Whether or not anyone liked the last three Pixar films, they all still veered away from what made Pixar so very special, as we've come to know it. 'Cars 2' was a bit of a cash-grab, 'Brave' was a fairly average princess movie better suited to Disney (in the tradition of 'Tangled', 'Frozen', 'Moana', etc), and 'Monsters University' was just plain fun, and a bit of style over substance. They all lacked a certain depth we loved Pixar for. I'm not bashing these films by any means, and still appreciate 'Brave' and 'Monsters University' on a certain level ('Cars 2' is truly the bump in Pixar's road). But they were nothing like 'Up', 'Toy Story 3' or 'WALL-E' where they made you stop and think about things.
Soon enough, however, this movie would come along and bring things back to the way they once were. But just to get a couple of elephants out of the room, allow me to fully admit two realizations with this movie. One - 'Inside Herman's Head' did this first, so I can say it's 100% original; and Two - there is a moment here that suggests the adventure didn't need to be all that it was; think of the eagles flying the Fellowship to Mount Doom instead of taking a death-defying hike. With that said, however, this movie still holds a certain power that a lot of people have felt missing from Pixar over the few years leading up to this - almost exactly five years from 'Toy Story 3'.
'Inside Out' introduces us to a girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), and the various emotions who, shall we say, "pilot" her brain; Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). They control Riley's emotions and create Riley's "memories"; coloured orbs that stack up to fuel various personality islands like "Hockey Island", "Friendship Island", etc. All is well, but Riley soon turns eleven, and things start to go downhill when the family moves away. Inside Riley's head, there is a squabble between Joy and Sadness, as Sadness keeps touching memories and making them sad. An accident sends the pair to the vast memory bank of the brain, far away from "headquarters", leaving Riley alone with Anger, Fear and Disgust to drive her around.
Now it's up to Joy and Sadness to return to Headquarters with that of a "core memory", which came with them during the squabble. If they can get her happy core memory back into headquarters, Riley can be happy again. Meanwhile, in headquarters, Anger, Fear and Disgust do their best, but without Joy or Sadness in the picture, Riley starts to feel sort of numb. While I strongly enjoy the creativity behind this film when it comes to the inner workings of someone's head, the real draw for me is the relatability of Riley's situation and what the film has to say on the matter. Without spoiling it, I might suggest that the underlying message is that "it's okay to not be okay". Anyone who has ever faced depression understands this phrase, and this is a movie that does a great job at getting that message across.
I have to appreciate a lot of the ideas they have throughout the movie, like the idea of Riley's imaginary friend, Bing Bong (Richard Kind) and what they end up doing with him. Or the idea of the mysterious realm of abstract thought, which brings with it some pretty interesting animation. They also get into things like how Riley dreams, what happens to memories we forget, how the imagination works and more. Pixar really took care here to think about the inner workings of the brain and how they might translate to a fun, animated movie. This one puts Pete Docter back in the director's chair as well, so I was fairly confident it was in good hands after his work on 'Monsters, Inc.' and 'Up'. Sure enough, I was right, and this is another Pixar title that hits me in the feels every time.
This would ultimately become the film I consider "Pixar's resurrection" in that it brings back the heart, original concepts and not only enjoyable, but relatable characters. Sure enough, it would also pick up Pixar's eighth Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and would even get a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. With this movie, it really felt like Pixar had made a triumphant return (at least for me), and despite the two things I pointed out in the beginning of the review, it's still a rather beautiful movie that does what Pixar does best and pull on those heartstrings - and not in a cheap way, but a relatable way. This is easily one of my favourites in the Pixar library for what it has to say, and I find a deeper connection with this one than many others. It was so good to see Pixar back on top that year.
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