Inside Out (2015)

I’m going to do something strange in this review. I’m going to roast a movie I love. Hell, I almost adore “Inside Out.” It’s a top 10 Pixar in my mind, probably top 7 or 8, which is sufficient shorthand for “masterpiece or damn close.” It might even be one of my 100 favorite films of all time. (Edit: just barely.)

What really slays me is the physical depiction of losing the memories of childhood and growing up. My wife and I literally had tears running down our cheeks half the runtime as we watched with our 2 and 4 year olds. It’s a tremendously creative and evocative and moving film. And absolutely worth watching.

Alright with all that due “it rules” diligence out of the way, here are my grievances:

For one, it does the Pete Docter thing of relying too much on big suspenseful chases that don’t properly match the emotional texture of the film, e.g. the climactic chase in Up. So much of Joy and Sadness’s scramble to make it back to HQ feels almost arbitrary. For example, the journey through “abstract thought” serves almost no purpose — tension, character development, or otherwise — beyond serving as a neat noodle of an idea rendered with nifty visuals. Slows things down, but it’s neat! The movie, overall, is excessively kinetic in a way that doesn’t amplify the emotions of the film. (Compare Docter to Brad Bird, who always manages to perfectly sync his films’ feelings and their action — motion and emotion in perfect harmony).

Second, I think a lot of the worldbuilding in this movie is iffy, and it detracts from my experience watching the film, though just a little bit. It’s tough to articulate because it’s the summation of a lot of little things, but also a few big ones.

For example, the 5 “emotions” seem overly simplified. For a movie so dedicated to the complexity of the framework of the human brain, it bugs me that our glimpses inside other people’s heads show the exact emotions operating in essentially the same manner, just flavored for that individual. This is just not true: human minds are much more varied than that, wired and chemically balanced in vastly different ways. This is what makes neuroscience and psychology such challenging fields. The architecture of my emotional processing might be totally, qualitatively different from yours, not just a different-colored remix. I know it’s a gag, but it bugs me.

Then, the haphazard way that entire structures of the brain crumble and reform on a moment’s notice, with entire shelves of memories tumbling into the abyss for the sake of the narrative, feels cheap. The movie is about the sacred vibrancy of a developing mind, but it dives too deep into chaos to sustain that feeling.

Lastly, something about the idea of emotions having their own agency just rubs me weird. It’s like Joy herself has her own set of driving emotions and motivations while simultaneously being an avatar for the very concept of happiness. You can’t have a story without that, but it kept me pondering the whole time.

It all adds up to something that’s slightly off during the in-brain portions of the film, though I have little criticism of the “real world” segments, which are lovely and heartbreaking and tender.

But did I mention that this film is amazing? Nearly a masterpiece? Next time I watch it, I might write a new review whose main purpose is to convey that and not my bottled up gripes.

Is It Good?

Exceptionally Good (7/8)

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