Welcome to another Prime Reactions where I look at new or recent movies. Today it’s Pixar’s latest: Inside Out. There will be spoilers.
The emotions of joy, sadness, anger, disgust, and fear reside in the mind of a 11-year old girl named Riley. They watch her grow up making her act accordingly to whatever comes her way. Eventually, Joy and Sadness get sucked out of their “headquarters” along with Riley’s core memories and sent to long-term memory. The rest of the movie centers around these two trying to get back to headquarters. If they don’t, Riley’s head “insides” will start breaking down as the other emotions cannot properly run Riley without Joy and the core memories.
This is going to be tough but… I didn’t love this movie. If you’ve read my movie reviews you’ve seen both sides of the spectrum. Sure, only one of them is truly negative but I don’t know how to feel about Inside Out.
It’s very creative and its funny moments are tailored to the material they’re working with. Some of the jokes are very clever and the emotion characters are fun. There was a consistency and attention to detail to the animation that’s standard issue for this studio’s films. You can tell a lot of love and care went into this one as you’d expect from Pixar most of the time.
But I’ll stop dancing around it. I thought the middle of the movie which was at least half of it was boring. The journey simply couldn’t keep my attention. Most of it was checking out the scenery, a lot of which wasn’t too interesting to me. They start at long-term memory which is just a maze with shelves of memory balls. The
Dreamworks Dream Productions studio was nothing special. The jail with Riley’s fears had an atmosphere to it, but beyond the broccoli and balloon animal prison, I just wanted them to leave. Imagination Land was better to look at and while one character “tour guides” it pointing out clever jokes, they could’ve just as easily skipped it in the interest of plot. There’s an initial sense of urgency as Joy tries to rush back to headquarters but when the story needs Joy to be fascinated by the things around her, she stops to “ooh” and “ahh”. That’s part of why there was less gravity to the situation even though I knew of the danger. The islands kept collapsing but I had no doubt they’d magically be rebuilt by the end. I kind of knew that for almost every horrible thing, it’d be overall fine at the end.
Most of the stuff with Riley herself isn’t too interesting. If you took the emotion characters out, these scenes are nothing I haven’t seen before. I can see why people would feel bad for her and if you’ve been in her situation you can definitely relate. Even without the emotions, what she does and feels is understandable. You’d expect this behavior from a kid who misses her surroundings and has to pretend to be okay. But when you break it down, it’s just a little girl going through life changes. That said, the scene when Joy and Sadness finally return to headquarters is great and one of the film’s highlights.
For all I said about everything being fine at the end, it wasn’t without loss. The other scene with emotional weight is when Bing Bong, Riley’s forgotten imaginary friend sacrifices himself so Joy can get out of the memory dump abyss. This was the one twist to the movie and to have a true loss in a kid’s movie is always welcome. The way the scene played out was so well done. There’s a point where Bing Bong realizes that he’s weighing them down. He knows that the only way Joy will succeed is if he stays behind. We know it too. We’re just waiting for it to happen. When it does and he disappears, that’s a heartbreaker. And he doesn’t come back. Take notes, Marvel Studios.
When Bing Bong was introduced, I was annoyed thinking he was another mascot character. How many toys and plushes are you trying to sell this time? But because of that Pixar magic, they found a way to add a lot of context to his being an imaginary friend making his sacrifice all the more painful when it happens. I think Inside Out being a Pixar film speaks to the difference between what went into Bing Bong’s character versus something like Olaf who had no relevance to the movie and was obviously meant to sell toys. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bing Bong sells better because while he makes a decent toy, he’s memorable for the right reasons and there’s a decent character there too.
Let’s get into some nitpicks. I’m surprised that the five emotions are so far removed from the rest of Riley’s head that they know nothing about what’s outside headquarters. Not that their job allows time to explore since they sleep after. “Goofball Island’s my favorite!” How do you know? You’ve never been there. And strangely enough, neither have we. The islands collapse one by one so we never get to see the details within which is a shame. We go everywhere except the islands…
Besides Bing Bong who recognizes Joy immediately, every “worker” doesn’t care who she is or why she’s there. You would think the guys who run headquarters would be known to the lower-tier workers. The emotions don’t lord over the workers but for the emotions to have no authority is strange. At the end, we see workers fix the headquarters’ control panel so it’s not like they’re forbidden to go there. These workers have to know about the collapsing islands, but they’re conveniently nowhere to be found when the islands fall. You’d think such a crisis would get them to act more proactively or find out what’s wrong. Nope. If they don’t know who Joy is, they’re just as removed from what happens in headquarters as the emotions are about the islands and long-term memory.
And seriously, there’s no means of communication between headquarters and the other side? How do the workers know what to load the Train of Thought with? The Train of Thought is the ONLY means of transportation to headquarters besides walking a tightrope? The train runs normally while islands are collapsing? And with only one train running, if something bad happens, nobody can get across? For 11 years, they didn’t think to make more than one track/train in case of emergency deliveries or just as a backup? Another rhetorical question?
We learn later that Sadness is smart and perceptive, but simply lazy or not confident enough to act. Joy tries to keep her from touching any memories because if Sadness touches one, it becomes permanently sad when used which is supposedly bad. The audience is meant to go along with Joy on this one which I did. It’s really hard for me to believe that for 11 years, Sadness hasn’t touched a thing or was constantly prevented from doing so. The chalk circle seemed like a new distraction as I doubt the manuals kept her busy the whole time. To be honest I forget if there were any sadness balls in headquarters but there had to be. It’s clear that Riley experienced sad moments in the past so where was Sadness during those? Was Sadness also shoved to the side? Can’t be or there wouldn’t be sad balls.
At the start of the film, we are meant to believe that Sadness is a plague to memories. She was constantly stopped from touching things and as I said, I agree. There needed to be more context there and Sadness justifying her actions instead of apologizing. At the end of the film, we learn that the emotion of joy can be born from moments of sadness. Sadness isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it can help you mourn and move on. That’s a good moral for kids. I just wish Sadness as a character was more proactive or learned something. The only reason she saved the day at the end is because Joy learned the lesson and allowed her. She’s not useless, but for the sake of comedy she certainly didn’t care to try her best early on despite the need to return to headquarters.
Going into this I thought there was going to be more to the emotion characters. Everything seemed swell and innocent during most of Riley growing up. I was expecting the emotions to grow up with her into the teenage years or adulthood. You know, “no fun allowed” territory? Exams, bills, bad relationships, things worthy of Anger’s curse word repository. I didn’t get that but that’s not what they were going for. Do I want a sequel? Not necessarily. But at the same time I’m curious to see what they could do with a grown up Riley and see what the emotions we spent a movie with are up to. Granted, we do get to see how the emotions of many organisms including Riley’s parents operate. The parent emotions seem bored with life, going through the motions, and acting as you’d expect parents or adults would. Those were good set-ups for comedy, but I’d still like to see the evolution. We see that Riley has two male emotions and three female but her father has all male while her mother has all female. I guess Riley’s just not sure yet? I think there’s a good setup for a coming of age story here and if there is an Inside Out 2, I’d see it.
So is this a bad movie? No. Would I recommend it? Yes. If you read the whole review, my negatives are being bored for the journey and some nitpicks. I couldn’t help it.
If you liked this movie, I totally get it. There’s a lot that appeals to adults and kids. The people making this clearly understand kids far more than a majority of the people in the industry. They’re out to make a good film and judging by the consensus, they succeeded and should be proud of this one. I’m not sure where this melancholy feeling of mine came from. What’s good is really good but hopefully I articulated myself better than the negative reviews I’ve read which I certainly don’t agree with. The beginning and climax/end were great. It was funny. It was creative. The journey which took up most of the movie? Kind of tedious.