I have to get on my soapbox for a minute, and it is an argument you’ve heard before if you have spoke to me about animated movies or follow me on Twitter — animation is not a genre, nor something just for kids, it is a medium that can house any type of story or genre and is for everyone.
Nobody understands this claim better than Pixar, and they personify it again with Inside Out.
This lesson seems so simple, but it is one that I feel like is being thrust into the void every time I say it or watch any sort of awards show that is supposed to endow an achievement on an animated film. It stems from the upbringing of the genre steeped in Disney with their hits such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, which told the people voting who grew up with these films that this medium was a genre set aside exclusively for kids.
Enter the latest example against this claim: Inside Out.
It is a film that kids will clearly have a great time with. There are flowing colors that emulate the first project by director Pete Docter for Pixar, Monsters Inc., and an array of characters that will make you laugh. But there is something different in the output of Pixar to some of their competitions, say Dreamworks, because they understand that their movies have the ability to also work as educational vessels for children about life and contain a deep richness that only becomes more clear the older you get and the more you dive into the themes of the work.
Inside Out follows Riley, an 11-year-old girl who we first meet when she is born. Along with her, we see the birth of her emotions starting with Joy (Amy Poehler). The film is about the development of these emotions — including Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) — and how Riley learns to function and develop her own personality.
This development is thrown for a loop when Riley discovers that she has to move from her home in Minnesota to San Francisco after her dad’s job requires him to be there. Now her emotions must deal with the changes in her life as she leaves the place that she has come to know for somewhere where she doesn’t know anyone or where anything is.
But Inside Out is less a slapstick comedy of what it is like to move somewhere new, and instead is a study into the inner workings of the brain, and why sadness is as important an emotion as happiness is. It is easy to get caught up in the kinetic glee of Joy, who Poehler voices like a spiritual sister to her Parks and Recreation character Leslie Knope, but what Docter and the film are trying to tell us is that being happy all the time is not what creates our personality, it is how we react to sadness and our other emotions that seems more negative that creates the person that will become.
When Riley first makes it to San Francisco and is trying to cope with her new situation, Joy is always looking to brighten up the room — whether her parents are stressing over the fact that the moving truck is delayed or her dad leaving abruptly to run into work the day they move in. Joy wants to believe that there is always an upside to whatever predicament is in front of her, but it isn’t until we meet Sadness that we understand why maybe Joy’s motivations don’t always work out.
There are multiple examples that we could dive into throughout the film that personify what Docter is trying to tell us through this film, but I want to avoid those in this review because discovering and critically thinking about them on your own is what works so well in Inside Out.
The moral is that happiness is not the only emotion that we should exert and focus on to be a complete person. There are others whether it is sadness or disgust or anger or fear that help to define us and by understanding and honing in these emotions, we can understand who we truly are and begin to live life.
It is easy to slide Inside Out into the children’s category because of the pretty colors and goofy characters, but there is so much underneath the surface that comes up to challenge us throughout the film that we further realize how special the medium of animation is. It is able to challenge us just the same as a live-action hard drama or true to life story, but it also feeds to our imagination and our emotions, which is what Docter and Pixar do in this lovely film.