INSIDE OUT (2015, Pete Docter & Ronaldo del Carmen)
If you’ve been waiting for Pixar to knock your socks off again since the 1-2-3 punch of WALL*E, UP, and TOY STORY 3 (in 2008-2010), but been disappointed by the output over the past five years, your wait is over. In a quick, breezy 94 minutes, the animation kings of Hollywood once more deliver a body blow to your emotions. In a film that might as well have been called ALL THE FEELS (as much for its effect on the audience as for its narrative premise), Docter, del Carmen, and their co-writers serve up a healthy dose of pathos with a side of sobbing, aiming more for adults than ever before. While always doing a good job balancing colorful slapstick for kids with poignant messages for their parents, Pixar really started to target the older crowd with WALL*E and UP. But now with INSIDE OUT, which certainly has the candy-colored dreamworld and funny voices to entertain and please the tykes in the seats, it’s going to be a weird sight when the credits roll and kids wipe Skittle dust off their lips to look up and see Mom and Dad wiping tears out of their eyes.
Amy Poehler is the central protagonist, playing Joy, but the MVE (most valuable emotion) is actually Sadness (Phyllis Smith). How about them cajones for a family cartoon? “Hey kids, it’s time to learn the true value of sorrow and dejection!” And without being too heavy-handed, there really is a nice acceptance here of why we need to let pain in. (It could even be read, by one so inclined, to be an argument against child psychology meds designed to keep kids from being depressed — or at least against the parental philosophy of “my kid should always be happy”). Heartstrings will be pulled even more by Richard Kind’s Bing Bong, an imaginary friend who seems to be invented by the grieving id of TOY STORY 3’s conclusion. With nearly the intellectual rigor and visual poignancy of ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, the Bing Bong storyline contemplates the unavoidable tragedy and painful certainty of the loss of memories.
Sure, there are some sops to the kids, with the minion-like appearance of little brain workers all over the place doing funny things, and at HQ there’s Lewis Black’s Anger character, whose flame-throwing fury top will no doubt earn guffaws from the young’uns. But even at these moments, INSIDE OUT never forgets the adults — in fact there are specific shout-outs to cinephiles, my two favorites being an obvious nod to CHINATOWN and, incredibly, Cristian Mungiu’s 2007 Cannes Palm D’Or winner 4 MONTHS. 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS. Seriously, a schoolteacher in this movie actually references a Romanian abortion drama.
And as usual, the animation is peerless. Creative beyond belief, endlessly unpredictable, and fully imaginative. I love when the format really takes advantage of its lack of boundaries. Deserving of special note is Michael Giacchino’s gorgeous score, which makes sure your eyes water even if the pictures and words weren’t already doing their job. I haven’t yet mentioned much about whether this film is actually funny. Because it’s ostensibly a comedy, you’d think it would be funnier — a lot of times I smiled but didn’t laugh, and I do wish it had been wittier overall. But there are a few great bursts of comedy (the Forgetter workers are a highlight), and for cat-lovers like me, a gag at the end is the most hilarious joke you’ll see in a movie all year.