Don’t call it a comeback.
After years of dominating the field of animated films, Pixar has been showing signs of weakness since 2010’s “Toy Story 3.” At the same time, other animated filmmakers have shown serious improvements with films like “How to Train Your Dragon” and “The Lego Movie.” With Pixar’s newest release, the company is hoping to solidify their reign at the top before companies like DreamWorks can take over.
“Inside Out” is a daring idea in that the film takes place almost entirely inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. Though briefly interrupted here and there with a real-life plot, the main storyline follows Riley’s emotions Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black). When her parents move the family from Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley (and her emotions) have a tough time adjusting to the new lifestyle. When chaos ensues inside the control room where Riley’s emotions live, it’s up to Joy and Sadness to save the day before Riley loses what makes her Riley.
Probably the two biggest attributes that have followed Pixar films throughout the years are great animation and heartfelt characters. The former is certainly on display with “Inside Out.” Everything about this film is aesthetically beautiful. Whether it’s the imaginative world inside Riley’s head or the scenes on the streets of San Francisco, the animation is some of the best work the medium has ever seen.
As for the latter, “Inside Out” may be the most emotional film Pixar has put out to date. Of course in a film where the majority of the characters are actual emotions, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. The only problem with this setup is that most of the characters are also very one-dimensional. There’s not a lot of growth opportunity for a character named Anger who’s voiced by Lewis Black.
Fortunately for the film there are other characters inside Riley’s head who give the film a little more heart, namely her childhood imaginary friend Bing Bong (wonderfully voiced by Richard Kind).
Humor is another important part of any Pixar film and there’s plenty to go around in “Inside Out.” Not every joke is a rousing success but there are several funny sequences and ideas tossed around in the film that you may not catch on the first watch.
What keeps “Inside Out” from piercing the upper echelon of Pixar films is its so-so plot. Though it stays mostly entertaining for the length of the film, watching Joy and Sadness walk around the recesses of Riley’s mind just isn’t as compelling as watching the superhero family from “The Incredibles” fight off bad guys or Carl and Russell defeating an evil explorer in “Up.”
It may not be as entertaining as some of Pixar’s better films, but “Inside Out” is an important film for kids and adults because it teaches audiences about the process of growing up. While that isn’t necessarily a new concept for film or children’s stories, the way in which Pixar is able to approach the subject makes it very unique.
If nothing else, “Inside Out” proves that Pixar still has the juice to make thought-provoking films for the whole family and that the company’s legacy is in good hands.