Inside Out Review
This spoiler-free review of Disney-Pixar’s Inside Out might as well be subtitled, “How Pixar Got Its Groove Back.” That, of course, assumes that Pixar lost its groove in the first place. To this extent, a brief summary of Pixar’s recent history is probably in order. From the time it released Toy Story until a decade after, it seemed Pixar was infallible, and utterly incapable of making anything less than a brilliant film.
This led to some incredibly high standards among critics and moviegoers alike, all who expected more of Pixar films than those produced by other animation studios. While Pixar had always been a critical and commercial darling, the high water mark–for me at least–occurred with the back to back releases of Ratatouille and WALL-E, two films that really pushed the envelope for mainstream animation. This was especially true of WALL-E, which was defiant in terms of its restraint and subtlety. More importantly, the underlying message and motifs of WALL-E were thinly-veiled criticism of corporations like Disney and their core demographic, making me wonder, “who allowed this to be made in the first place?”
After Toy Story 3, the string of sequels and less-than-perfect films began, which roughly coincided with when films that weren’t in development when Disney purchased Pixar would have started to be released. Mind you, this supposed “string” is only three movies, and if these three movies were made by any other animation house, they probably would have been lauded (yes, even Cars 3) but Pixar was thought to be playing on a different level, and accordingly has been held to higher standards.
Enter Inside Out…
As soon as the film was presented to the public back at the 2011 D23 Expo, it seemed this film’s release would be a defining moment for Pixar. Its central premise is that you entered the mind of a teenage girl, Riley, as she faced the trials and tribulations of moving cross-country and the emotional turmoil that entailed (additional plot details are superfluous to this review and would likely constitute spoilers, but you can read a spoiler-heavy full plot synopsis here). Conceptually, it sounds like a story that would be impossible to tell in a cogent manner without some ridiculous gimmick or annoying conceit. If anyone could do it, it was the moviemakers who made us believe that a rat could be a chef, that a trash-collecting robot could find love, and that adventure is out there even for an elderly man. This begged the question: did those moviemakers still exist?
Inside Out answers that question with a resounding YES. Yes, they do exist. Not only is Inside Out a return to form for the braintrust at Pixar, but it is arguably their best intersection of innovation and entertainment. Quite simply, Inside Out manages to push the bounds on creative storytelling while doing so with a spectacularly funny, heartwarming, and fast-paced story. It comes just short of WALL-E in terms of being an envelope-pusher, but exceeds it in terms of range.
Inside Out’s great achievement is tackling a concept so esoteric that it would take dozens of 100-page, abstruse reviews in the New England Journal of Medicine to propound in a semi-articulate manner that would still be accessible only to academics. Pixar makes this comprehensible for anyone, in an animated film under 2 hours. Said concepts are dealt with in ways that make perfect sense and present no internal contradictions, giving the audience no occasion to contest their accuracy. In fact, until presented with convincing evidence otherwise, I’m going to assume all of the details contained in Inside Out are scientifically accurate.
For all of its depth, the plot of Inside Out is relatively straightforward. I was briefly concerned when the central conflict began to unfold that its shades of Finding Nemo might make the end result overly formulaic or reminiscent of that other Pixar classic. It quickly and substantially deviated from this track, alleviating all such concerns. This really can’t even register as a complaint about the film, as it was a fear in my head based upon an unfulfilled concern.
The basic mechanics of Riley’s mind are relatively straightforward and very easy to grasp, but perhaps the most impressive aspect of the film is just how many astute and incisive concepts are only giving passing treatment. Pixar could have fixated on some of these brilliant ideas, really fleshing them out, but simply couldn’t due to duration and pacing limitations. However, it speaks volumes to the depth of Inside Out that so many nuggets of gold are relegated to “throwaway” status. Likewise, there are a lot of references and in-jokes that are quite easy to miss. As a result, the film will have incredible re-watchability for adults, which is probably a good thing, as the children of those adults are going to want to watch this again and again thanks to the endearing emotion characters.
Then there are these emotion characters. Each of the emotions contributes wonderfully to the film, with none feeling overwrought or annoying. The casting for these emotions is spot-on, and you’re left wanting more from each of them. (A feeling you get from the entire film, in a good way, and I fully expect that Pixar will be revisiting this world in short order with a sequel.) There is inherent conflict among these emotions, but the rapport they develop despite this is impressive. Unsurprisingly, they each bring something unique to the table, but what is surprising is that they resonate and all have something powerful to say amongst the nonstop laughs and fun.
However, the absolute scene-stealer is a character who has not been given any treatment in the trailers: Bing Bong. Bing Bong is like the Olaf of Inside Out, if you were to eliminate all of the annoying traits of Olaf and focus only on his heart. Basically, Bing Bong is a character who will endear himself to both kids and adults–instead of Olaf’s appeal largely to children. If my reaction is any indication, Bing Bong will be the surprise sensation of Inside Out, and will attain the same level of pop culture (and theme park?) ubiquity as Olaf. At least, that’s my hope.
Bing Bong could function as a case study in how to make an animated character lovable and humorous for children without being grating for adults, and he’s representative of the film as a whole. It has long been said that Pixar films function on two levels: one for kids and one for adults. That is without question true of Inside Out. In fact, the argument could probably be made that Inside Out is more of a film for adults than it is for kids. There is a strong intellectual component to this film (and I don’t mean that as a pun) that will fly right over the heads of children and dimwitted adults. It will still have tremendous appeal for kids thanks to its engaging story and great characters, but the depth makes it a real winner.
Likewise (and thankfully), Inside Out is wholly devoid of the cheap humor aimed at children that so often drags down the appeal of animated films for adults. This was especially problematic in both Cars 2 and Brave, and I’m incredibly glad it isn’t a continuing trend. Inside Out doesn’t resort to cheap humor because it doesn’t need to. It earns its laughs, which come consistently throughout the entire film.
This is also true of Inside Out‘s ability to pull at the audience’s heartstrings. You grow an attachment to Riley and her emotions, and the journey is, well, emotional. This isn’t because there are any cheap moments meant to elicit the tears, but because character development and storytelling are so solid that you can’t help but care and feel affected by the film. This, again, is classic Pixar, with the audience emotion earned, not contrived.
At the end of the day, Pixar has captured lightning in a bottle with Inside Out, which I consider on par with the best of Pixar’s best. This review is high on the gushing and scant on the criticism for good reason: I consider Inside Out to be a flawless animated film. With it, Pixar has amazingly managed to make a film that is filled with warmth, laughs, fast-paced fun, but remains incredibly thought-provoking. Usually, it’s difficult to manage the former while still achieving the latter, but that’s exactly what Inside Out accomplishes. This is a film people will find themselves watching again and again for its entertainment value, and also to engage in thoughtful scholarly analysis. It’s an exemplar to which you can proudly point to any close-minded adult who is dismissive of animation as being nothing more than “kiddie stuff.” All of this makes Inside Out something special.
And now, let the speculation begin as to how Inside Out will be incorporated into the theme parks (the main topic of this blog). As I suggested in yesterday’s State of Walt Disney World post, I would be fine with seeing Inside Out integrated into a revitalized Wonders of Life pavilion. I could also see it in Innoventions or Journey into Imagination. I just hope it isn’t shoehorned into some random place, like the Morocco pavilion or Grizzly Peak. 😉
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Are you looking forward to Inside Out? If you’ve seen it, do you have any spoiler-free feedback? Would you like to see it have a presence in the parks? Share any of your thoughts in the comments!
It’s nice to see a film that celebrates all the emotions, but still manages to be optimistic and uplifting. Inside Out is the full package 🙂
Wow, awesome post Tom. I have been reading your blog for a while, but didn’t realize you did movie reviews! Just had to share my thoughts about Bing Bong too. I saw Inside Out and while I enjoyed it, I have to disagree with Bing Bong being a showstealer who could even compare to Olaf. I am, to be honest, a diehard Olaf fan. He is just so cute and positive that he immediately endears himself to me. I in no way felt this appeal from Bing Bong. He just seemed annoying and like he took away from the other characters. Also SPOILERS AHEAD at the wagon scene I felt absolutely nothing when he was forgotten by Riley. He was so forgettable it seemed inevitable. Because of this, I don’t think Bing Bong is even in the same league as Olaf. I just don’t. Sorry for ranting, love the review anyway
I actually have the uncommon opinion that Inside Out isn’t really deserving of all the hype. It doesn’t feel like Pixar, and the plot just felt really stretched to me. I think that the concept was great, but the film itself just doesn’t do Pixar justice. I did enjoy it, just not sure why all the rave reviews 🙂
Finally saw this and yes, one of Pixar’s best–it actually made me think and say “Hey that sort of explains how I think/feel.” (The Gum Commercial joke completely explained that “neural glitch” to me.) The movie will probably go over the heads of children, but may resonate the most with teenagers.
The Epcot Imagination pavilion is such a mess that I wouldn’t mind if they completely revamped it with an Inside Out theme that teaches visitors how the mind works. Maybe Bing Bong could be the new Figment.
I can’t help but quibble on one minor point: The family moved to SF from Minnesota by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. THAT MAKES NO SENSE! Pixar, of all companies, you should know that!
Ok, my Anger & Disgust are now under control, I promise…
Inside Out is worthy of being considered one of Pixar’s best.
Saw the movie last night at the special Insider Access event and it was really cute! Can I just say that I wasn’t expecting to love Bing Bong but (no spoilers, I promise) the scene with Joy and the wagon made me CRY! Yes! Bing Bong moved me to tears. And that catchy tune is still in my head! There were a couple scenes I thought were a little TOO weird, personally, for example, “Riley’s Boyfriend” and the copycats. And I didn’t really care for that whole abstract sequence, I think they could have cut that because I don’t feel like it added much to the film. But regardless, in a world of “imagination” where anything goes, I guess, anything goes! 🙂 But seriously, it was a great film that everyone will enjoy and very original and unique. Seriously, SEQUEL (please?!) We need more Bing Bong!
Oh I’m so glad to hear this! Thanks so much for taking the time to review the movie. My kids have been begging to see it every since they saw the preview, and I just haven’t been able to get excited about it for some reason. I felt the same way about Frozen and of course I liked that one, so that should probably tell me something. Much more looking forward to this now!
This movie is on my “must-see” list and I’m sure it will be great.
On a theme park note though, I hope this movie does well financially if only to see how Disney could incorporate these characters into the parks. These characters look like they would be a perfect fit for the new-style animatronics Disney’s been using lately. As much as I am impressed by the technology and the realistic level of detail/movement figures such as the Seven Dwarves from the Mine Train, I’d be lying if I said the glowing of the faces wasn’t at least somewhat distracting. But with these characters, it seems perfect as they have that almost ethereal/energy glow to them.
Inside Out seems like a perfect fit for the Wonders of Life Pavilion. While I’m not the biggest fan of the cartoonification of Epcot, if it means putting this mostly unused space to work, I hope it’s a massive, Frozen-level hit.
I truly appreciate your thoughtful response. Your blog is a great pleasure and very helpful since I trust your sensibilities and will follow your advice on matters I have not experienced first hand. That’s what one seeks in a critic. Due to your enthusiasm for Uber, we recently Uber-navigated our way around WDW and it made us rather giddy.
So you are not in favor of genetically engineering elephants to fly in order to remake Dumbo? Really, I welcome any art that can do it for me and I say with Anton Ego (whose speech is perhaps one the greatest speeches ever made by an animated character) “a great artist can come from anywhere” which I believe holds true for works of art, even if derivative. That speech is really interesting because it tackles the very subject in our little discussion, the tension between the new and the safe. Tomorrowland took a chance. It was OK but considering my Disney log-in icon is Mr. Incredible it fell a bit short (and unfortunately will lose lots of money with all the repercussions of that.)
I should mention my wife and I are over 60 and used to visit WDW in the late eighties and through the nineties when our kids were young. Now that they have flown the nest, my wife and I continue to visit on our own. And cruise! Like you, I was surprised how fun that was – in fact in a month we are off on the Magic to Northern Europe and St. Petersburg!!)
First of all, I am *always* in favor of genetically engineering elephants. It doesn’t have to be for a movie, or any particular purpose whatsoever. If science can make elephants fly, we need to devote as many resources as possible to this to make it happen ASAP.
I understand your Anton Ego reference, but in this case, the business-first decision to make this particular type of movie means that a truly envelope-pushing movie won’t be made–or at least won’t be made by Disney. Studios only make so many films per year, and the proliferation of sequels and remakes has meant fewer original ideas and taking chances on original (usually creativity-first) screenplays.
Where in what I wrote would you have sensed antagonism? Anyway, I don’t agree with your objection to the re-telling of stories, especially in different formats. Animation is not the same as live action. But even if it is similar, I think you can find real pleasure in watching a new interpretation of a familiar story. Anyway, I went from not caring much for the Cinderella story to tearing up when I recently beheld the castle. Walt borrowed freely from past storytellers, did he not? I am no fan of change for the sake of change but in this case you really are denying yourself a visually delightful experience as well as a potential deepening of the beloved tale. There’s no disloyalty in this homage,.. Will you next divulge a dislike of Jerry Lewis’ Cinderfella. [joke]
Ah, sorry! I was in a foul mood and misinterpreted the last line, I guess. I should have known better since your comments have never been antagonistic before. My apologies.
Anyway, I guess I should clarify: what bothers me more than anything is the *motivation* for these movies, and the proliferation of them on the upcoming slate, and that’s cashing in on the “brand” of whatever property it is because it’s a safe exercise from a business perspective. You won’t take a $140 million write-down on a movie based on one of the animated classics because there’s a huge built-in audience that will see it, regardless of its reviews. This guaranteed success, in turn, means more superfluous remakes will be greenlit as opposed to ambitious, original concepts that are far less certain, but far more fulfilling if done well.
The live-action remakes have all been green-lit due to their safety, not because a creative storyteller thought they could do an excellent job presenting a new twist on the source material. In the case of ‘Cinderella’ it sounds like the end result was a new, good twist on the story, but that was almost incidental to the decision to make the movie in the first place. I think that’s the key distinction from Walt retelling classic stories–he did so with creativity and storytelling being the main motivations, and financial success secondary.
I hope that clarifies and makes some sense. My point would be better made if (when) one of these live action remakes flops critically, and more reviewers start questioning the actual motivation for making the movie.
Maybe I should compromise and allow myself to see the remakes and make my form of “protest” elaborating on why I think the motivation behind making these movies in the first place is disappointing. Neither act (my not seeing the film or the review) would impact change, but I guess I could still feel okay with my decision. 🙂
Good points, and I tend to feel the same way about the motives behind the remakes. But it’s miles better than the direct-to-video legacy murdering that happened in the 90’s.
On the flip side, seeing the movie in a different medium from animation brought the story to life in a different way for me and I found that I really enjoyed it.
I would rather see more original movies (ala Tomorrowland) but there are just so many movies these days (one stat I read showed twice as many released last year than just 15 years ago) that I can see the need to fill the slate with safe bets (single and doubles, after reading Disney War?). And when they do try something like Tomorrowland and it just comes our mediocre, I can see running to safety.
Anyway, I’m mostly rambling. I’m sure I had a point in there somewhere…
I am still interested to hear your thoughts on Cinderella now that it is clear you will review films. I was smitten by it and can find no mention of it here unless I drifted off for a spell and missed your commentary. Or perhaps you prefer to say nothing if you have nothing nice to say?
Good question! I also really enjoyed the live-action Cinderella.
I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume this isn’t antagonistic. I haven’t–and won’t–see Cinderella as a matter of principle. I support original filmmaking, not revisiting stories that were perfectly told by Walt. In fairness, I have heard Cinderella is a very good movie.
I have to admit to reading just beginning and end of the blog, as I want to be more than just spoiler-free when I see the movie. But I’m glad you enjoyed it and I hope we like it as much.
I know more Pixar fans love Wall-E, but the movie is only okay for me. And I like Brave much more than most. So, with the possible exception of Cars 2, there was never really “loss of groove” for me.
This movie is one that has been a long wait for our family as we saw the first preview before moving to Japan… a move that caused a crazy cycle of emotions in my 7 year old that I think will cause it to hit closer to home than any other Disney movie. One thing I think the trailers have really done well is pique the audience’s curiosity and find a way of reaching all of the demographics – kids can relate to Riley, moms can relate to Mom, and my poor husband sheepishly smiled when watching the trailer and seeing Dad’s thoughts.
I really hope they are able to use this movie as a launching pad to revitalize some of bygone EPCOT. I have long thought that Wonders of Life would be fantastic with some Pixar flair… and part of me would love Pixar to take Figment to his fullest potential but is hesitant to say goodbye to my purple friend in lieu of an attraction related to INSIDE OUT.
Eager to see how it does in the states and look forward to it making the trek across the Pacific!!!
If I am interpreting trailers, your comments, and other articles correctly, it seems to me that there are real similarities in premise between this movie and the sorely-missed (at least by me) Cranium Command. Looking forward to seeing it for myself!
this totally reminded me of CRANIUM COMMAND! i would love to see it revisited, in the vein of “inside out”!
We are considering taking our small daughter to see this one. Without giving any spoilers is there any reason to avoid taking a small child to this one? Nothing in the previews has indicated that there would be anything of issue.
I see no reason kids of all ages couldn’t see this movie, but then again, I don’t have kids. Perhaps a parent can speak to this better than I.
Screened (most of) it with a 6 year old and 20 month old. Nothing that gave me pause at all.
Screened most of the movie with my 6 year old at a Disney blogger event. What made the movie hit a new level of greatness for me were the parenting possibilities. The personified emotions were immediately accessible to my daughter and the whole experience opened up avenues to communicate with her about emotions that would otherwise be too deep to articulate at this age.
Not sure I saw Bing Bong looming as large as you mentioned, but I only saw about 2/3 of the film, so I may be missing something…
Looking forward to the full release. And can I add just how AMAZING Lava (the short that is playing with Inside Out) is?
“Not sure I saw Bing Bong looming as large as you mentioned…”
Please stop commenting on this blog immediately. Your opinions have no place here. 😉
But seriously…Bing Bong is the man. I think you need to watch it again. You do know what he’s made of, right?!
Thank you for this review and your insight. It’s always nice to get the opinion of a non film critic, and especially the one of a Disney fan. But so far I haven’t heard anything but great things about this movie from the critics. So I’m pretty excited about it. The cast is perfect, and when the cast list was announced, I could instantly see each actor as that character (although I think Lewis Black has been preparing for this role his entire life, a new form of method acting). I’m also excited about The Good Dinosaur later this year, but I’m afraid that it will be held to a much higher standard after Inside Out. But if it’s a hit, maybe they will remodel Dinorama at AK around it.
Spoiler alert: The Good Dinosaur will be better than Inside Out, Wall-E, and the Toy Story series. Because dinosaurs.
Seriously, though, I’m really nervous about that film. It has had a very troubled production, but I’m hoping the 18-month delay means they really did it right by going in and fixing everything that was wrong with the film. It would break my heart to see Disney release more mediocre dinosaur stuff.
Good Dinosaur and Jurassic World will be tied for Best Picture this year simply because of dinosaurs.
But I’m also a bit worried for it for the same reasons. But I’m also one of the few people that really liked Brave. I’m also a little worried about Jurassic World as well, but I’ve already bought my tickets for it. Dinosaurs and Chris Pratt is a dream come true.
Thank you for writing this review! My husband and I are going to Walt Disney World in August to celebrate our 10 year anniversary (it already happened, but this is the only time of the year we can get parents to watch the kiddo). We have a serious lack of babysitters at home, so we’re planning to take an afternoon break at Downtown Disney/Disney Springs/construction mess to see this film. We’re really excited!
Happy hear it’s worth the marketing. We are here at the World right now and merchandise and ads are every where as to be expected. Here’s the interesting part, I’ve heard at least 5 kids on the bus over the last 4 days talk about which emotion they are. My niece has asked to go see that ride about 20 times. I think they have a new hit with the kindergarten set. They haven’t even seen the movie yet and already identifying with the chatacters. Maybe this will lessen a bit of the frozen overload. Fingers crossed!
That’s easy! They will artfully and seamlessly integrate the new Inside Out attraction in the space that was to have housed the Rhine River Cruise in Epcot.
No, I think they will put it in the old Wonders of Life building where they are already doing a preview thing for it. Makes better sense to have it in Future World than Germany. At least Frozen has connections to Norway.
George Potter is a man of many questionable opinions, but I’m pretty sure that in this case, he was kidding.
Tom is right. That was a joke.