Proof that the quality spectrum for family animation is just as wide this year as it has been for live action blockbusters. We endured Terminator Genisys, but we also experienced Ex Machina. We suffered Minions, but we also (thank goodness) got to revel in Inside Out.
Pixar have had a bumpy road of late; having derailed their previously unstoppable animation train with the misjudged, mediocre (and worryingly corporate) Cars 2. They had a wobbly improvement (of sorts) with Brave; and a return to safe, if moderate, territory with Monsters University. Disney, with their recent string of hits, looked set to eclipse their sibling studio, but Inside Out however gets Pixar firmly back on track with their best movie this decade, (and arguably a contender for their best film yet) by doing what they used to do best: telling fresh, inventive and emotionally charged original stories.
This one, co-written and directed by Pete Docter (director of Monsters Inc and Up) centres on Riley Anderson, and 11 year old girl who, having had a happy early childhood, has to deal with her first emotional upheaval following a stressful and daunting move to new city. Through the visual metaphor of (literal) emoticons inside her head- guiding her dreams, feelings and memories- we get to experience her take a step toward adulthood in what is undoutedly the most brilliantly sophisticated psychological study I've ever seen in a 'childrens' film. I use that word in inverted commas because, frankly, this film is one that might even work better for adults than for children. Much like Mary Poppins (also a psychological family study), this has layers of meaning underneath the sugar-frosted fantasy-land.
The emoticons in question Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust (all voiced, quite brilliantly by well-known US tv actors), after an unfortunate memory-mishap, take a wacky journey through Riley's mind; her subconscious, her memories, her childhood fixations, and her dreams; all to save the day and in doing so, enable her to cope in the real world. Indeed, the emotions themselves seem to experience emotion, which when you think about it implies a head-spinning infinite regress... Ultimately though, it boils down to a child learning to deal with emotional trauma, lest she succumb to depression. It's an emotional journey in every sense, and there will be tears- mark my words.
And yet, it's also extremely funny. Not just in an overt, roll-on-the-floor sense (although there are moments like that), but also in clever and subtle ways. Here's a film that kids will enjoy, but it pays them the compliment of assuming they have a sense of humour (not just fart gags and pratfalls). Like Pixar's other classics (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Up), Inside Out works on many levels appealing to just about everyone- regardless of age or interlectual demands. It can be viewed as a breezy road-trip adventure, or a clever examination of the human condition. In both cases, it's brimming with ideas, imagination, originality, and emotional intelligence; and the story just gets better as it goes along. Lucas jr and his sister, who saw the film with me, were amazed at how imaginitive it was, and I couldn't help thinking that this will be a film that requires multiple viewings in order to fully appreciate the rich well-spring of concepts it offers, and how they relate to 'outside' events. All three of us agreed that the blu ray was a no-brainer (no pun intended).
The animation is, as expected, quite beautiful; with amazing worlds that match those of Wreck it Ralph or Monsters Inc, and rich colours representing all the various emotional states- from the drab and mildly depressing real-world locations, to the brightly lit landscapes of Riley's mind, to the vibrant and glowing characters themselves.
There isn't really much to criticise. Perhaps the pacing could have been tighter? It took a little while to hit its stride. Perhaps it's script skews a little too much towards the adult camp (rather like the less popular but misunderstood Ratatouille)? But again, it casts it's net pretty wide. In the end, it's as good an example of quality family animation as can be imagined. Not just better than I thought it would be, but better than I thought it could be. Cleverly conceived, beautifully written, wonderfully executed. A genuine triumph I can't wait to see again.
Welcome back Pixar!
The short film 'Lava' isn't their best, but has a sort of charm typical of their previous ones. And there are some delightful mid-credit shennanigans.