(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Inside Out (2015)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Riley’s emotions are sentient and have to make tougher and tougher decisions, leading to more emotional maturity and the understanding that sadness is an important thing to feel.
Why It’s on the List: This is the second of six Pixar movies I’m writing about, which is pretty remarkable to think about. I could not help but compare this to Boyhood even though this film’s approach to the coming of age story is complete different. While Richard Linklater created something tactile in the way we were asked to relate to our main character’s story, this is so much more existential. Riley is controlled by her emotions…literally. As an 11-year-old, she has to learn how to deal with her emotions after a huge moves takes her from Minnesota to San Francisco.
I’m not sure any human being would be able to figure out a level of emotional maturity this quickly in reality, but the execution of this film is special. Whereas I think a lot of directors get lost in technology (Robert Zemeckis and Ang Lee for example), the folks at Pixar have generally gotten the balance of technology versus story correct. They are not perfect, especially in recent years with some ill-advised sequels and the painfully mediocre Brave, but they can still make truly inspiring work. The way that this movie renders the emotions and deploys Joy and Sadness in particular is creative genius. A lot of the credit also has to go to some brilliant casting. It feels like almost everyone has some sort of comedy background, which is a huge benefit for the film as a whole.
I think there are a lot of animated movies where Bing Bong doesn’t work. The character could easily have been an annoying side quest. He literally cries for candy and comes off like a giant simpleton, but the Pixar magic gets audiences members to care about Bing Bong. When Bing Bong fades away from memory for good, it’s an emotional gut punch. It matches up quite well from the emotional gut punches seen in other movies. I bet you’re even thinking of one right now, and it’s probably different than the one I’m thinking of.*
*I always go back to Jessie’s flashback and song in Toy Story 2.
I loved Inside Out when I first saw it in 2015, and it’s almost a shame there’s too much content out there now because this is a movie I should be revisiting more.
*The emotions of the mom and dad are just a bit stereotypical. The scene itself still works because the concept is that good, but it still felt a bit reductive given how inventive the rest of the film was.
*San Francisco has its issues, but broccoli pizza feels like something someone who’s never been to San Francisco makes fun of people for eating. The relationship this movie has with the two setting is strange given the weather comparison and actually being able to go outside 12 months of the year instead of hiding in the cold half the year].
MVP: I wonder if after Soul whether we are going to put some respect on Pete Doctor’s name. He has directed a handful of Pixar films but has been heavily involved as a writer and producer since the beginning of the company. John Lasseter has rightfully been cancelled for his deplorable behavior around women, and I think it’s important to realize just how much of a team effort this has all been. I don’t know that Doctor’s concepts are always successful, but his interest in existential concepts constantly push what are thought of as a children’s films into consistently new directions. Pete Doctor is great, and I think this film is underrated relative to other Pixar movies.
Best Performance: Phyllis Smith* has a pretty unenviable task playing Sadness.A lot of the credit has to go to the design team and animators for rendering something so cute but still able to capture the essence of sadness. Smith is always going to be best known for her work on The Office, especially given that show’s second life on streaming, but she gets to play a nuanced supporting character this time. Part of me wonders if we’re supposed to be annoyed with Sadness in the first half of the film on first watch but then less so on a second viewing. Maybe it’s maturity, the fact that I feel more intuned with sadness myself in 2020 as opposed to 2015. I walked away from this viewing really appreciating Smith in this role. She’s the key to making this movie work.
*I love Lewis Black as Anger for the obvious reason, but it’s almost a lay-up.
Best Quote: “Take her to the moon for me. Okay?” – Bing Bong
Is there a sequel? No.