Pixar’s latest animation has premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. How does it compare to their previous efforts? Here’s Jordan Farley’s reaction…
For all their early accomplishments it’s impossible to ignore the fact that in recent years Pixar have been victims of their own success, setting standards so stratospherically high for each subsequent release that sooner or later Disney’s crown jewel had to be tainted. The years since 2010 have seen Pixar in perfectly fine, if far from ground-breaking form; and though Inside Out doesn’t quite belong in the very upper echelons of Pixar’s remarkable pantheon it’s easily their best since Toy Story 3 and marks a clear return to world-best status for the 3D animation studio.
Essentially The Numskulls: The Movie, it’s the story of the chaotic emotions inside the head of hockey-loving schoolgirl Riley. Each of the five key emotions is personified in the form of Joy (Amy Poehler, who also gets an “Additional Dialogue” credit), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader). Riley is a relentlessly spirited, cheerful girl because Joy is the dominant emotion, taking the lead on most decisions, but when Riley’s mother (Diane Lane) and father (Kyle MacLachlan) move the family to a grotty house in San Francisco the memories and emotions that define Riley’s personality start to fall apart, sending Joy and Sadness on a dangerous mission through Riley’s mind.
And what a beautiful mind. The labyrinthine inside of Riley’s head is a colourful and wonderfully Seussian concoction – reminiscent of Monsters, Inc. in the way complex contraptions are hidden behind closed doors in some unseen world. Every memory Riley ever creates is captured in a luminescent sphere which moves around on a series of tracks, wheels and pneumatic tubes before being whisked off to long term memory – a maze of mile-high shelves full of spheres. And that’s only a taster of the sights which include a trip round Imagination Land, Dream Productions and the sinister Subconscious. It’s visually astonishing – at one point our heroes enter the realm of Abstract Thought where the art style takes a brilliantly surreal turn. The vibrant interior world contrasts neatly (if a little obviously) with the drained colour palette on the outside.
And yet, for a film with such a vivid, child-friendly exterior Inside Out is not afraid to deal with complex ideas. Accepting that there’s more to a person than black and white emotions, moving on from the memories that define our childhood (Richard Kind’s part dolphin, part elephant, part cat imaginary friend Bing Bong almost steals the show) and growing into the person we are to become; there’s a powerful, thought-provoking message here. It marks Inside Out as one of Pixar’s most mature, heartfelt and, yes, heartbreaking tales to date. We’re not afraid to admit we reached for a tissue on two occasions.
The characters are a joy – especially in the case of, er, Joy. Anyone who’s seen Poehler’s beguiling turn as Leslie Knope in Parks And Rec will know exactly what to expect; she’s the perfect choice for a character whose optimism, energy and drive to put things right never wavers. Joy’s accompanied by Sadness for most of the film, who acts as the perfect comic foil by finding the negative in any given situation, Smith perfectly deadpan without being a drag. But it’s when the band’s back together that the film is at its madcap best, the neuroses of Fear, the short-temper of Anger and the gut reactions of Disgust vocalised and gorgeously animated to consistently laugh out loud comic effect.
The only thing you might want to consider before taking very young children to Inside Out is that the film has a very complex set up, all delivered in one (admittedly elegant) opening exposition dump. Memories, core memories, personality islands, Thought Trains – it’s a film that younger viewers may have a hard time grasping. It even features a rare-for-Pixar adults-only pop culture gag. For everyone else Inside Out is wonderful from start to finish – witty, imaginative, moving and utterly sublime.
Inside Out opens in the US on 19 June 2015, with a UK release following on 24 July.
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