orchestra of parts that do not necessarily stand out on their own, but perform beautifully in concert.
"Inside Out" moves at a riveting clip, coming off as an adventure story like no other. It will certainly provide viewers with a new perspective on our emotions and whether we or something else has control over them and by extension our behavior and actions. There can be no doubt -- Pixar is back on top and quite possibly at the best it has ever been.
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