Originally published here on June 29th, 2015.
Disney/Pixar delve into the mind of an 11-year-old girl and things get pretty complex
I love animated movies. I love that, because they’re technically “meant” for kids, they have to be bright and colorful, relatively easy to understand, and funny. And I love that, because adults are the ones taking the kids to see them, the best animated films are also visually stunning enough for adults to appreciate, peppered with jokes that go over the kiddos’ heads, and eloquent enough that whatever the underlying message is can still resonate post-adolescence.
So, I was obviously super stoked when I found out about Inside Out. Disney has long been the champion studio when it comes to creating animated films that are fun for the whole family and the art and stories of Pixar projects (almost) never fail to captivate me (I am, admittedly, not a fan of the Cars franchise).
And I really enjoyed Inside Out for all of the reasons I usually enjoy Disney/Pixar collaborations. It was visually stunning, with magnificently bright colors and tiny little details that demonstrated just how much computer animation continues to improve. And the concept of the film was brilliant. The first line asks, “Do you ever look at someone and wonder what’s going on inside their head?” Haven’t we all?
And to examine this question within the mind of an 11-year-old girl was genius. Because who’s more emotionally volatile than a preteen? The film did a terrific job of conceptualizing hard-to-conceptualize things. The various emotions (Fear, voiced by the wonderful Bill Hader; Anger, brought to life by grouchy-voiced Lewis Black; Sadness and Disgust, voiced by The Office alums Phyllis Smith and Mindy Kaling, respectively; and Joy, voiced by Amy Poehler as something of an animated Leslie Knope) felt authentic. And the way the film approached things like memory, the subconscious, and the aspects of personality that make people different was complex and fascinating.
It’s the complexity of the film, however, that is perhaps its only possible flaw. While I enjoyed the philosophical questions and concepts burning under the story’s surface – such as the bittersweet imposition of growing up – I’m not sure the same could be said about the dozens of children who sat around me at the theater. The film was colorful and silly at times, enough to get a few giggles, but overall, it seemed to be a kids’ movie that wasn’t actually aimed at kids at all. Kids are almost always smarter than we give them credit for, but I can’t help but wonder if the overall vibe of existentialism and melancholy was a bit too dense for the under 12 crowd.
Overall, though, I like the film’s messages. That emotions come and go and you have to deal with them. That it’s ok to feel however you feel. And that you never know what’s going on in someone else’s head.
I just hope the little ones that also saw it were able to like it the same way I did.