Aug. 13th, 2015

starlady: Carl's house floating above the fields (always an adventure)
I went to see this with my friend B yesterday and we were, on the whole, underwhelmed. Inside Out isn't actively bad--I was entertained while I was watching it, and I never felt bored--but it's also, despite many clever concepts and a really earnest attempt at dramatizing cognition, pretty thin as a story. There are other problems, but that's one of them.

The central plot of the movie involves the anthropomorphized emotions of 11 year old Reilly, whose parents (who sure as fuck don't look like millionaires--which they must be to afford that house--but then, who in the Bay Area does) move the family from Minnesota to San Francisco, setting off the first truly extended emotional turmoil in Reilly's hitherto happy existence (dare I say, she led the life of Reilly. Har har. Har). Inside Reilly's head, Joy and Sadness get shunted out of the command center due to Joy trying to make Reilly be happy all the time, and they spend the rest of the movie trying to make it back and save the core aspects of Reilly's personality while Fear, Anger, and Disgust do a mixed bag of holding down the fort in their absence.

It certainly felt like Pixar forgot some of their own rules for compelling storytelling here; the central realization--being sad is a necessary part of life--doesn't really arise organically from the interactions between Sadness and Joy in the same brilliant way that earlier Pixar films accomplished so neatly. There's also the question of character: namely, who is a character in the movie, and who's the protagonist? Joy and Sadness are a bit too 2D to be characters, but because we see the emotions literally controlling Reilly's reactions, she doesn't really feel like a character either, and in fact the whole setup was a bit mechanistic for my taste. (Side note: Where's rationality in this model?) So the film's dramatic focus oddly lacks a center. I also don't think this is sexist; we get peeks into the mechanistic setup of other people's minds at various points, and everyone is in the same boat; the question is merely which emotion is in charge. (And maybe it is sexist that for Reilly's mom it's Sadness and for Reilly's dad it's Anger; certainly Reilly's dad doesn't actually seem like an angry guy from the movie. That was a weird choice.) 

Another problem is the question of who the movie is aimed at. There's a brilliant animation interlude when Joy, Sadness, and Reilly's forgotten imaginary friend BingBong try to take a shortcut from long-term memory to imagination via abstract thought and are reduced first to Cubist caricatures, then to 2D drawings, and finally to lines, but how many kids are going to get that visual humor? The film's final line is a joke about puberty that no child is going to get and only adults will find funny. The Japanese release was accompanied by a weird video of the director talking about how he made it because he wanted to know what was going on inside his 11 year old daughter's head, and the final lines of the credits include a plea from the animators to their kids that they "Never grow up. Ever," which may have been meant ironically (Pixar are in the Bay Area, after all) but which seemed to contradict the entire implicit point of the film about how one's emotions become more complex as one ages. We were then subjected to a schmaltzy music video in Japanese before the short started, which I did find sexist--dear Pixar, please make a short with a female protagonist, it will do wonders for you, I promise.

All that being said, I did enjoy the Bay Area humor, though as B and I agreed after the film, the end credits should have shown that the bus driver's happy place was also the Brazilian helicopter pilot, since that would have been way more San Francisco even than the running bit about putting vegetables on pizza. B and I are both transplanted East Coasters and we have our own running bit about pizza in the Bay Area (which can be very good, but isn't pizza the way pizza is pizza back East), so that was pretty hilariously apropos for us. But all in all, in terms of the animated movies I've seen that depict the Bay Area while living in Japan for the past year, Big Hero 6 is a much better movie in every way.