There is what I often refer to as “Pixar’s First Golden Era” which was bookended by the first and third Toy Story films in 1995 and 2010. Every one of the studio’s first 11 feature films were milestones in both narrative and technological accomplishment, culminating with Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3. The first time they strayed from this path was with Cars 2, and though not completely without their charms, Brave and Monsters University did very little to get them back on track. None of these films made their way into the hearts and minds of pop culture the way the ones that preceded them did, which is probably why they took a step back and left us Pixar-less in 2014. The extra time seems to have paid off and we’re excited to be one of the first tell you that Inside Out is a welcomed breath of fresh air.
The film doesn’t come out until June 19, but press in select cities were recently treated to a special presentation by co-director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera, followed by a screening of the film’s first 56 minutes and a brief Q&A with the filmmakers. Toronto was actually the first city to receive this presentation, only days after the final touches had been put on the film at the Skywalker Ranch. Docter and Rivera spoke candidly about the genesis of the film and the challenges they faced while making it. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Inside Out personifies the interior emotions of Riley, a young girl dealing with some stressful changes in her life. It does this by taking us inside her mind, depicted as a control centre, where we meet Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). This colourful crew was described as Pixar’s attempt at the Seven Dwarves.
Tasked with following up his hugely successful Up, Docter got the idea for Inside Out when he observed his daughter changing as she got older. It was around the time that she turned 12 that he began to notice the once outgoing, goofy, happy girl became much more introverted and melancholy. This made him think about how much our emotions change as we mature, and how so much of what makes who we are as children gets lost as we transition into adults. Often these changes coincide with puberty, but in the film the primary catalyst for the changes within Riley is having to leave her life in Minnesota and move to San Francisco. From what we saw, I’d estimate the split of screen time given to Riley’s mind versus the ‘real world’ is about 70% inside, 30% out.
As Docter put it, the best films take us somewhere we can all relate to but haven’t seen before, and Inside Out epitomizes that idea. It not only personifies our feelings, but offers humorous, visual explanations for how our mind works, particularly our emotional links to memory, self conscious, imagination, and even abstract thought in a brilliant sequence that could have been its own short. It also illustrates beautifully how and why emotional connotations we have with some memories can change over time, while also showing how this effects our dearest relationships.
Rivera and Docter, who bonded over their love the classic animated Disney films, spoke of an inspiring question Joe Grant once posed: “what are you giving audiences to take home?” In other words, what are people going to remember and talk about after they see it? From what we saw, Inside Out gives generously. Apart from the on-point jokes and ample eye candy, this film will give children some insight into how and why they feel the way they do, but more importantly, make them think about the feelings of others. Parents will relate to Riley’s mother and father, who we see begin to feel like they no longer know their child.
Obviously I am not supposed to give a full review of this film until I’ve seen it in its entirely closer to its June release date, so I’m not sure what else to tell you apart from assuring you that it’s okay to get excited for this one. Pixar fans will see this as a return to form, a conceptual victory that’s well executed and original. This is a studio that continually holds itself to a higher standard than the rest, and they’ve once again managed to bottle that magic that escaped their last few films. It’s very tempting to go deeper into why I liked it so much, but for now I’ll just leave you with a small easter egg Docter and Rivera mentioned: if you look closely inside the globes containing Riley’s memories, you may recognize scenes from Up, which is appropriate since that film had such a significant emotional resonance for many who saw it, and I think Inside Out will as well.