PIXAR HAS come to the end of a very unPixar like run. Its last three films, Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University have been two uninspired sequels and a disappointing original film, and had lowered excitement levels for a Pixar original.
Inside/Out however is directed by the bankable Pixar veteran Pete Docter who has writing credits on Toy Story and WALL-E and directed Up and Monsters Inc, he has taken on this project and thankfully this is Pixar at its finest and a true return to form.
Riley is an 11-year-old girl in the middle of a move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Leaving behind her friends and home she is in a state of emotional upheaval. Riley is not just the main character but also the setting. We see her and her relationship with her parents, and we also see inside her head from the point of view of her emotion - it is not as confusing as it sounds. Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Rage, and Fear are the central characters and they do their best to override the emotional state of Riley. Before the move, Riley's life was easy. Joy was the dominant emotion, but moving and becoming a teenager, Joy must make way for other emotions and it becomes a struggle for Joy to let Riley experience Sadness and Anger. When Riley is truly miserable Joy is expelled completely and must find her way back through Riley’s consciousness.
This is a wonderful film. It isjust so smooth and fun. Indeed Joy might be the best character Pixar has created since Toy Story's Woody, and so much that comes from the wonderful voice work by Amy Poehler, who in this film, like everything she is in, is a force of nature. Its writers have said they interviewed many child psychologists and have clearly figured out a wonderful way to tell a simple story about something very complicated. The little things like Anger taking over from all the emotions at times and Joy not allowing Sadness to talk is something that might pass over you on a first watch but is really the point of film - Riley is trying to be happy by ignoring sadness that is slowly growing in her.
Often the lessons we learn from children's movies are great but are more reinforcing of something we know rather than something new. Here Pixar is attempting a new lesson - it is not about loving yourself or friendship, it is a much harder lesson here. Pixar is trying to explain the importance of listening to yourself, not bottling up feeling sad or angry, and acknowledging how you feel deep down.
If you were to look for a flaw, it is a familiar one, the third act in all Pixar movies never seems to work. The drama being ramped up towards the end just does not fit and there was more palpable tension and worry for Riley having to introduce herself to her new class in San Francisco than the final climax. Also I cannot warm to CGI cartoons and will always favour classic drawings over them.
Yet, Inside/Out is the best movie of the year so far. It is more Boyhood than Minions but will not go over children's heads. This is a story about loss, and to an extent, loneliness. It is about not sweeping away sadness, but instead embracing all emotions. It is something maybe Irish people, above all, can relate to. Indeed, for the first time in years I got a little teary in the cinema and I reckon most people will (and if you do not, well, bless your icy heart, you evil robot. )