I never would have thought it possible that an imaginary friend named Bing Bong, who is made up of part dolphin, part elephant and part candy floss, would make me cry buckets in the middle of a cinema, at twenty seven years old – but that’s exactly what happened during Pixar’s latest, Inside Out.
The studio, which has a remarkably high hit rate, always seem to make the impossible possible. They’ve created fantastical worlds where toys come to life and houses take flight with the aid of baloons; worlds where rats cook and monsters are actually quite nice – all of which have sparked the imaginations and minds of children and adults alike for the past two decades.
Now, that’s exactly where Pixar have chosen to go – inside our head. Arguably their bravest and riskiest film to date, Inside Out is a turning point in the studio’s life: an ambitious and boundary-pushing animation that deals with the metaphysical.
They’ve always been at the forefront of raising our expectations of what animated film can do, on both a technical and emotional level, but with this Pixar have created a masterclass in cinematic story telling as a whole.
The high concept idea involves five emotions; Joy; Sadness; Disgust; Fear; and Anger; who essentially live within each of our minds. Since birth, they are responsible for controlling our moods and emotions at ‘headquarters’, where each has their role in crafting a fully rounded person.
In this case, the story focuses on Riley, a young eleven year old who is uprooted from her hometown and forced to move to San Fransisco. With Joy at the controls, Riley has always been a relatively happy child, but when she’s separated from her friends and the things she loved growing up, it sends her emotions into a state of flux.
When Joy and Sadness are accidentally exiled from headquarters, they have to make their way back through Riley’s mind and try to figure out the cause of her seemingly uncontrollable sadness. All the while Disgust, Fear and Anger struggle at the controls.
If it all sounds complicated, especially for a film aimed at children, that’s because it is – and that basic concept is really just the beginning. The sub-conscious, dreams, personality, imagination and even earworms are brought to the big-screen with the usual ingeniouty that we’ve come to expect from Pixar.
Yet, whilst the idea is complicated, it’s beautifully realised with a simplicity that younger audiences will be able to understand, and quite possibly even be able to relate to. Before we even get the title of the film, the rules and principals of the world are skilfully set out with clever and brisk writing that continues right through to the film’s end.
Whilst the animation is colourful, bright and detailed, Inside Out succeeds mainly through its story and sheer ambition. There’s poignance, nuance and layers to the film that even after multiple of viewings, I have no doubt will reveal new wonders and secrets. And I will be seeing this time and and time again.
Rather fittingly, I left my screening an emotional wreck. I laughed and I cried, sometimes tears of joy and sometimes tears of sadness. For this, I blame genius Pete Docter, the writer/director of Up and Monsters, Inc. After that heartbreaking montage from the beginning of Up, he continues to inject emotional impact into Pixar’s films, proving that whilst John Lasseter may be Pixar’s head, Docter is the heart and the soul of the company.
Inside Out is simply a masterpiece, not just by Pixar’s standards but by the standards of cinema. Intelligent and human, it’s equally as exciting as it is touching. Exciting not just because of what the future looks like for Pixar, but what it looks like for animation, as the genre continues to go from strength to strength in what is quite clearly its golden age.
Image credit to http://www.filmoria.co.uk