Thursday, June 25, 2015

Inside Out - Pixar Can Still Create Magic

Inside Out (2015) Voices by Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Directed by Pete Docter. Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley. Produced by Jonas Rivera. U.S. Run Time: 94 minutes. Animation, Comedy, Drama.

I hadn’t intended to write a review of Inside Out. It was a Father’s Day outing and I’d like to think there are some movies I don’t have to write about, but since this will probably show up on my top five for 2015, I thought I’d better post something to refer to later.

I feel like I have a personal and familial relationship with Pixar Animation. The first film my sons saw in a theater was A Bug’s Life (1998) and Pixar films had been must-sees for us from then on until Cars (2006). While John Lassiter’s pet project may have been a merchandising juggernaut, it was the first clunker for us. The studio that had seemed to be innovative and cutting edge fell back into the same routine as the big guys. They’d already made a sequel, Toy Story 2 (1999), but they made it a trilogy (2010). And they made Cars 2 (2011). Disney Animation, by then under Lassiter’s direction, even cranked out a Pixar-clone, Planes (2013). I have to imagine it’s only Thomas the Tank Engine that stands between us and Trains.

Definitely, it felt like the bloom was off the rose by the time Brave (2012) was released. While the studio is already in regurgitation-mode with a Finding Nemo sequel, Finding Dory, Toy Story 4, The Incredibles 2 and sorry to say a Cars 3 in production, they still can hit magic, something the studio has been missing the mark on since Up (2009). Sequels only make us nostalgic for experiencing the original, that sense that we’ve discovered something new and had a shared experience not only with the people we’re with, but the people in the theater and every theater showing the movie across the world. Sequels, try as they might to re-create that experience, usually fail to deliver something as wonderful the second, third and fourth time around. The production values might be better in subsequent sequels, but there is nothing like the first time you saw Toy Story.

Inside Out shows that there is still some magic left at Pixar. Maybe some of Tinker Bell’s pixie dust from parent Disney has cross pollinated its Emeryville subsidiary, but Inside Out is one of the most original concepts to come along in quite a while.

From Left to Right: Anger (Lewis Black) Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Joy
(Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith).

The film offers a look at what goes on inside a person’s brain and how memories and emotions determine who we are, allow us to make friends and have interests. Pixar selected five emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler); Sadness (Phyllis Smith); Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), which are enough to carry the day and tell the story. All of these reside in the brain or control center inside Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), a preteen who, along with her mother (Diane Lane) and father (Kyle MacLachlan), has moved from Minnesota to San Francisco.

The Anderson's Mother (Diane Lane), Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and Father (Kyle MacLachlan)

Starting over is always difficult and it plays havoc with her emotions and consequently her core memories which are the building blocks of who Riley is. When everything is falling apart, Joy and Sadness have to work together to save Riley from making the biggest mistake in her life.

The voice acting is a little bit like a crossover episode of Parks and Recreation (Poehler) and The American Office (Smith and Kaling), two shows that were never quite as funny as they could have/should have been in my opinion. (Not that I don’t think Poehler is a very talented comedian.) Throw in Poehler’s fellow SNL alum Hader, who has made a second career doing voice work (Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs 1 & 2) and stand up turned actor/commentator Black and you’ve got a very strong ensemble. Black brings his stand up anger shtick with him the same way Don Rickles brought his insult routine to Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story franchise.

Like the emotions on screen, I found myself going through the range, from laughing out loud to literally crying before the film was over. Up was the last time Pixar had made me cry at one of their movies. Inside Out shows that Pixar can still be a studio with original ideas that can succeed with audiences all around the world. But no doubt if this is as big of a success as it appears we’ll be looking at Inside Out 2: Riley’s Teen Years in 2022 a year after Pixar and Disney reap the merchandise bonanza of Cars 3. (That is why they’re making it, right?)

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