There are times I think that Pixar’s marketing department makes a point of underplaying a lot of the films they are advertising as if to say yes this is a silly idea, sometimes to the point of misdirection. The Incredibles comes to mind where the early teasers seemed to sell it as a superhero parody rather than what was one of the best examples of the superhero genre on film ever.
This was my initial reaction when I first started seeing the teasers for Inside Out. It didn’t help that it that the premise of the film, the adventures of anthropomorphic personifications of the human psyche, while certainly not a bad idea didn’t seem particularly original either. I enjoyed Fox’s Herman’s Head in college and Cranium Command was my favorite ride the one time I went to Epcot. On top of this there was Disney’s classic wartime short Reason and Emotion and there’s a Japanese comic that has just been made into a movie called Poison Berry in My Brain that I very much want to check out.. I was more than a little worried that this was more proof that Pixar had been loosing it’s way since it had been purchased by Disney.
So When I finally got to around to seeing Inside out I was very pleasantly surprised just how good it was. As I said it involved the life of a young girl named Riley as seen through, Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness. For most of her life she’s been happy led by her dominant emotion, Joy, but when her family moves to San Francisco she starts to lean to Sadness and from there depression.
What I found myself loving about this film is while what I just described would serve as the basis for some dull but inspiring afternoon drama, in the mind of Reilly all metaphors are literal with Joy and Sadness literally getting separated from the control tower where only a frantic Anger, Fear and Disgust are left in charge while Joy and Sadness are lost within Riley’s long term memory and subconscious trying desperately to get back and fix things… Meanwhile back in reality the result is a young girl on the verge of nervous breakdown.
This is sad on it’s own, but in the Pi that is our principle location it is epic. The metaphorical architecture of Reilly’s hope’s, dreams, sense of morality and greatest loves begin to literally collapse and slip into oblivion making the sense of urgency almost visceral.
There is so much I liked about this film as a lover of animation I loved it’s craft. Everything about it is beautiful. The script is so smart I know I have to go see this again just to catch all of the things in it that I know I missed simply because there was so much of it. The cast was great. This is the first Pixar film I would consider an ensemble piece with Amy Poehler, (Joy) Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Bill Hader (Fear), Lewis Black (Anger) and Mindy Kailing (Disgust) acting as a well-oiled machine. I would definitely watch the situation comedy starring them in a similar working environment.
I also liked the psychiatry of the film. I confess I haven’t kept up with much theory about the mechanics of personality since the 101 course I took in college but the complexities of the various emotions. The story makes it clear that the “bad” emotions are just important as the one “good” emotion Joy who ironically in making sure Reilly is always happy has actually stunted a lot of the Reilly’s development. At the same time Sadness who has been mostly repressed throughout Reilly’s child starts the plot as her influence begins to increase much to everybody’s surprise including her own. As the film moves to it’s climax it becomes clear that Sadness is a necessary ingredient of maturity as it includes not just pain but empathy.