Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Inside Out

Pixar has a return to form, of sorts, with Inside Out. After giving us too many sequels, including the great (Toy Story 3) the good (Monsters University) and the totally unnecessary (Cars 2), they're back to giving us original stories, this one taking place in the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. Where the movies invention comes in is that other than Riley and her supporting character parents, the main characters are Riley's 5 main emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). They exist in a command headquarters  inside of Riley's brain, along with things like her core experiences and likes (and dislikes) that make up her personality. It's a movie of great invention and excitement, much like the previous movies from writer/director Pete Docter, Monster Inc. and Up.

We are shown both Riley's journey and the effect it has in her mind and emotions. It was smart that Docter didn't give a big adventure story or anything for Riley, but she does have a journey, and a real one. Riley's family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco for her dad's work, and so Riley goes on the emotional journey that kids go on when there are big changes in their lives. Something that might seem mundane on the surface of Riley is an explosion of conflicting emotions and changing personality when we look inside Riley. Also, this is all happening to Riley at a pivotal time in her life, as she is about to hit puberty (which even Riley's emotions are confused about).

Weirdly, with all this invention and fascinating stuff from a story and world building perspective, the movie feels like we've seen it before. I think this is because the real main characters of the movie are Joy and Sadness, and their adventure of trying to get back to HQ after getting lost in Riley's brain. It feels like the sort of odd couple, episodic road trip, kinda story we've seen a million times before. Even though we've never seen this journey, with even these types of characters, it all feels a little too familiar. There are wonderful moments, like the journey through abstract thought as the animation changes into different styles, or the times in general with Riley's long forgotten imaginary friend Bingbong.

Unfortunately, things never took the leap into the truly magic, for me, the way Wall-E, The Incredibles, or Ratatouille did. It's a wonderfully worthy entry into the Pixar catalog, and it's a lot of fun to think about and talk about because of the thought and invention that is below the surface. But overall it didn't excite me like some of Pixar's really special work. Then again, I'm pretty sure I said that about both Wall-E and The Incredibles when I saw them in theaters