It would be dishonest to refuse to acknowledge that the argument that "Pixar ain't what they used to be" doesn't have some compelling evidence, their increased focus on sequels and prequels over the last few years helping to somewhat reduce the excitement and anticipation that the release of a new Pixar film once cultivated. As if as a response to that particular criticism, Pixar releases Inside Out, reuniting the team behind Up (incidentally, my favourite Pixar film) for their most creatively intriguing film to date.
Inside Out mostly takes place inside the mind of Riley, an 11 year old girl from Minnesota who is moving house to San Francisco with her parents. Like all people in this world, her feelings are controlled by five emotions (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust) who each control Riley at different times. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving in San Francisco, Joy and Sadness are accidentally ejected from Headquarters (the control centre for Riley's feelings) and have to explore the rest of Riley's mind in order to get back, leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust in charge of Riley's feelings in the mean time.
As a concept, Inside Out has to be the most inventive that Pixar have ever created thanks to the sheer amount of imagination on display. The idea of showing us a little girls struggle after moving house by personifying the inner workings of her mind is sheer genius, the kind of thing that it feels like only Pixar could both come up with in the first place and then actually make work, and for the most part Inside Out works wonders. It's effectively structured as if it is two stories, one taking place inside Riley's mind and one following Riley as she tries to adapt to San Francisco, each of them with their own protagonist who have their own character arc over the course of the film and whose journeys both help reinforce the central theme of the film.
Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith are great as Joy and Sadness (who Inside Out spends most of it's time with) thanks to their voices matching the emotions that they each portray perfectly, but it is Richard Kind as Bing Bong, Riley's imaginary friend, who really makes the biggest impression. On paper, this character absolutely should not work (he's part elephant, part candy floss and part dolphin who cries candy), but it is he who owns Inside Out's most emotionally affecting moment thanks to some phenomenal voice acting.
But Inside Out also has its flaws, the biggest and most obvious of which is the noticeably reduced quality of the films middle section. Despite being full of new ideas and concepts, the parts of Inside Out that have Joy, Sadness and Bing Bong exploring different parts of the mind in order to get back to Headquarters feels like filler, created as a way to showcase ideas or to add some running time rather than as an important part of what Inside Out is about. Worse than that, watching the different Islands of Personality get destroyed one after the other feels repetitive, a criticism that I have never had to level against Pixar before thanks to the amount of innovation that their films usually display even when they aren't at their best.
And this is so frustrating when everything else about Inside Out is Pixar operating at their absolute best, some of their finest work since... well, ever. Even with this saggy middle section, Inside Out is probably amongst the best films that Pixar have created, certainly their best film since Toy Story 3, and definitely kicking the aforementioned argument that "Pixar ain't what they used to be" directly in the face thanks to just how much thought has gone into this otherwise wonderful film. But there is still that nagging feeling that Inside Out didn't need to be a feature length film - I almost wish that they'd have been brave enough to keep it no longer than an hour or so, showcasing everything they had to offer, cutting the middle section down considerably and getting out before they ran out of steam.
But Inside Out is what it is, a near masterpiece of animation that is slightly let down by a meandering middle section, and still one of Pixar's most emotionally profound movie to date. I can't see anyone saying that they actually dislike Inside Out, and as remedy for Pixar's work of late? It's pretty damn effective. No, it isn't the perfect film that we were all hoping for - but it's a damn good attempt at perfection, so full of originality and imagination that it's hard not to be swept up by it, and a film that I'm sure will quickly make it's way towards the top of the list of your favourite Pixar films.