An event set about two-thirds of the way through “Inside Out” goes a long way in helping me to illustrate what it is about this latest production from the normally excellent Pixar which left me wanting more.
The characters of Joy and Sadness are riding the “Train of Thought” — literally, a train traveling about the mind of the person Joy and Sadness inhabit, Riley —trying to get back to “headquarters,” where Joy is badly needed by her fellow emotions — Anger, Disgust, and Fear — to set Riley back on the right track.
When all of a sudden, “Honesty Island” — one of the many “islands of personality” which makes Riley who she is — comes crashing down as Riley steals money from her mother’s purse in the exterior world. The crashing Honesty Island takes the Train of Thought down with it, impeding our protagonist’s goal of reaching HQ.
Does this interior event actually disrupt Riley’s train of thought in the exterior world? Not that we can see. It serves, more than anything, to keep Joy and Sadness from achieving an easy victory.
This plot point is symptomatic of many of “Inside Out’s” problems. Ostensibly an adventure through the mind of a 12-year old, the characters’ trials and obstacles too often turn on the predictable tropes and devices of an ordinary adventure movie. It may be set in the interior mind of a child, but the characters sure do seem to run into problems — such as gravity, as in the scene just discussed — which would cause just as much trouble in the exterior world.
One cannot fault the film for a lack of ambition. It follows a beleaguered group of emotions whose mission is to help their human, Riley, respond to the world around her as they judge appropriate.
Pixar is a studio with a proud record of animated films which manage to be kid-friendly, emotionally mature and character-driven all at the same time. It is not unreasonable then for us to expect these characters be more than just what their names imply.
Sadly, they aren’t. Joy is joyful. Anger is angry. Sadness is sad. Disgust is disgusted. Fear is fearful. Occasionally their emotions register very slightly away from their innate natures, but those moments are far and few between.
Peopled by the sort of two-dimensional characters which properly belong in a medieval morality play, the film struggles mightily to capture the sense genuine anthropomorphic relationships exist between these characters, particularly between Joy and Sadness.
Unfortunately, when the characters’ characterizations are in their names, it’s hard to surprise the audience. Joy is unfailingly optimistic. Sadness is in near-perpetual need of bucking up.
By the end, Joy does appear to have developed an appreciation for her human’s occasional need for Sadness. This development would strike us as more believable were Joy allowed to be mad at Sadness earlier in the movie and express her bewilderment at the need for Sadness. But her characterization would not allow for such unkindness — she’s Joy for God’s sake!
You’ll probably laugh at “Inside Out” — I know I did. It’s still a Pixar movie, so there are still plenty of great jokes and intelligent humor. It might just behoove you to delay this gratification and wait to laugh at these jokes when “Inside Out” comes much more cheaply to the small screen.