'Inside Out' has That Pixar Feeling

"Inside Out"

"Inside Out"

You know that song “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” by Cinderella? Man, it’s so true.

Yeah, I know that phrase was already a well-worn cliché before Tom Kiefer and company turned it into a power ballad monster, but just because they didn’t invent it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hold some kind of strange potency.

Animation studio Pixar didn’t invent poignancy either, but as far as movies with mainstream appeal go, they seem to have perfected a very specific version of it. Let’s call it “That Pixar Feeling.”

That Pix’ar Feel’ing n. 1. an emotional state achieved when the movie you are watching realizes a universal truth that connects with your own personal experience, causing both joy and sadness simultaneously.

This studio of talented storytellers hit a stride in 2007 with a four-year run of classics: “Ratatouille,” “Wall-E,” “Up,” and “Toy Story 3.” Besides dissecting our various fears and hopes and serving them back to us through clever premises, empathetic characters, and even more clever plot developments, Pixar always innovated in the presentation department as well.

While other animation studios were content to serve up the usual stream of talking-animal adventures with stereotypical characters and standard design choices, Pixar employed people like cinematographer Roger Deakins to help them understand how to reproduce the effect of light refracting through a lens. This would help them achieve a photo-realistic look on “Wall-E” that is still unparalleled in the world of computer animation.

Immediately following that run, it was looking as if Pixar had contracted a severe case of sequel-itis, with tepid franchise extensions like “Cars 2” and “Monsters University.” The original story “Brave” was released between these films, and it was admirable for its girl-empowering theme, but lacked the emotional gut-punch of its predecessors. After this three-film streak of weaker material, I was definitely singing Cinderella and pining for the days of old.


Looking forward to Pixar’s upcoming slate of films, there are more sequels on the way (“The Incredibles 2,” “Toy Story 4,” “Cars 3,” “Finding Dory”), so we can only hope that these efforts are more successful than the last two.

If the new Pixar movie “Inside Out” is any indication, this should be no problem.

I am overjoyed to report that That Pixar Feeling is back. In a big way. “Inside Out” hits you in all the feels and is full of perceptive moments that will leave you both howling with laughter and fighting back tears.

The miraculous thing about this feat is that the film’s premise — that there’s a team of anthropomorphic emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, Anger) working around the clock inside our heads — is fraught with hazard from a storytelling standpoint.

The screenplay (from director Pete Docter, with co-screenwriters Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley) walks a dangerous tightrope: If the emotions have too much control over the human characters, it will make the humans feel like puppets, and we’ll be alienated from any kind of shared experience. Think about it: How creepy is it to imagine that you have no free will; that every decision you make is based on the actions of five cute little pixies on the bridge of the Enterprise inside your head?

On the other hand, if the humans are reacting solely to outside stimuli, then the actions that the emotions take inside the humans’ heads don’t matter at all, and the movie loses its urgency.


Docter and company find a solution to have it both ways, achieving an extraordinary balance, and “Inside Out” becomes a poignant rumination on the nature of personality and the innocence of childhood — all without pandering to the obvious.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” made a case in 2004 for the importance of memories both good and bad and how essential they are to one’s character. “Inside Out” visualizes those memories as glowing marbles, color-coded to their corresponding emotion.

As little Riley Anderson (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) grows up and her life circumstances change, her personality changes as well. The older marbles begin to fade and turn gray, until they vanish in a poof of dust, never to return to her head.

It’s a powerful metaphor for growing up, and this brilliantly visualized concept anchors “Inside Out” in a way that ensures it will resonate for years to come. Kudos to Pixar for again reminding us that animated entertainment can appeal to all ages and speak to universal truths.

All of this sounds heavy and portentous, and I admire Docter for not being afraid to get a little scary and a little sad, too. That’s one of the things people remember the most about “Bambi” after all. “Inside Out” also glides effortlessly back and forth from light and fluffy territory. Did I mention that it’s also a thrilling adventure picture and that there’s a ton of incisive, funny jokes sprinkled throughout?

Alert viewers will spot thematic similarities with the “Toy Story” series and Docter’s “Up,” but “Inside Out” is still a startlingly fresh concoction that re-imagines our emotions in a behind-the-scenes kind of way that will probably be referenced in popular culture from here on out.

I’ve already had several “Inside Out” moments and I only saw the movie two days ago.


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