It’s easy to default to Pixar as a frame of reference for animation as a cinematic medium. Having alternately, sometimes simultaneously written and directed the studio’s flagship titles, Pete Docter’s track record is nearly flawless, his stories’ exemplifying the brand’s penchant for unrivaled brilliance in accessible, moreover technically transcendent storytelling. Surprising no one, Inside Out has made waves for its laudable anthropomorphic representations of the emotions piloting an 11-year-old’s ever-evolving noodle. While the film certainly sports its foreseeable merits, it doesn’t quite hit the perfect stride many have fervently swore it does.
Although you’ve certainly familiarized yourselves with the intricacies of the core premise, Inside Out hones in on the frequently-at-odds emotions of young Riley: Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. Faced with the trying uncertainty of an impending move from rural Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley begins to buckle under the weight of drastic change when Joy and Sadness are thrust into the nether regions of her long-term memory. Unable to bounce back without the aid of these emotional cornerstones, Riley begins to lose her sense of self as they combat many an obstacle on their return journey toward HQ and Riley’s recovery.
I agree that it’s silly of me to dissect a Pixar film any more than you have to. After all, there’s little to digest outside of base-level thematic substance, varying degrees of tearjerkery and – of course – execution of concept through imaginative and visually resplendent means. As always, Inside Out subverts simplicity with heartfelt ingenuity and thorough fleshing out of concept, yet the “It’s okay to be sad!” undercurrents don’t resonate with the more personal spins on familiar themes as illustrated throughout Toy Story and Up. The inner workings of Riley’s bustling, multifaceted psyche are as beautifully realized as ever but are frequently overshadowed by the lukewarm glorification of simply improving her mood.
Inside Out shines brightest by way of clever, well-informed world building. Unique referential renderings of things ranging from imaginary friends (Richard Kind’s delightful Bing Bong) to why that one song won’t stop looping obnoxiously in your subconscious are exemplary, as is Joy and Sadness’ trek through a loftier literal interpretation of abstract thought and so on. Docter’s alternately playful and authentic adherence to the adolescent mindset rings most enjoyable as the sheer wow-instilled adventure at Inside Out‘s core plays better than anything non-fantastical in scope.
At the risk of sounding reductive, let it be known that Inside Out is a mildly affecting and well-rounded outing from the animated medium’s A-Team. Laced with the requisite amount of heart and whimsy, Pete Docter’s latest effort can’t entirely surpass the overt familiarity coinciding with an ordinary girl’s emotional quandary. The film lacks the arresting, all-encompassing uniqueness of the studio’s previous all-stars, and while the lovingly crafted world inside Riley’s mind is peppered with a laudable uniqueness of vision, color-coded anthropomorphic emotions, their respective shticks and an especially basic resolution detract from Pixar’s more wholly immersive fare.