A fun infographic recently highlighted how Pixar seemed desperate to give emotions to objects and creatures – whether it’s toys, fish or future recycling-and-packaging robots. Ignoring the fact that a film, without emotion, is a dull story, Inside Out chooses to up the stakes by giving the emotion to the emotions themselves.
Riley, an 11 year old girl struggling to deal with her change in circumstance, is at the centre of the story. Her parents have decided to move from snowy, spacious Minnesota to the compact and urban San Francisco. But she is not finding things easy – something we witness via her cutesy emotions. Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader) all reside within her head. Sadness, particularly, seems intent on touching memories and, accidently, changing them. Sadness’s touch has great ramifications though when she – and Joy – are sucked up and out into the deep recesses of Riley’s mind, leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust ruling the roost.
What separates Inside Out from the majority of animated films is the mature themes tackled. While children will find the Willy Wonka-esque environment a bright and playful world, adults understand why the ‘Train of Thought’ crashes to the ground after ‘Honesty Island’ falls. Pixar has always delivered on balancing grand themes with comedic banter – and Inside Out is no different. In fact, it begs to be viewed again. The insatiable appetite of an excited child, repeating psychological theories can surely be an exciting prospect for the future. Inside Out intelligently weaves between the (purposefully-planned) theme park of imagination and ‘Goofball Island’ to an explanation of the subconscious and why those catchy-little-tunes refuse to leave your mind, in a smooth manner. This is Pixar at its best. The fact that Joy pushes Sadness out of her way, rather than acknowledging the importance of both, is a brave narrative unto itself – to make it a child-friendly, easy-accessible tale for the entire family is simply put, genius.
Director Pete Docter revealed that, akin to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, each emotion is based on different, relevant forms. Anger as a fire-brick, Sadness as a tear drop, Fear as a raw nerve, Disgust as a broccoli and Joy as a flame. This type of considered, stylistic detail is what ensures that Pixar remains superior to its competitors – Minions and Shrek have nothing to the type of smart underpinning of a Pixar film. Feed into this how the script is built around theories by Paul Ekman (and his ‘six universal emotion’, omitting surprise) and Robert Plutchick (and his theory of eight emotions, omitting surprise, trust and anticipation) highlights how well-researched the psychological foundations truly are. The making of Inside Out would make a novel unto itself with fascinating little nuggets buried in the each stage of production. Did you know, for example, that the film was originally based on 27 separate emotions, but (obviously) had to be broken down?
Take another, single sequence, whereby amongst this collage of thought-processes is also a simplification of abstract thought. Non-objective fragmentation is in impeccable cubist form (Reminding me of the Picasso reference in Toy Story). Then, deconstruction as sharp, angular forms in the manner of Boccioni or Archipenko as bodies are broken down and rebuilt. Two-dimensional form, portrayed through Matisse-like collage and finally, slim, even non-figurative forms represented by Mondrian lines. This could be an entire film unto itself (Michel Gondry?) but instead it is for children. Children who will question, reflect and rewatch. They’ll discuss and play with the same art styles. “Mum, my drawing is in ‘two-dimensional form’ – like in Inside Out”.
Emerging from the cinema, one is drawn to it again. It is clear there is more beneath the surface. Bing Bong, the imaginary friend, hilariously voiced by Richard Kind (always a bonus when he makes an appearance in a Pixar film – think Molt in A Bugs Life and van in Cars), could be deconstructed and analysed endlessly. Dreams are touched upon. That throwaway line as a box of facts and opinions spill over – they “look so similar”. Inside Out will be revisited time and time again – and what a glorious journey that will be, no matter how old you are.