Sunday, July 19, 2015

Inside Out (2015)

"Disney Presents... A Pixar Animation Studios Film." Seven words I never want to see vanish.

A video intro by Pete Doctor, on behalf of AMC, showing his gratitude to PIXAR'S loyal viewers and his undying hope that we, PIXAR'S followers, appreciate their latest effort reminded me: Holy shit, PIXAR has been around for twenty years. I have been around for nineteen. Oh look, could that be a gray hair I see that has fallen on my Chromebook?

Since Disney has been a perennial staple on our youth for as long as there have been children since the late thirties, it is only fair that PIXAR would be a staple that spawned from that staple, though still having the same neverending glow of its parent. A talking cowboy and a space ranger and the groundbreaking animation used to mold them into characters that have stayed fresh and present in our decaying minds offered us solace from the doldrums Disney was suffering. Thank you, Michael Eisner!

So it is weird to say that for a while (in other words, a year-and-a-half since Frozen came out), the parent swooped it and took back over, but that's what happened as PIXAR's fans felt that after producing one of the best second sequels in all of film history, PIXAR soon began to lose sight of the enlightening, magical essence that put PIXAR at the top of the animation game for years. But hey, at least we had Dreamworks putting out enduring, timeless classics like... Turbo, Megamind, and The Croods. *throws confetti half-heartedly*

However, I stand here (actually, I sit a local Starbucks) to tell you that PIXAR is back in shape. They have the eye of the tiger and have ferociously invaded the megaplex with one of the most bizarre, quirkiest, yet oddly touching works ever engraved with the PIXAR signature of significance. I am of course talking about...Lava. The recent PIXAR short. I won't reveal anything, but the way it tells a cohesive, cogent, and engaging story in five minutes is truly a feat of its own.

So yeah, that's all for now. Bye! ...Oh wait, yeah, there's also this movie that came after it, which is only one of the best movies of the year. You probably don't want to hear about that, so I am gonna tell you anyways! You're welcome!

Inside Out, PIXAR's 15th cinematic effort, centers on the voices inside our head. In this case, in an eleven-year-old hockey fanatic named Riley. Since birth, mascots have developed inside of her head that represent five different feelings: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. Along with these fine characters is also a world inside of Riley's head, comprised of all the memories she has compiled and collected over the years, as well as five different islands that are the primary basis of her personality. The feelings are stationed at Headquarters. Joy is the leader, whose effervescent, continuously positive attitude has made Riley a balanced, fairly easy, outgoing child until Riley is removed from her humble residence in Minnesota to a dingy house in San Francisco. When Sadness begins to intervene with the emotional interworkings, things go wrong and through a series of hectic events, Joy and Sadness are sucked out of Headquarters and have to return to restore positivity in Riley's life, through this difficult transition. Yeah, it's less complicated seeing it, as opposed to reading about it.

There's actually a genesis to my love for this movie. The first two-thirds of this movie is definitely three-and-a-half stars, starting out. Not astounding, but immensely entertaining. You know the phrase, "laugh-a-minute?" This movie is basically "laugh-a-second." Every minute has at least five bullseye, laugh-out-loud moments. One of my favorites is a recurring joke involving a gum commercial jingle, which I won't ruin its context. Just believe when I say it's a hit every time. Also, let me say that Riley is not the only one whose feelings are seen in this film. Several characters, including the parents, have their feelings personified manifested to the audience. This leads to jokes centered around this, including memories of a Brazilian hunk and the feelings of a cat, which are both the highpoint of this subsidiary of the film's plot. Just a fancy way of saying "subplot."

PIXAR also shows off its raging facility for connecting perfect voices to their characters. Amy Poehler's niche for sharp characters that are still, at their core, sweet and loony is best used here as Joy. Phyllis Smith has the exact droning, helpless voice that the character of Sadness requires. Bill Hader, channeling a high-octane Woody Allen, is brilliant as Fear. Mindy Kaling hits all the right notes as Disgust and Lewis Black, though surprisingly more underplayed than I expected, still is the ultimate casting choice as Anger. Outside of those, the primary voice talent for the supporting cast is Richard Kind, a minor PIXAR regular, as Bing Bong, Riley's imaginary friend, who is part cat, elephant, and dolphin. Kaitlyn Dias, presumably in her first film role, displays intense charisma and vulnerability as Riley and Kyle McLachlan and Diane Lane are both entirely servicable as the parents.

Additionally, the action, man. When Toy Story 3 came out, it was praised for its action scenes, on par with even most adult action films. I reiterate that statement here. Part of it is the world created here, which I will discuss soon, but the set pieces here are surprisingly gripping and tense, given the fact that the consequence of one false step is the most menacing pit of dirge and emptiness since 300. So all of this was well worthy of three-and-a-half stars.

...Then! Then we get to one primary emotional scene involving Bing Bong in the final third of the film. I won't reveal what happens, but in that moment, I cried like a baby. I was so involved with this character and this world that it struck a chord with me and delivered the most emotional, profound, saddest moment I have seen in a PIXAR film. What was it? What got into me? What was the core to my crying?

Then, I realized it was the themes presented. Outside of the premise, which is prone for psychological discussion, and obvious symbolism, PIXAR takes it several steps further in its final third. The involvement of Sadness and her dynamic with Joy and the way it reveals itself turns this film into a struggle between fantasy and reality, between the desired and the required. Joy is the primary feeling, which shows in Riley. She starts to show other emotions, but Joy fights them off, resulting in Riley retaining an optimistic disposition, which puts Riley in the role of the emotional foundation and sanity in the family. But she is a child. Putting an individual that naive and vulnerable is such a hefty role inevitably doesn't end in a easy, convenient matter. The feelings of the child must be considered as well. But the real meaning goes beyond that. Joy being the leader has created, fairly, an unrealistic approach for Riley's problems. A consistently positive, upbeat sensibility, while ideal in thought, is actually a rather shallow, superficial perspective. Melancholy and negativity, while as depressing as they sound, bring you into reality and surrendering to it momentarily and not ignoring it is where happiness eventually comes and makes it all the more rewarding. You suffered, so you could then smile.

Here's the secret though, as far as writing. What PIXAR has done is simplified the gravitas and principles of this reality, but they didn't dumb-down the intelligence of it. They instead made it relatable for its primary and most important audience: children. However, the mantra is still there, so it be can discovered by and evoke thoughts and feelings to its transcendent audience: adults. Because of this, there is a meeting of minds between children and adult audiences. Additionally, adults can then think of their own feelings and how they felt as a child and see its relevance. On top of that, the principles have been personified, so, again, kids can relate. To have elements like these, the most mature ever told in the PIXAR catalog, be told so smoothly in an escapist, children's picture is one of the modern marvels of cinema history.

The imagination of the script and its ideas can be transferred to the world director Pete Doctor and the multitude of animators have produced into fruition. This is the most imaginative setting ever presented in a PIXAR film. Every couple of minutes, there's a whole new idea that is visually arresting, intellectually stimulating, and yet psychologically relevant. It actually outdoes the animation of the characters, though they are designed very vibrantly, including Joy, whose design is very much like Tinker Bell.

I have a quick theory. PIXAR films, on average, take four years to make. If this is consistent, this film would have began filming circa 2011. Cars 2, widely considered the worst of the PIXAR oeuvre, came out during this year. My theory is that the film began to be created during this backlash and the succession of servicable, but not very special films between Cars 2 and this film was a trick by John Lasseter and the PIXAR crew to prepare us for this film. I can't confirm this, but if it is, I love you, you evil geniuses. Often, I know a movie is of quality if, outside of the technical aspects, it passes one simple, visceral test: Am I still thinking about it after viewing it? Now, often it is yes, because you just got done seeing it, no matter how good or how bad. However, I know a movie is great when not only am I still thinking about, but I am dying to turn around and see it again. Inside Out gave me this feeling. Not only can't I wait for the DVD release (still haven't been financially adequate to convert to Blu-Ray, so shut up), but I can't wait for the multitude of think-pieces by psychologists and psychology professors, who will examine and dissect this film ad nauseaum, nor can I wait for the 10th anniversary release with retrospectives from the cast and crew, discussing its impact on the PIXAR name and all of the jumping desklamps that come with it. Hopefully, Lewis Black is still alive. One can only hope.

RATING: Four out of four stars!