Pixar has an interesting history of making terrible trailers for what turn out to be great films. The trailers for Inside Out did nothing to pique my interest in seeing the film. But at the reception to this year's Producers' Show, I talked with some people from the studio who were genuinely excited about the movie. Now, if the people who have to spend day after day working on something, still like it after several years, that's a good sign. From my standpoint, I was just glad to see Pixar making a film whose title didn't end in a number. Since Up in 2009, only Brave wasn't a sequel of some sort, and they've already announced Toy Story 4, Finding Nemo 2 (Finding Dory), The Incredibles 2, and (please, no...) Cars 3. Pixar used to be an island of relief from a sea of animated sequels, but since being acquired by Disney, that's history. Even when the sequels are good, Pixar just isn't perceived as the creative force it once was.
So on the now-rare occasion when they make an original film, they really need to get it right.
The day after this year's Producers' Show, Pixar gave an early screening of Inside Out at CalArts (the film's director - Pete Docter - and much of Pixar, are alumni from the Character Animation program). However, I didn't go. Usually, when a studio brings a film for us to see, I try to attend. But I skipped it this time. For one thing, our theater only holds 120 people, and there are over 160 students in our program, so it's not always the most comfortable viewing environment in there. But also, I was so exhausted from the Producers' Show and the weeks leading up to it, I had already decided to take the day off and stay home. And frankly, after watching 162 student films multiple times, I'd already seen more than enough animation recently.
Afterwards though, I kind of wished I had seen it there, because the reaction was apparently phenomenal. I was told you could hear some of the students actually crying during the film, and at the end, they gave Pete Docter a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. That's pretty unheard of. Sure, animation students are particularly appreciative when they see a good film, but they're also pretty critical when they don't.
Anyway, after catching up on some other summer films, finally, last weekend I managed to see Inside Out (back at the ArcLight).
And while not standing-ovation-worthy, it was still a very good film.
The basic premise is, our emotions are controlled by tiny cartoon characters running around in our heads: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear. I suppose having any more than that would have just made the film too cluttered. The main character in the film whose emotions we're watching is an eleven-year-old girl named... uh... something. Emily maybe? I'm not really sure.
And that's kind of the problem I had with the film. The cartoon emotions are more interesting than the girl whose head they're inside.
The girl's family has to move from an idyllic life in Minnesota, to the festering scum-pit that is San Francisco. At least, that's how it appears in her eyes (the San Francisco board of tourism is probably not going to use this movie for any promotional purposes anytime soon). She has to leave her old friends behind, attend a new school, and live in a run-down house with no yard, and no furniture since their stuff hasn't arrived yet.
Consequently, her emotions are trying their best to cope with the situation, but things go wrong, as Joy and Sadness get lost in memory storage, leaving the girl with only Disgust, Anger and Fear. And then, apparently, parts of her personality start collapsing, memories start fading, and... well it all gets a little dark and kind of weird. I'm sure in there someplace is a metaphor for growing up.
Certainly, at times, the film is a tear-jerker. But it almost seemed manipulatively so. As if the emotional payoff for the audience wasn't earned because of the arc of the main character, so much as it was crafted to elicit that response using the little emotion characters. I felt there was a lack of genuine connection between the girl and her emotions, as if the emotions weren't really part of her, but merely watching and manipulating her. Maybe that relationship resonated more honestly with eleven year-old girls, or parents of eleven year-old girls, but I didn't feel particularly connected to the main character.
Lack of connection aside, I did think Inside Out was a good film, and by and large an entertaining one. That said, there are a few
Of course, Pixar isn't going to end the movie that way, but that's how the bulk of the film is.
Inside Out isn't Pixar's best film, but it's a solid, promising return to them making films from more
Inside Out gets a 7.9/10.
Preceding the movie was Pixar's umpteenth short film - Lava. This left me completely underwhelmed. The short was about a couple of singing volcanoes, and using the word "lava" as a pun for "love". And that was it. The design and animation of the volcanoes was incredibly disappointing (and a new low for Pixar), and the story fell completely flat. I suppose if you like seven minutes of ukulele playing, maybe it will work for you.
At our Producers' show, we had two films about anthropomorphic mountains: An Object at Rest (which was just nominated for a Student Academy Award) and The Mountain King, both of which were far better written, better animated, more entertaining, and more compelling than Pixar's effort.