Inside Out may be considered “overrated” if it continues to be favorably compared to Toy Story, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Up. What is indisputable, though, is its commitment to profound thought and its willingness to experiment. Although the distinction between Pixar and Disney continues to blur with each of the studio’s successive release since Cars 2 and Wreck-It Ralph, Inside Out represents a similar peak for Pixar as Frozen did for Disney. In no way do I believe Inside Out will reach the popularity of Frozen. But Inside Out is just as creative and innovative as the self-aware Frozen, and perhaps even more so. It’s also just as fun and entertaining.
Inside Out operates on the same framework as other Pixar movies. Although there are five characters who represent the varying emotions of human character Riley, only two of them go on the typical Pixar quest. The typical Pixar partnership materializes in the form of Joy and Sadness, voiced by Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith respectively. Fear, Anger, and Disgust are mainly there for the much necessitated comic relief.
Inside Out competes with The Incredibles and Up for being Pixar’s most “adult” movie. In other words, it runs the serious risk of becoming too depressing and sad for children. Fortunately, Pixar does a marvelous job at managing all conflicting emotions into a well-balanced screenplay that skillfully incorporates jokes at even the most serious moments of the film. And there is plenty of seriousness to be found. I believe Inside Out is Pixar’s most adult film, even if the jokes are as slap-stick and rapid-fire as the ones in Finding Nemo. Inside Out is probably Pixar’s funniest since Finding Nemo, and yet, Pixar’s most poignant since Toy Story 3.
Where the film compares unfavorably to Pixar’s best is in the meandering nature of its plot and in the convolution of its ideas. Inside Out establishes many brilliant concepts in the beginning, only to abandon most of them as it narrows its focus towards the end of the movie. On one hand, it seems like we are going to witness Riley grow from her experiences. In the other, it seems like we are in for a tale of teenagehood. At the end, you realize Inside Out is about something entirely different, and that honestly kind of bothered me.
In my completely subjective opinion, I believe the best movies are so polished and refined that it becomes fully predictable. How the masterpieces distinguishes itself from the mediocre is in its ability to remain engaging, sincere, and thrilling in spite of its predictability. While Inside Out has all the emotions of a true masterpiece, it lacks the refinement of Pixar’s best work–I could not predict where the story was heading mid-way through. In other words, Inside Out lost its momentum at times, and I felt slightly bored in those portions of the film.
Despite some rough patches and dullness in the middle stages of the film, every establishment of characters and plot threads pays off handsomely by the end. There are moments towards the end when I could have cried if I wanted to, but I decided against it. The story of Inside Out heads into a dark place unvisited by other Pixar films, catching me off guard and placing me in a vulnerable state where I was primed for inspiration. The message of Inside Out pierced my heart, sweeping away any of my remaining cynicism for poetic truths. Inside Out is a brainy movie not in an educational sense, but in its sage understanding of life. Inside Out offers a wonderfully tragic vantage point.
Considering Pixar’s well-documented drop-off since Toy Story 3, one may be inclined to ask: is Pixar back? No. Pixar is not back. Inside Out lacks the clear direction of WALL-E, storytelling triumphs of Up, and animation flair of Finding Nemo. However, no Pixar movie is as bold and provocative as Inside Out. Even if this is objectively not Pixar’s best movie nor Pixar’s most technically impressive piece of work, I would argue Inside Out firmly re-establishes Pixar as the creative masterminds of the movie industry. Simply put, Inside Out reaffirms Pixar’s relevance in cinema. This isn’t the great return to form for Pixar that people may be anticipating. This is the re-branding of a studio that has clear intentions of diving to even deeper and darker places. One could say Pixar is evolving, and I am personally excited for their bright future.
Final Grade: B+ (89%)–Indicative of Pixar’s creative prowess, Inside Out broadens animation in a welcomed direction.