Saturday, June 20, 2015

"Inside Out"

 4 / 5 

Endlessly inventive and deeply touching, Pixar's Inside Out is unlike any movie the animation studio has created so far, which is both a great strength and a minor weakness, because while it's unabashedly sentimental and inarguably touching, there are moments when Inside Out finds itself in the same predicament as two of its leading characters: It isn't quite sure where to go.

Like Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Lois Smith, the movie's standout), Inside Out finds its way, to be sure, guided by the talents of its director, Pete Docter -- an animation visionary if ever there was one -- leading to an emotional climax that affects all but the most hardened hearts.

It's only a little distracting that some of the main characters are left with very little to do, and that some scenes feel frankly dismal and bleak; more on that in a moment.

From the first moments, Inside Out offers a hard and fast reminder that Pixar's animated films are unlike those by any other studio in the business, including its parent company.  It's rooted, as the best Pixar films have been, in the real world: It takes place not in a far-off, fairy-tale kingdom, or in a weird outer-space fantasyland, but right here where we live.  Baby Riley is brand-new to life, and her mind is home to only one resident, the emotion Joy, who finds optimistic delight in every possible situation.

Joy is (naturally) ecstatic to discover the world with Riley, which she gets to do with impunity for exactly 33 seconds, which is when she's joined by the adorably mopey Sadness.  They share the same blue hair, but that's where the similarities end.  Short, squat, myopic Sadness and tall, slender, pixie-like Joy quickly find themselves in the company of Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and working together, the five of them guide the emotional life of their charge.

Like Capt. Kirk and his crew on the Enterprise, they do it all from a compact control room somewhere in Riley's head -- and, the movie explains, the little girl isn't unique: Everyone has these five emotions running the show.  Riley just feels emotions a little more deeply than others: She's 11 years old and she's just been uprooted from Minnesota to San Francisco.

In impressive but sometimes overwhelming detail, Inside Out explains how memories are formed and how they, in turn, make up personality.  In many ways, Inside Out owes quite a bit to the 1982 Disney flop Tron, and it falls into some of the same traps, trying to move back and forth between the "inside" world and the "outside" world.  Especially for younger audiences, it's a little confusing and overwhelming.

Just at the moment I wondered if Inside Out was going to be more visually interesting than emotionally involving, though, everything clicks into place.  A character named Bing-Bong (voiced by Richard Kind), who initially comes across as grating and off-putting, winds up genuinely endearing as he quite literally catapults the movie into a final 15 minutes that are as captivating and emotionally overwhelming as anything Pixar has ever created.

Remember those wordless first 10 minutes of Up, also directed by Docter?  While Inside Out doesn't match the sheer perfection of that montage, it comes pretty close.

Still ... for all of its visual flair and complex machinations, the feature-length Inside Out is frankly outmatched in sheer beauty and emotional complexity by the short film that plays before it.  In just seven minutes, Lava manages the seemingly impossible feat of making the most inanimate of inanimate objects -- an entire island -- come to delightful life. I won't spoil anything except to say that the entire short is told through a song, and it's a splendid one.

As good as Inside Out is, Lava is downright spectacular.

Viewed June 20, 2015 -- Walt Disney Studios Theater


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