Gallery: Cannes Film Festival

20 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Inside Out’ review: You will walk out of the theater knowing yourself better.

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.CANNES, France — The newest film from Pixar, Inside Out, screened out of competition at the Cannes film festival, which means it isn’t eligible for any prizes.The clip focuses on Disgust, who makes sure that Riley doesn’t get poisoned, and Anger…who we’ve seen get quite passionate in other trailers released to date. 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.

But its star Amy Poehler doesn’t think that should stand in its way. “It’s not up for the Palme d’Or, but it could still win, right?” she asked with a grin after the first festival screening of the film. Directed by Pete Docter and with Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling voicing characters, the film is a kind of Pixar-style Inception where the story unfolds both in reality and in the mind. Set mostly inside the mind of a prepubescent girl, Inside Out is one of the most inventive and emotionally stimulating movies of this decade, an animated deep dive into the mechanics of the human brain that also serves as an engaging, colorful science lesson-slash-therapy session for all ages. You will exit the theater knowing yourself a little bit better — possibly a lot better — and if its revelations don’t get the tears rolling, you might want to keep walking until you get to the nearest shrink, friend. Pixar delayed its 2014 planned release Good Dinosaur, making Inside Out the Disney studio’s first new film since 2013’s Monsters University and its first non-sequel since 2012’s Brave.

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 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.

Deadline called the film “mind blowing” and is already predicting nominations for best animated film and possibly best film at next year’s Academy Awards. 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. There is a touchingly realistic (see: flawed) family dynamic at the story’s core, but what’s going on outside Riley’s brain is just a device to drive the real story, an intricate race-against-time adventure that is by turns whimsical, dark, sentimental, touching and filled with real danger. 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.

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. There are real stakes in Inside Out, as Riley’s core emotions — Joy, Anger, Fear and Disgust — are faced with a crisis that could devastate the young girl’s mental well-being: Aspects of her personality are collapsing under the weight of her outer anguish, while the core memories that help her stay active and healthy are themselves in jeopardy. 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. Along the way we learn about how memories are actually stored and retrieved; how sleeping and dreaming affects our moods; what abstract vs. linear thinking can do to our state of mind; and how easily we can lose parts of ourselves that aren’t externally nurtured.

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. Though each of the emotions is purely one-dimensional — these are not characters with backstories and quirks, these are just raw feelings — we quickly come to understand that their roles in our lives are deeply complex.

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. Joy (a barely recognizable Amy Poehler, her voice scrubbed of all tartness) is the alpha emotion and the group’s de fact leader, in particular always having to hover over Sadness, whose role seems only to be to mess things up.

Joy and Sadness are separated from the group when something goes haywire, and are forced to leave “headquarters” (the frontal, conscious mind) for its decidedly spookier and more treacherous outskirts. Too often, movies that introduce wildly fantastical parallel worlds never find time to explore them — the way Dorothy only visits one corner of Oz in the 1939 film, or how “Wreck-It Ralph” only taps into a few of its potential gaming universes. 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.

Though we make many stops to pick up on other brain matters, things never stop moving along, and we are making connections here that will be powerful and meaningful not just at the film’s climax, but in our own lives. 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. 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.

I won’t spoil that here, but to say that it is a lovingly rendered Big Idea, one that leads you by the head and strikes you deep and dead center in the heart. 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,” she accidentally ejects herself and Sadness from Headquarters. Pixar has always been at its best when the ambitions and stakes are highest; Inside Out reaches for something so elevated, then handles it so gracefully, that the tears are in some part tears of admiration, tears of respect for this level of craft and care. It won’t sell much merchandise, nor should it — Hey dad, can I have an Anger action figure? — but it will sell everyone who sees it on at least some part of the idea that emotions, all of them, are guiding forces, something we can and should interact with. 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.

But that’s what Blu-rays and multiple viewings are for, and though you probably won’t see Inside Out on a lot of backpacks this fall, you’ll definitely see it creeping up in a lot of “best Pixar movies” lists in a very near future. 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.

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. 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 a moon landing or Romero invented zombies. 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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