Crys Partridge

United States

I've lived in three countries so far and hope to further travel the world in order to gain the depth I need for the stories I really want to write someday - the stories I'm practicing for now.

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Pixar's Innovative Inside Out is Worth the Emotional Journey

January 15, 2016

      "Have you ever looked at someone and wondered what is going on inside their head?" Amy Poehler's voice, as the emotion Joy, asks in the opening scene of Pixar's 2015 animated film, Inside Out. There's no need to wonder about what goes on in Riley Anderson's head. The sort of bildungsroman follows 11 year old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) as she has to leave behind her happy life, hockey team, friends, and childhood memories in Minnesota when her family moves to San Francisco. Riley, however, is not the main character so much as the personified emotions that guide her life from the headquarters of her mind. Joy is the undisputed leader of the other emotions: Sadness, Phyllis Smith’s moans and sighs; Disgust, Mindy Kaling’s sassiness; Fear, Bill Hader’s frantic complaints; and Anger, Lewis Black’s growl that crescendos into yelling whenever Riley is insulted by unfairness. They watch Riley's life through her eyes and react appropriately at their console, which evolves from a simple button for the emotions to press to an elaborate table of various buttons, switches, and levers. Director Pete Docter’s creation is family relevant and creatively thought-provoking, though relying on convenient, stereotypical details to fill in the spaces between the creative bits.
   The bulk of the movie involves Joy and Sadness travelling through long-term memory storage in an attempt to get back to headquarters and essentially save Riley from not being happy. Docter distinguished between the brain and the mind, saying the movie was set in the realm of the mind rather than the brain, which allowed for a lot more flexibility. For example, an old imaginary friend wanders around Riley’s mind; ambiguously shaped mind workers discard faded memories into the vast memory dump; Imagination Land, with its house of cards and imaginary boyfriend generator, is constantly being remodeled; and dreams are produced like movies in a studio. The journey, as well as the rest of the movie, is packed with humorous side comments which make me so glad I rewatched the movie a few times because I missed several subtle jokes the first time.
   Inside Out lives up to Pixar's reputation for family-friendly tear-jerkers. Though Riley is often shown with her peers and friends, the movie mainly focuses on her relationship with her parents, who unwittingly encourage Joy's selfish dominance by calling Riley their "happy girl." The not-so-subtle lesson about allowing children to express sadness rather than endless optimism in difficult times is made easily digestible by letting the Emotions figure it out - particularly Joy, who goes through her own relatable emotional journey. This is a rare occurrence in the movie as the characters generally abide very closely by their expectations: Disgust gets disgusted a lot, the dad likes thinking about sports, the preteen American girl is socially aware and wants to fit in at school. These conventional characteristics could be seen as cop-outs from original characterization, but they prevent the storyline from being over complicated as the premises of the movie are already new and unparalleled. Similarly, the initial script ideas with dozens of Emotions were traded for the simple five Emotion ensemble, allowing each of them to be amply fleshed out in the movie without confusion.
   The bright rainbow colors, magical instrumental music, and occasional doses of slapstick humor in this PG animation are geared towards pleasing a younger audience. Kids can enjoy seeing Anger’s head literally flare up and appreciate Riley’s distaste for broccoli. However, the movie delves far deeper with its original take on theories of cause and reaction in the mind. The five emotions are recognizable in popular modern theories of emotion, making this seemingly kids movie also a new sort of psychological thriller. Inside Out’s pertinence to psychology also appears in the colors and shapes used throughout the movie. For instance, the Emotions' designs are based on things that match the impression their personalities are intended to give, such as Anger’s resemblance to a red hot brick and Sadness’s resemblance to a blue tear drop. Also subtly enhancing the visual mood, Riley’s attire, specifically the color of her shirts, matches the state of her mind’s headquarters throughout the film. Such aspects of this film are likely to pass over children’s heads and surprise older viewers with their complexity.
   Inside Out doesn’t just inspire a few laughs; it inspires thought, awe, fascination, and self-awareness. For instance, Joy is in charge of Riley’s emotions, but Anger is in charge of the emotions inside her dad’s head and Fear is in charge of the emotions of the ‘cool girl’, so the obvious take-away is “What emotion is boss inside my own head?” More mature children and adults, especially parents, can fully appreciate the range of Inside Out’s message: it explores depression, portrays the subconscious, and implies the importance of good childhood memories, even forgotten ones. If you’re looking for a funny, yet uniquely emotional and thought-provoking family animation, go buy the movie Inside Out so that you can relish its creativity over and over again before debating its complex mind theories with your friends.



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1 Comment
  • SamH 10CP

    Your writing is excellent!

    about 3 years ago