Has Pixar come full circle to its original approach, focusing on childhood, feelings and tear-jerking storytelling?
It all began when Pixar introduced to us the wild idea that toys have feelings in the animation studio’s debut film, Toy Story, in 1995. Then, bugs, monsters, fish, Parisian rats, and even cars, had feelings too.
Now — hold on to your seats for this one — feelings have feelings. Who would have guessed?
Over in America, Inside Out, which grossed over US$91 million ($127.5 million) in its opening weekend, has already become Hollywood’s biggest original film debut, dethroning recent blockbusters such as Jurassic World and Marvel’s Ant-Man.
Despite Pixar’s success in the commercial world, its back-to-basics approach with Inside Out stokes the flames of nostalgia in slightly older viewers, who grew up on the goodness of the likes of talking toys and lost fish.
Growing Pains vs Deeper Growth
Inside Out follows 11-year-old Riley, who is uprooted from Minnesota and has to adjust to her new life in San Francisco. In the cockpit of her mind, Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler of “Saturday Night Live”) is missing, and Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) have taken over.
In other words, Riley’s going through puberty.
Inside Out is an animated and humorous look at the pains of growing up, which even kids can relate to and enjoy. Yet, there’s something strangely nostalgic about the movie for us adults.
Perhaps it’s the way childhood and loss are explored not so literally, such as in Toy Story where the attachment to toys symbolises our attachment to childhood innocence —something that we must eventually leave behind.
With Inside Out, we’re not taken on a journey with Riley per se. Rather, we are given the opportunity to delve into her mind and her being, to understand and experience her thoughts and feelings through other animated characters — possibly bringing us to a deeper realisation of our own emotions too.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay?
In Riley’s mind, Joy is the do-gooder. She is always eager to fix things and see situations from a positive point of view. But she is by no means the most valuable player.
Actress and comedian Poehler, popular for her role of Leslie in “Parks and Recreation”, explains that the central message of Inside Out is that it’s okay to be sad. She said, “In fact, sadness may get you where you need to be.”
“It’s a very revolutionary idea, especially for parents who are constantly obsessed with their children’s happiness, and in doing so, don’t often allow them to be in the moment and feel their feelings, and it’s a great thing for children to understand, too,” she explained.
The “it’s okay to be your odd self” motto is a common thread in many Pixar films, from the gourmet-loving rat Remy in Ratatouille (2007) to the redneck tractor Mater in Cars (2006). But Inside Out takes that idea and refines it to get to the core – sometimes it’s okay to be out of it and to be unsure of who you are.
Coming Full Circle with a New Approach
The message was conveyed in Toy Story, which focused on alpha toy Buzz Lightyear’s discovery that he isn’t a real space ranger and in A Bug’s Life (1998), where a beta worker ant has to accept his place in his colony.
Though this theme seemed to have been sidetracked in the next few Pixar films, it has now returned in an emotionally-riveting incarnation. Riley isn’t feeling okay, and neither are her parents. Maybe you’re not feeling okay right now either. And that’s okay sometimes.
Moreover, it’s funny to see what the adults in a stressful situation might be thinking and feeling — here are opportunities for a good chuckle without having to explain too much to the kids.
Whether you’re the sort to think deeply (perhaps like how I’ve done here) or you’re simply looking for a good laugh and cry, Inside Out is the animation of the year to catch. It may just stir up an emotion or two in you.
3 quirks to Look Out For in the movie
- The Pizza Planet delivery truck has appeared in every single Pixar movie (except The Incredibles). It appears three times in Inside Out. See if you can spot it!
- Riley’s lean and shaggy-haired “dream boyfriend” is inspired by Harry Styles of English pop group One Direction.
- You can spot moments from old Pixar movies, mostly from Up, in the blurry orbs of Riley’s subconscious.
By Pamela Chow
Inside Out [PG]
Director: Pete Docter
Starring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black & Phyllis Smith
Genre: Comedy, Family
Run length: 94 min
Release: 27 Aug