Pixar’s recent critical cold streak (Cars 2, Brave, Monsters University) has seemingly come to an end with the high concept, internal conflict film, Inside Out.
Kids’ movies are usually critic-proof in terms of critical content, but I feel like Inside Out straddles the line between adult and kid friendly and offers something extra to think about.
The framework of the narrative is built around the personification of a little girl’s emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. The majority of the screentime is focused on these five as the young girl is faced with the transition of moving with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. After the move we spend most of the time with Joy and Sadness, who become separated from the rest of the emotions. Do you see where this is headed? Because it’s very easy to spot early on. And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with a simplistic theme because, again, this is a kid’s film.
There is a fairly meticulous construct that makes up the film’s idea of the brain, whose elements include core and normal memories, small islands erected to show interests and personality traits, a literal train of thought, a dream set that resembles a movie set, a memory dump where old memories fade away, and so on and so forth. And these areas are generally populated with cute little animated beings for the kids to enjoy.
This depiction of the brain is fairly accurate to how a physical construction of a brain might work if you combined an adult’s knowledge with a child’s imagination. Only, I wonder if populating this world with cute, colorful entities is enough for kids to make any sense of it. The part most kids will relate to is the part of the narrative where Joy and Sadness get lost and have to find their way back. It provides the “adventure home” narrative tension that appeals to a child’s cinematic tastes. However, I wonder if a child understands the metaphor attached to that struggle. You never lose those emotions, but sometimes they fall into the background during times of turmoil, which is the scenario this movie depicts. The film provides a scenario where Joy and Sadness are in danger of being lost forever, seemingly in order to keep the kids interested, but adults know this is an impossible outcome.
They present a colorful world with a very binary depiction of emotions. When things go wrong characters get sad, and when they don’t know how to deal with that they get angry. As an adult you know things rarely work that way. Emotions are complicated and often overlap with several other emotions at one time. I suppose this is where I take issue with the film, from an adult’s perspective.
The ideas presented in this film are dumbed down to make sense to a child, but I feel like if you asked a child to explain the inner workings of the mind based on the landscape they create in this film you’d get a very one-dimensional answer and not a complete understanding. Which is fine except why go through all the time and effort to create this rich world? Adults know it’s silly, and kids just enjoy the colors and humor.
So who is this movie for? Most adults will know there’s more to emotion and brain activity than this and kids will only attach themselves to the cute emotions and the various little beings that live in this girl’s mind.
This isn’t to say it’s a bad movie, I just don’t think it’s enough. It’s a high concept with a low return. Go see it with adults, or kids, because the conversation you have afterward is worth it.