Wednesday, July 01, 2015

View From the Inside (Out)

For a few years now, the movies coming out of Pixar have slipped a bit in quality -- coinciding with a creative surge from parent animation studio Disney. (I mean, compare Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University to Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Big Hero 6.) But Pixar has definitively pulled out of the funk with its latest effort, Inside Out -- a triumph on every level.

Inside Out looks inside the brain of a little girl named Riley, personifying the emotions that drive her. As the girl goes through the traumatic experience of a cross-country move, her emotions have an unprecedented adventure of their own across the fantastic landscape of Riley's mind.

The script is a perfect blend of comedy and drama, and filled throughout with loads of inspired creativity. The ideas behind how things work in the mind of a child are endlessly clever, and the visuals used to present them elevate those ideas even farther. The world in Riley's head is a feast for the eyes -- massive in scope, varied in style, and vividly colorful. In short, the scenic design of a Pixar film has never been better.

The story is powerful in how easy it is to relate to. So many people have memories of childhood moves and the uncertainty they brought. And even those who grew up living in the same house will recognize how a big life change can throw your entire personality out of whack for a while. This movie makes a fun adventure out of why that happens, and along the way stirs in the audience nearly every emotion it depicts on the screen.

The characterization is outstanding, and the casting superb. Amy Poehler is wonderful as the unflappable and upbeat protagonist Joy. Richard Kind epitomizes "will make you laugh and cry" as Riley's imaginary friend Bing Bong. Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling are great fun as Fear and Disgust. And in the "real world," Diane Lane and Kyle McLachlan are exceptional as Riley's mom and dad. But to me, the real rock stars of the film are Lewis Black and Phyllis Smith. Black is an inspired choice to embody Anger, not only injecting plenty of humor but driving a major twist in the plot. And Phyllis Smith is the perfect Sadness; she's wonderful comic relief for the bulk of the movie, and then the powerful heart of its climax.

In my opinion, Inside Out is so far the film to beat for 2015. And it has set the bar for doing so very high indeed. I give it an A.

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