After months of hearing raving reviews from our Western friends, we in Asia finally had the chance to watch Inside Out this week. And at first glance, it seemed underwhelming. The main story arc takes place over a very small span of two days, and the main character Riley feels more like prop than person (Both facts in an almost comic contrast to the long-term love story between two volcanos in the opening short film).
But then, we looked a little closer - literally.
When all's said and done, Inside Out defies not just target demographic stereotypes. It defies the structure of children's stories itself. It has heroes without villains, extensive conflict without extensive action, and achieves universality while zooming in (literally) on the growing little mind of a young child.
And unlike the character-centric adventure tales of yore, or even the plot-driven stories of battles or survival, Inside Out is obstinately, unapologetically concept-driven. It doesn't blow you away with overproduced panoramic action sequences or keeps you on the edge with shocking plot twists. It doesn't make you chant the lead character's name over and over again (although I came close with Bing-Bong #stillmourning).
Instead, it reaches slowly into your heart, touches you, shakes you, hurts you - and then it comforts you, soothes you, and leaves you a better person than you were before the opening credits began. It's a movie that points out something that's always been there, and then gives it a name. Islands of personality? Fading memories of childhood companions? A literal train of thought? Pixar takes everything we've ever felt and materializes them beautifully in tangible, nameable characters and forms.
There have been other concept-driven films with critical and commercial success. Inception certainly changed my perspective on dreams forever. But to have this degree of universal application from an animated family film? Inside Out is as good as you get.
Welcome back to the game, Pixar.