I’m thrilled about the movie’s opening weekend gross of $91 million—the best opening, actually, for an original story in cinema history, beating out James Cameron’s Avatar. To quote Entertainment Weekly, “Even though Inside Out ended the weekend in second place [behind Jurassic World], it’s the biggest No. 2 debut of all time, demolishing the $68.7 million record previously held by The Day After Tomorrow.” Yes, this movie is receiving the financial and critical accolades it so rightly deserves.
Oh, Pixar, how do I love thee? Let me recount the ways.
As a reminder, I rate movies based on three criteria: potentially objectionable content (C), artistic merit (A), and my personal opinions (P). (CAP. Get it?)
CONTENT (C): 10 out of 10
A typical Pixar film avoids trite platitudes and sophomoric humor. Instead, it takes the road less traveled, delving into realms disregarded by your average children’s movie. Inside Out is no exception. The drama of this story unfolds in a way that rings much more true to human experience than any other “family film” that’s come along in quite a while.
This is Pixar at its poignant best. It doesn’t shy away from some fairly weighty subjects, but not without a strong sense of felix culpa (i.e., an error or disaster that eventually leads to pleasant consequences), as well as a discerning perspective on pain and sadness.
As far as potentially problematic content goes, my main beef is with a brief (and ostensibly positive) reference to a girl’s fascination with vampire stories. That’s pretty much it. The film’s content may be too heavy for some young viewers, but morally inappropriate it is not.
ARTISTRY (A): 10 out of 10
If you evaluated the story based only on the external events—i.e., what takes place in the “real world”—you’d notice it’s about as simple and generic a story as you can get. What makes it incredibly novel is the focused attention on the inside of a young girl’s mind, personifying her emotions as individual characters. This perspective turns the story into a gold mine of originality. Inside Out is another shining example of Pixar’s out-of-the-box storytelling, right up there with the likes of WALL•E and Up.
Pete Docter and his team of filmmakers strike all the right keys, including everything from Michael Giacchino’s score to the storytellers’ intricate world-building. The script’s ability to deal with such complexity in such an easy-to-follow way is commendable.
The cheap and easy way to play the emotions for humor would have been to make them all self-serving and antagonistic toward each other. Instead, they work together as a team. Sure, there are moments of disagreement, but the relational dynamics between the emotions makes us sympathize with each character. In fact, all the major characters, both within and outside Riley’s mind, are relatable/likeable.
The film actually has no anthropomorphic antagonist, but it still grapples with sad and somber subjects, not the least of which involves irreparable loss. If you’ve ever wondered by humans have heartstrings, it’s so that movies like this could tug at them. The art of filmmaking exists so stories like this can be told.
No film is absolutely perfect, but Inside Out is about as close as they come. In a perfect world, this movie would receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Alas, we don’t live in a perfect world.
PREFERENCE (P): 9 out of 10
One of my major concerns going into the film was that humans would be turned into mere puppets at the service of the emotions controlling them. What I found was a more nuanced portrayal: at times, the emotions do seem to be calling the shots, whereas other instances point to the humans directing the emotions. It’s a clever and balanced portrayal of the paradoxical truths of predestination and human autonomy.
I freely admit that I cry in movies—especially Pixar films. Inside Out, however, reached deeper into my soul than any other Pixar film to date—possibly deeper than any other film period. My wife thinks it’s because this story is the most universally appealing and applicable that Pixar has ever created. Finding Nemo might resonate more with parents, and Up might resonate more with married couples, but no one is left out of Inside Out’s sights. Pete Docter has tapped into the universal human experience in a way no other Pixar film has done. It left Shannon and me emotionally undone.
There were several points in the film where even Shannon (who never cries in movies—and I mean never) was reduced to a bucket of tears. And during the clever and cathartic end credits, I was literally laughing and crying at the same time. As Shannon and I discussed the story afterward, neither of us could mention certain plot points without having to stop and compose ourselves. Yes, the movie is that affecting.
Furthermore, the movie’s thematic elements are complementary to a Tim Keller book Shannon and I are currently reading: Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. One aspect of the Christian view of pain is that it has a “soul making” affect, giving us greater capacities to experience and demonstrate emotions and virtues that would otherwise be impossible. Inside Out beautifully mirrors this truth—not in a preachy way, but in a subtle and organic way. In fact, this movie’s illustration of the “soul making” nature of suffering has directly affected my parenting; it has helped assuage certain fears I’ve had regarding my eldest daughter. It’s not often I can say something like that about a children’s film, or any film.
With all this raving, why am I not giving the movie a 10 for my personal opinion? Well, I wasn’t absolutely captivated by the film until the third act. I was interested from the get-go, but it didn’t fully hook and amaze me until the story rushed toward its climax. (In contrast, I gave Monster’s University a perfect score because it was a constant delight for me all the way through.) And while Giacchino’s music fits the film well, it’s my least favorite score of his for a Pixar film. (Up and Ratatouille are much more memorable.) At the same time, I can’t complain too much; each successive listen to the score has left me sobbing. Obviously, it does the job well. Nevertheless, my enjoyment of Inside Out is slightly below my appreciation for it. That’s the only reason why I’m not giving the movie an overall perfect score.
CAP score: 97%