Saturday, July 11, 2015

Joy In the Midst of Trauma

Review: Inside Out (Pixar)

If you are schmaltzphobic, you should avoid this movie at all costs! I say that right at the start, because the whole purpose, theme, and raison d'être of Inside Out is to put the audience in touch with their emotions, in the most direct, tear-jerking and belly-laugh provoking roller-coaster way they can. And, boy! can the Pixar writers wring emotions!

I had wanted to see this film ever since I saw it reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. When was the last time you saw a review of an animated movie in WSJ? I sensed there might be something different about this one, and I wanted to experience it directly. 

Oh, but not in a theater full of screaming kids or snarking teenagers, no way. I might have waited to catch it on Prime, or cable-on-demand, except for Hollie Fortkamp.

Hollie found me in my writing corner at Chick-fil-A, and literally twisted my arm to come along with a small group to a mid-week late-afternoon matinee. It helped that Hollie had been before at a similar time of day, and could reassure me the theater hadn't been chock-a-block with underage patrons when she went.

I'm glad she did persuade me! I knew this was a good decision as soon as the opening Pixar short, Lava, played. In three minutes, this short had me first awed at scenery and smiling at the conception of a singing volcano, then sniffing back tears, and finally, openly weeping. Good thing I had a full packet of Kleenex. And this was just the leader; the main attraction would help empty that packet!

Inside Out tells the story of an 11-year-old only child, Riley, whose family moves her from Minnesota to San Francisco. It centers around five of Riley's core emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger, with Joy as her premier emotion. At first, as the emotional range of a baby, toddler, or even pre-teen would be, all of these emotion characters are one-note simple, but then they mature, developing depth and range as Riley experiences this life-changing shift. 

When an adult character's controlling emotion committee is shown, the same five characters are present in "grown-up" form. We meet Riley's Mom's Sadness, Joy, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. For Mom, Sadness seems to be central emotion—yet, as we learn later in the film, this seems to be more akin to nostalgia and regret than anything else. Riley's Dad has a committee led by Anger and Fear, adult-muted into Assertiveness and Concern—still, the same five are present. 

The movie is visually lush, with layers of text and subtext even in the illustrated backgrounds of scenes. For example, the subconscious is drawn as a subterranean dungeon in which Riley's darkest fears are incarcerated. Riley's memories of Minnesota are full-color and full of sunshine, but in her current experience of San Francisco, grays and fog predominate.

The angst and regret are never allowed to take over. In the context of the film, Joy still holds sway, even when she is lost in the memory stacks. At the climax of the story, when Riley's personality is integrated and her emotions "operate like a team," we are given a perfect visual for it. 

At least I think I saw it. I was pretty teary by then.

Liner Notes:

  • The State Farm commercial on TV that shows Riley's Anger bumping Fear out of the way to make the hockey goal must be an extra scene from the cutting-room floor. I got a bigger kick out of the passing comment of Disgust in the similar scene from the movie: "Let's not get all smelly out there this time, okay?"
  • There is much going on at adult level that will pass right over the little viewers' heads. However, there is one sad scene that may leave small children weeping. We had kiddie-voices piping up all around us in the theater, "But Mom! What happened to Bing-Bong? He'll be okay, right?" 
  • Don't leave without watching the closing credits. Many of the other bit-characters have their emotional committees revealed in flash animations as the credits scroll by.
  • I don't know if anyone else was disturbed by the totally-brown eyes of both Riley's parents gazing into her bright blue ones. Interesting choice by the illustrators.
  • I got a chuckle at the swipe-right and swipe-left motions for the memory globes to run and reverse the display.