The first daughter is my very own. I’ve been itching to take her to the movies for some time. Of course you want your kids to like movies, but you kind of also want them to like the movies you like, as well as find out what their taste might be. My 3 year-old daughter has your standard toddler attention span, but to be fair to the gem she has sat with me and watched a few movies at home – including her first viewing of the 1977 Star Wars film last weekend. And of course she’s seen Monsters Inc about 20 times. This was the year we were finally going to take her to the movie theater, and ever since Cannes there has really only been one choice suitable for children that I too was desperate to see.
The second daughter warrants far more love than the term animated may suggest, the main character of Inside Out. Basically set inside the head (quarters) of 11 year-old girl Riley, a pre-pubescent girl, not defined by gender conventions or parental expectations, but rather an emotional driving force, this is not simple at all. In fact, this is highly original in it’s concept and delivery. A sweeping narrative that neither slows the pace or loses the interest. Riley and her parents up and leave, relocating from Minnesota to San Francisco, a transition that can blatantly affect a child of that age in numerous ways.
Before the film, but more directly during, I was drawn to the very thought of my own daughter’s emotions – superbly depicting toddler responses on screen in one scene. I also leaned over at one point to jokingly ask her if Riley was her. She nodded, already captivated by the huge screen I had promised her for so long. She has a habit of attributing herself, as well as her mother and father, to other families she sees. Not always human I might add.
While the majestic Pixar have been, shall we say, quiet recently, they have in 2015 really cranked the volume up to maximum. They hit epic heights with the human heart strings with Wall-E, Toy Story 3, and the opening chapter of Up. There is some abstract adoration so penetrating and awe-inspiring about Pixar’s 15th feature, Inside Out, that I am still coming to terms with the notion it may well be their greatest. Maths and History is one thing, but they could never teach Emotions in school quite like this. What Inside Out does is bring these determining emotions into the foreground as entities so in tune with our own understanding of mortal feeling that they appear as familiar as humans. The ring-leader is Joy (Amy Poehler), and the binding team also consists of Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). Might I add this is some of the finest voice-casting we’ve ever heard. The emotions are unique and magnetic, actually defined immediately as characters in their own right. And they are characters we invest in, characters we love from start to finish.
My daughter got fidgety a few times during the movie. More so during the opening mish-mash of trailers and irrelevant ads. Don’t you think they should lower the volume for the commercials, I asked the wife, I mean, we do not need Dolby surround for groceries advertising. Nearly half an hour in, then, Inside Out begins, and my daughter gradually found herself invested – my pride was growing. I was also a little bit apprehensive, that she was be so restless that we would all have to eventually get up and go. Honestly, I’ve never walked out of a theater, and didn’t want to start now. About half way through the movie I sat my daughter on my knee, this bought just enough time. You need a clear set of distract tactics when sitting in the cinema with a toddler – relocation, the odd question or engagement about the movie, drink prompting, snacks of course. In my humble view, my wife played the grapes card a tad early, but no damage was done.
Crammed with clever, observant elements, things we remember as a child ourselves, but also perhaps utilize in our adult lives, the nostalgic treat Inside Out has Riley’s formative memory strands as abstract islands – Honesty, Family, Hockey and Goofiness. A richly brilliant concept, one you appreciate as a parent with the very innocence and wonder of a child. The film is packed with this stuff. It also humorously points out on the journey our own lack of necessity to remember telephone numbers and a tendency to remember a certain few US Presidents. There’s a blink-and-you-miss-it Chinatown reference with “Forget it Jake, it’s Cloud Town”. Pitch-perfect. Somewhere among the Personality Islands and Train Of Thought, there are actual manuals on how to deal with our emotions – something we could certainly do with in real life. So accessible and infectious Inside Out is, I had trouble controlling my own emotions. There are blatant moments of tear-fest potential (and anyone who did not cry a little needs to check their heartbeat), but also triggers that creep up on you. While in class, when Riley is watched by cynical children as she introduces herself, she openly cries as she sadly describes what she loved about Minnesota having just left it behind. An embarrassing moment for a child in that position, for me, the adult watching the story, unstoppably heartbreaking. Even as the family turn the disappointment of an empty new house into a hockey game made me wonder how they made my emotions tick at that moment, without being overly sentimental or glib.
I was almost a wreck that early on. Had to look left to the wife and right to the kid from time to time just to see if they had noticed I was choking up. Towards the end I actually squeezed my daughter as she reclined in front of me on my lap. It was a pure embrace of love for the little girl, but also a kind of cushioning for a grown man in tears.
No longer should we be attributing the word flaw to these Pixar gems because portions of the films are not for adults and portions are not for kids. It all blends seamlessly, giving both younger and older audiences a thoroughly and consistently engaging and enjoyable experience. They are not flaws, they are flourishes beyond our own comprehension. Further beauty is blossomed through the parts we ought not to allow kids to understand, the notions of letting go of things and getting old. That we can’t get them back. As adults we are far more emotionally equipped to acknowledge and appreciate them. Well, we are supposed to be, my thought-process a couple of times tried to convince the passing narrative that it was okay to remember your imaginary friend – please, he does not have to go away.
I wondered if my daughter would have an imaginary friend. Or if she has one now. I know she has some great friends of various shapes and sizes up in her bedroom. I drifted off into various, comforting thoughts about my little girl. Will a house move in the future really screw with her emotional balance? Will she play hockey? If not, which sport? Will she be sporty at all, participant-wise? Does this movie further equip me to be a better parent? I think it does.
Conceptually melancholic and true, while visually vibrant and spectacular, Inside Out unites the happy and the sad in perfect unison, demonstrating through the film’s execution and eventual moral message that the conflicting emotions do require each-other to truly work. I think we are still accepting this in spite of the length of time we have been on this Earth. So wonderfully layered this animated wonder is, it often seems to drift beyond your perceptions of movie story-telling perfection. The love and care that has gone into producing every inch, every second of this is artistically apparent. The animation entrances and blows your mind, full of color and brightness, never too much for the eyes, or any of the senses, in fact this is the exact right tone of dazzle, finely tuned immaculately. Inside Out seems to nail every corner of aesthetic cinema, and given the animation platform, also crafts a fizzy, fluorescent, undeniably imaginative, poignant burst of story-telling flavor. Unforgettable and essential.
Many times during my daughter’s first visit to the cinema I would look over at her little round face, for the most part glued to the devouring screen in front of her, and I would warm up with the pride, realizing how much she was involved in this experience. Her life loving the movies was well under way. During the movie’s duration then, there was no anger or disgust from the 3 year-old, no fear or sadness from me – we shared only joy.