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Monday, June 22, 2015

Inside Out

Pixar returns with a vengeance.

It's been five years since the once faultless animation studio last truly wowed us with the glorious Toy Story 3 but Pixar, having taken an unprecedented year off, picked themselves up after a couple of relative misfires (the weak Cars 2 and the enjoyable but slight Monsters University) with a film that reminds us exactly why we fell in love with their movies in the first place.

Inside Out, in fact, not only recalls the highs of Toy Story 3 but is actually something of a thematic followup. In particular, if Toy Story 3 was punctuated by a poignant final act about leaving "childish" things behind, Inside Out is all about that often quite painful transition from childhood to adulthood. Like those heartbreaking scenes in Toy Story 3, Up and Wall E, Inside Out will undoubtedly speak profoundly to adults in a way that it won't to kids but, this being Pixar at its best, it still has tons to offer the younger members of its audience.

The story this time is about Riley, a joyfully optimistic eleven-year old girl, and the emotions who literally live inside her head - starting with the blue-haired girl in the middle of that poster and moving clockwise:: Joy, Disgust, Sadness, Anger and Fear - who are faced with brand new and often frightening challenges as Riley and her family move from their comfortable life in Minnesota to the big city life of San Francisco.

I would rather not go into detail beyond that but lets just say that even though this particular concept is hardly new - Herman's Head anyone? - it has seldom been used better than it is here. Not only do we get the wonderfully inventive world inside Riley's head and the truly adorable creatures who live there (the Emotions are only the tip of a sometimes wonderfully strange world), but we also get a story that makes full use of the allegorical and symbolic possibilities that come with such a concept to fully and beautifully explore how a young girl starts to come of age.

On the surface, Inside Out offers a highly imaginative and vividly colourful adventure story for audiences of all ages, stuffed with tons of great gags and unforgettable characters, who are brought to life by an ingeniously cast group of voice actors (Lewis Black as Anger: need I say more?) that were clearly selected for their talents and their personalities, rather than their Name. Personally, I did find that the adventure story at the heart of the film got a wee bit tiresome as it went along - and that's the only reason I'm not giving this a perfect score - but that's a small gripe in the face of the great gags, awesome characters, terrific visual design and general intelligence, wit and emotional resonance on display here.

Or, as the kids might say: the feels, oh man, the feels...

Again, I'm loathe to go too much into detail here because it really should be experienced first hand but the way the film deals with growing up: with the simultaneous loss of innocence and gaining of depth and complexity, is just phenomenally and utterly beautifully well-handled. The melancholic sense of loss permeates every frame of the film from about twenty minutes in but, rather than undercutting them, it always enhances and underscores the film's gleeful adventuring and freewheeling sense of humour. And, unlike previous offerings like Up and Wall E, Inside Out doesn't just limit its poignancy to single, if unforgettable, scenes before the big adventure kicks off but has it running throughout the entire film.

In terms of story, Inside Out may well be Pixar's smallest, most contained film yet but in terms of ideas and emotions, it is almost definitely their biggest. This intimate little story of a girl trying to come to terms with some ultimately fairly mundane but ultimately devastating changes to her life is full of heart, soul and wit and its a journey well worth taking with her, no matter what your age. Welcome back, Pixar. You have been missed.

And PS: The cracking, tuneful little short that precedes the film is pretty darn fantastic too!

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