Cannes Film Review: ‘Inside Out’

19 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

After 2 years away, Pixar returns to Cannes Film Fest with animated original: ‘Inside Out’.

On paper, “Inside Out” sounded like another lunatic gamble: an adventure that takes place entirely within the head of an 11-year-old girl, featuring her Emotions as characters — although if anyone could pull off a logline like that, it would be the team that made us care about rats who cook, toys that bond, and robots who fall in love.US director Pete Docter (C) jokes as he arrives with actress Marilou Berry (L) and co-director and animation designer Ronaldo Del Carmen for the screening of the film “Inside Out” at the Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2015 The US animation studio, now part of the Disney empire, on Monday was presenting its latest cartoon feature at the Cannes Film Festival ahead of a June worldwide rollout expected to do big family box-office business.

Sure enough, in execution, Pixar’s 15th feature proves to be the greatest idea the toon studio has ever had: a stunningly original concept that will not only delight and entertain the company’s massive worldwide audience, but also promises to forever change the way people think about the way people think, delivering creative fireworks grounded by a wonderfully relatable family story. The film delves into the imagination — literally — by portraying human emotions of Joy, Anger, Disgust and Sadness as distinct characters, who sit at the control panel in the mind “Headquarters” of a young girl, Riley. Poehler is the voice of Joy, part of a gestalt that makes up the mind of 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) as she tries to navigate the emotional turmoil of moving to a new city with her parents.

Objectively speaking, several of the studio’s previous films work better in terms of character appeal or narrative accomplishment (though when it comes to cartoons, playing favorites is inevitably a subjective game). The English-language version of the picture features the voices of “Parks and Recreation” star Amy Poehler, “Twin Peaks” actor Kyle MacLachlan and the ever-adaptable Hollywood actress Diane Lane. The other feelings in her head are Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). “We wanted to create a movie about something that everyone in the audience knows about but had never seen before,” executive producer John Lasseter said of the film’s unusual concept.

I particularly found its famously tear-jerking sequence, in which we see the life of an old man and his eventually deceased wife compressed into a few minutes, particularly egregious. Although not in the Cannes competition for the Palme d’Or, the official screening slot on the Riviera on Monday gives valuable and global media attention to the movie. He also took pains to explain the Pixar method of storytelling, in which the filmmakers watch their work in storyboard form every 12 weeks during pre-production, tear it down and begin again. “It’s almost like we get to have nine or 10 cuts of our film even before we start production.” The voice talents also enjoyed the freedom of helping to create their characters, whose lines were recorded before any serious animation began. “I’m not asked to do that many things,” said Kaling, best known as the creator and star of TV’s The Mindy Project. “But they showed me the story, and I started weeping. Pixar, founded by George Lucas and financed by late Apple boss Steve Jobs, made a big opening splash with “Toy Story” and went from strength to strength with “Monsters, Inc.”, “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles”.

Of course it’s sad to watch a sweet old man lose his sweet old wife; never mind that we’re barely 10 minutes into the film and know nothing about either character. Just when her Emotions think they’ve got everything under control, Riley’s parents decide to move from Minnesota to San Francisco, sending her Emotions into turmoil — because it’s not enough for Pete Docter and co-director Ronnie Del Carmen to introduce such a compelling model for how the brain really works; they’re also expected to craft an interesting story around it.

Inside Out may be the first so-called kids’ film to use the phrase “non-objective fragmentation,” in a scene in which parts of Riley’s personality wander into the “abstract thought” region of her brain. It’s the emotional equivalent of a jump scare in a horror movie, or pinching someone to make them go “ouch.” People just naturally react to some things; that doesn’t mean they’re smart or thoughtful or profound.

For the first 11 years of Riley’s life, her Emotions have stood crowded around an instruments panel of what looks like an air-traffic control tower inside her head. With Inside Out, Docter — again teamed with Up co-writer Michael Arndt — has switched his focus from the regrets of old age to the sorrows of lost youth, and once again he can’t help but push those sentimentality buttons at every turn.

Amusingly swift glimpses into the minds of other characters suggest everyone is wired more or less the same way, while still allowing for wild variation in the efficiency of the five Emotions they’ve been dealt. But in recent years, it has been in danger of being overshadowed by Disney Animation Studios, which made the top-grossing animation of all time, “Frozen”. The filmmakers also incorporated the work of psychologist Paul Ekman, a pioneer in the study of emotions and facial expressions, and of his protégé Dacher Kelner. “Emotions have a job,” said producer Jonas Rivera. “I’d never thought of this but there’s a reason you have anger, fear, joy, sadness or disgust … and that really unleashed the writing. Cannes, therefore, is a prestigious fillip for Pixar, and market watchers are seeing if “Inside Out” can succeed in maintaining its profile against the competition it faces — inside and out. “Disney, you know, when they bought Pixar, they were like, ‘OK we paid a lot of money for these guys, we don’t want to break anything.’ And so far, it (the studio) really has remained autonomous.”

In fact, she’s frequently referred to as “our happy girl” by the latter, to the pride of Joy (Amy Poehler), who is the unofficial captain of the U.S.S. That all came out of research.” Still, you don’t need to be a psychologist or a neurologist to experience the film’s highs and lows. “Comedy and drama,” said Poehler, “they live so close together. But we also have islands that represent certain bunches of moods, an actual Train of Thought and differently categorised memories in the form of variously coloured spheres. I’ve checked,” Joy says, hinting at one of the points on the film’s positive-minded agenda: helping young audiences to understand and appreciate what role Sadness plays in their own lives. (If only the film could also teach them that Boredom isn’t necessarily bad, either, but merely the sign of an inactive mind.) Incoming memories are stored in bright glowing orbs, color-coded according to whatever Emotion was dominant at the time she experienced it, then stored in the appropriate place in the vast landscape of her mind — one with different islands for each of her key qualities, plus all sorts of amusing nooks and crannies, like Imagination Land and the more sinister Subconscious, which the film takes time to visit, giving composer Michael Giacchino the chance to augment his heartening score with separate mood-appropriate themes for each of these realms.

Docter and Del Carmen make it a point to poke around here, and though the film absolutely could have been denser, they’ve opted for just the right balance of context and story, lest spending too much time with the Emotions deprive auds of experiencing the actual emotions that come from connecting with Riley and her family. And the conceit — that as we age and life throws more complications at us, our remembrance of things past becomes more emotionally complicated — is simple and profound and inventively conveyed.

For that reason, although “Inside Out” takes place almost entirely in Riley’s head, every so often, the film surfaces to check in on how she’s doing in real life, as if taking a deep breath of relatability before plunging back into her more abstract interior world, since it otherwise might been all too easy for the film to get “lost in thought.” We see Riley as an infant, at several stages in her childhood and again at 11 (Kaitlyn Dias), trying to cope with the disappointment of San Francisco, where the family’s house is a dump, new friends are hard to find and playing hockey isn’t the same as it was in Minnesota. Through some disaster involving a bundle of core memories and some kind of pneumatic tube too abstract to economically explain here, Joy and Sadness get whisked out of headquarters and dropped far away in Long Term Memory — a kind of labyrinthine library of multicolored units of experience — and must make the long journey back while Fear, Anger, and Disgust take the wheel to disastrous effect. And here’s where Inside Out starts to veer into even more wobbly and often literally abstract territory — which will please fans of Up’s weirder flights of fancy and lose others.

But something’s off: Blame it on the cross-country move or the approach of puberty, but the Emotions don’t seem to work as they always have before. The film’s visual highlight comes when – in the style of Daffy’s Duck Amuck – the characters are broken down into abstract versions of themselves.

Joy — who superficially resembles Disney’s favorite fairy, Tinkerbell, minus the wings — means well, but she’s a bit of a control freak, and in trying to protect Riley’s “core memories” (which power the various defining zones of her personality), she accidentally ejects herself and Sadness from Headquarters. Without spoiling much, I will merely say that Bing Bong is the logical successor to Toy Story’s forgotten, unloved toys, and is clearly put there only to put our own personal Sadnesses into a chokehold. Much of Docter’s intentions in the film are interesting and introspective, but I can’t get behind this sort of weepy mourning of childhood innocence he seems determined to return to time and time again. Given the sheer complexity of concept, it was wise for Docter and his team to keep the story simple, although one can’t help but wonder how an edgier emotional challenge — such as divorce, death or an unthinkably risky “trans-parent” situation — might have given Riley’s character so much more to deal with. Life is full of enough sadness; now we’re supposed to feel guilty about the inanimate and imaginary objects of our childhood? is clearly made from the perspective of a parent, and I can’t hold that against it — Riley’s emotions, especially Joy, are like secondary parents, watching her and rooting for her and playing back her memories with unconditional affection.

But I wonder how this film will play for actual children, aka its primary audience, and how much Docter’s wildly abstract, candy-colored visual design will delight vs. confound them. Much of it, I suppose, will look familiar — I still remember imagining jelly bean-like workers living in my stomach when I was very young, which were present in almost unsettling verisimilitude in Riley’s long-term memory. In addition to linking the project to a period when advances in color film processes and stereoscopic 3D sparked wild visual experimentation in cinema, “Inside Out’s” retro look fits well with Pixar’s cutting-edge technology, blending vintage style choices with lighting and texture options previously unavailable to animators. And there are enough clever references to very concrete, real-world experiences (a jingle for a gum commercial that keeps being summoned for no particular reason, the maintenance workers who unsentimentally clear out unused memories like piano lessons and phone numbers) to keep it from flying off the rails.

Even something as seemingly basic as the Emotions’ skin texture — more of a pulsing mass of glowing electron-like particles, really — reflects unexpected solutions to infinite questions Docter’s gonzo idea must have raised. I hope its real, quite sophisticated lesson — that it’s okay to feel things other than happiness sometimes, and that all our emotions help us grow up — comes through all the bouncing marbles and glitter showers and rainbow pony princesses. In other cases, it’s the streamlining of ideas that serves the material so well: from the vivid colors to the way the story always comes back to parent-child relations, playing equally well to both demographics. Smith’s Eeyore-like Sadness serves as the perfect foil to Poehler’s ebullient Joy, while Anger’s surprisingly cute appearance and diminutive stature make Black’s scenery-chewing performance that much funnier. To borrow a notion from Malcolm Gladwell, the pic’s “stickiness factor” is through the roof, making it one of those rare movies that transcends the medium, the way Melies visualized the moon or Romero invented zombies, even if relatively few go back to watch the films that spawned those ideas today.

Concepts like this come around maybe once a decade, but linger for centuries, and even if others (like early-’90s TV show “Herman’s Head”) got there first, you’ve gotta hand it to Pixar for making it endure. Camera (color, 3D), Patrick Lin; editor, Kevin Nolting; music, Michael Giacchino; music supervisor, Tom MacDougall; production designer, Ralph Eggleston; sound designer (Dolby Atmos, Datasat), Ren Klyce; supervising sound editor, Shannon Mills; re-recording mixers, Michael Semanick, Tom Johnson; supervising technical director, Michael Fong; supervising animators, Shawn Krause, Victor Navone; character supervisor, Sajan Skaria; effects supervisor, Gary Bruins; stereoscopic supervisor, Bob Whitehill; associate producer, Mark Nielsen; casting, Kevin Reher, Natalie Lyon.

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