Coming into this film with all the hype that had been around it, I was simultaneously excited and sceptical. Although I liked Brave and Monsters University, and the less that is said about Cars 2 the better, I realised they were not as great as their previous efforts. With everything that had been said about Inside Out, it needed to blow my socks off. I had even heard it compared to Up and even Pixar’s most highly regarded film Toy Story.
Comparing a film to Toy Story is something that should only be reserved for something so awesome that it should leave you emotionally charged for days, weeks and even months. So I entered this film with just a smidge of trepidation but with an overall hope that this would be the film that finally brought Pixar back to their glorious heights.
To just get this out of the way, the film’s animation is as, clean, charming and cute as ever. It always feels like a throwaway point that Pixar will incorporate beautiful computer animation, but they have maintained their incredibly high standards that on its own would make audiences come back to watch another helping.
But not only is the film entertaining, it is also very funny. Having seen the trailer with the parent’s emotions, you could be forgiven for thinking that Pixar may have committed the sin of putting their funniest material in the trailer, but they have not. Not by a long shot.
For a character literally called Sadness (Phyllis Smith) she gets the most laughs. Her continual glass half full look at the world was so funny when put against the almost annoyingly upbeat Joy (Amy Poehler). I identified with Sadness so much that my brothers just outright said that, if we had emotions controlling us, all of mine were Sadness. But to be honest, if they are all like Phyllis Smith’s portrayal of Sadness, then I’m a very happy sad person.
This film is also very clever in so many amusing ways that it is easy to lose count of them. From going into long-term memory, the Train of Thought, Anger’s newspaper headlines, the production of dreams, those annoying memories you just can’t shrug off, all melded into Inside Out in so many clever ways that you would actually probably need a second viewing just to see them all, right after you’ve finished gawping at the lovely aesthetic.
However, not all is bright and sparkly with Inside Out as this film does have its rough edges. First off is that, although we get five emotions and they are all hyped quite a lot in the trailer, this film pretty much centres on Joy and Sadness. Now I know they are meant to be the film’s focus, but Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black) feel a little left by the wayside. They become side characters that only act as plot devices in making the road back to Riley’s control centre in order to ratchet up the tension and even that is centred mostly on Anger.
The character I most feel sorry for in this is Disgust. She, in my mind at least, gets the least lines and screen time, only coming to the fore in one scene that really feels like it should have been the payoff for something that progressed during the film but falls flat on its own. While Anger gets a few good scenes, lines and newspaper gags, and Fear gets a few good jokes and one memorable sequence, Disgust feels a little like filler that could have been made better use of.
I hate that I’m going to have to say this, especially as this is a film about emotions, but Inside Out lacks the emotional depth that other Pixar films had. Pixar bludgeoning you over the head with the emotion stick is not an unexpected now, its part and partial of the Pixar experience. You could name pretty much any of their films and remember a time when you were near/in tears. Marlin’s wife dies protecting their children in Finding Nemo, WALL-E being crushed and EVE desperately trying to revive him, the first ten minutes of Up, the scene in Monsters Inc. where Sully leaves Boo in her room and when she goes to the closet door to scare him and he’s not there, all the Toy Story movies! You get my point.
Inside Out only really has one scene that gets even remotely close to these tearjerker scenes and, while I still think back to it with a slight sadness, it still doesn’t come close to any of the others listed above. Hell, the short film Lava had me closer to tears than the entirety of Inside Out!
I think this lack of emotional connection boils down to one simple fact. The story feels rushed. That’s not to say it’s terrible, but the tensions somehow feels false. Joy and Sadness have a difficult, but a not impossible job to do to get back to headquarters and it is made harder not by a great deal of outside forces, but panic by Fear, Disgust and, mainly, Anger. Nothing seems to be pushing them to take the decisions they make aside from the fact that Joy isn’t here and they can’t cope. It would have been better if they were given a chance to make some right and some wrong decisions, but no, everything they do is wrong in order for Joy and Sadness’ return to become all the more difficult.
In the end, Inside Out is an entertaining film that doesn’t quite revive Pixar’s mojo but is a healthy sign that it is at least going somewhere in the right direction. It’s certainly funny and teaches a few poignant lessons while smothering you in all its charm; it’ll just leave a few questions in the older members of the audience that will not leave them as satisfied like the memories of the Pixar Golden Age.