Pixar is Back to Form with Inside Out

insideout-tallIn a world where we have reboots of reboots, where YA novels are being made into movies like rabbits mating, and super hero and space movie sequels are planned out to 2020, it’s such a breath of fresh air when something original comes along.

This past Father’s Day I got to see Pixar’s latest film, “Inside Out,” and it was a true return to form for Pixar. It’s a film that harkens back the day when Pixar could do no wrong (before the slump that is “Cars 2” and the subsequent Pixar outings). It tells the story of Riley Anderson, anĀ 11 year old girl dealing with the struggles of leaving her friends and life in Minnesota to move out to San Francisco. We see those trials and triumphs played out in both the “real” world, but also in her mind through the antics of her emotions: joy, fear, anger, sadness and disgust.

Nowadays it seems like I seldom leave a movie theater on cloud 9 after watching a film. I miss that euphoria I used to get when a film totally blew me away. I remember as a kid sitting in the theater to watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark” for the second time and literally sitting on the edge of my seat, on pins and needles for it to start again. As an adult, I had similar feelings with films like “When Harry Met Sally,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Little Mermaid”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Swingers,” “Jurassic Park” (the original), “Aliens” and “Titanic” (yeah, I’m man enough to admit it. I loved “Titanic”. You got a problem with that?)

And just about all the Pixar films from “Toy Story” through “Up” also took me to that state of excitement and elation. But something happend to Pixar films along the way. They lost that magic. “Cars 2” was a mess, “Brave” was just bland. And “Monsters University” was just okay.

But “Inside Out” was literally a transformative experience for me. I laughed, I cried (teary eyed is probably a better description), and I was inspired, both as a filmmaker and a dad.

There are three reasons why I feel “Inside Out” succeeded…

  1. Originality: as I alluded to earlier, the story felt original. I know it’s not 100% original. “Herman’s Head” was a relatively silly sitcom from the early 90s that explored a similar concept. But the writing was what you’d expect from a short-lived, ill-conceived sitcom. Bad. What “Inside Out” brings to the conversation is not only fresh look at the concept, but a complex and intriguing world I frankly never wanted to leave. I got the feeling I was watching something I haven’t seen before. And it had the largest box office opening for a film not based on a previous work.
  2. The Writing: Pixar’s writing team has always been the MVP of their movies. Their ability to write stories that speak to both kids and adults has been a cornerstone of their success. And the writing in “Inside Out” is some of their best. There are objects and characters that make seemingly innocuous introductions, then later are re-introduced in a way that moves the plot forward. In the hands of a lesser writer (or director), we would linger on some of those items and characters in a way that would “telephone it in” and foreshadow their importance. Not with Pixar. At the end of the movie, they introduce a proverbial “out of box idea” that you don’t see coming, but makes absolute sense when it does; and it does it in a way that heightens the emotions of the moment.
  3. Impact on Culture: there already has been much talk about how this movie will profoundly impact the way parents help their kids communicate their feelings. It introduces a new language for use in discussing issues of joy, anger, sadness, etc. But beyond that, I think it also has the power to affect how parents themselves respond to their kids. Literally, the moment I walked out the theater, and my son wanted to play “hide and seek” (in the grassy area between the theater and the mall), I was thinking to myself “What kind of memories will I be creating for my son based on how I respond to this request). When a movie has the power to transform how we look at the world, they transcend the screen. The reviewer for the trade magazine “Variety ” stated that this movie will forever change how we think about how we think.

So, what is the lesson for us as professional creatives? Simple…

  • How original is the work you’re producing?
  • Are you telling engaging stories?
  • Is your work producing transformative experiences for your client or audience?

Did you see the movie? Let me know how you felt about it?

2 thoughts on “Pixar is Back to Form with Inside Out

  1. Saw it last weekend and thought it was brilliant — so much better than I expected. I too, laughed, cried, and cheered — something I haven’t done at a movie for a long time. Truly, it feels like this may be their best film yet.

    1. I agree Martin. I actually think this should get a best picture nod, not just animation. I film that has the ability to transcend the medium like this deserves it.

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