PureFlix is – and I expect always shall be – my archenemy, but Pixar sure does come close.
Pixar seems to exist only to irk me specifically more than anyone else on the planet, and it has a few tricks for doing this that serve as “the Pixar old standbys.” To me, a movie that tries to tug on the heartstrings too soon is like a guy who gropes a woman’s bum in the first minute of a blind date. It is blatantly violating, and yet Pixar gets away with it constantly. Both Pixar and Disney have become notorious for killing off characters seemingly solely because they don’t know how else to hold our attention, or they think we’ll feel unsatisfied with our Disney experience if we don’t meet a certain tear quota. I think it is largely because of Pixar that killing off a character in a children’s movie is no longer an act of courage, but ironically of cowardice, fearing that the audience cannot be emotionally moved enough by the characters without a death involved. They also have one of the fundamental principles of storytelling backwards: anyone who’s taken a high-school-level class in journalism ought to know that empathy with a character is used to make the audience care about a situation, so to use a situation to try to make people empathize with a character is taking the horns by the bull. Yet, somehow, projects under Lasseter’s thumb frequently use emotional, tragic circumstances in an attempt to make us care about a character – in lieu of simply writing a character that’s interesting from the get-go regardless of circumstances.
Above all, Pixar is notorious for an awe of “The Aw.” “The Aw” can refer to either the sound a canned sitcom audience makes when a character is sad, or the sound that a stereotypical (or perhaps typical) preteen girl makes when brought joy by immense cuteness and sentimentality. As a proud skeptical cynic, I find that watching Pixar with a crowd is comparable to being a punk rocker at a Carpenters concert – the urge to puke is overpowering. Sometimes watching Pixar makes me feel more like being in a very strict religious school, except the intense dogma has been replaced with intense sappiness that is inflicted upon me. Now, the studio that lives to make us cry – a prime directive I find mildly immoral and satanic – has the audacity to make a film about the importance of sadness.
So why in the name of Bing Bong do I love this movie?
Well, it was pleasant, impressive, and simply fun in every way from start to finish, and actually seemed to be aimed right at me for a change. The film is the most imaginative commentary on the human mind I have ever seen, only closely followed by Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex. As a big believer in the notion that the replacement of practical effects, puppetry, hand-drawn animation, and painted sets with CGI has largely been to the detriment of film, and I do think the film could have benefited from being a 2D or puppet film instead. I must recognize, however, that this is probably the best all-CGI film I’ve seen in terms of visuals, so it’s certainly on par with The Lego Movie in at least one regard. The way the human mind is imagined in this film is just so clever that one wants to spend forever wandering about this world, much like in The Wizard of Oz.
I also consider Inside Out to be Oz-like in terms of story structure, and unlike some films, this pulls off an Oz storyline without seeming weak or unoriginal for a second. I think every screenwriter should study Inside Out as an example of how to write a nearly perfect screenplay. It’s a very interesting premise to begin with, and the execution of the idea satisfies by exploring all of the areas of the mind that one would hope to see explored. Pixar’s take on dreams was spot on, it’s take on memories was clever, and its joke about facts and opinions was absolutely brilliant. Somehow this script is mostly a series of wonderfully clever jokes, but they never get in the way of the plot. The characters were all delightful, and the casting was superb. I liked essentially every character in this movie – even Sadness.
This, of course, leads to my thoughts on both the portrayal of Sadness, and the use of sadness. The role of Sadness essentially seems to be adding weight and significance to important people, places, and things in our lives by revealing how painful it would be to lose them. This is just a modification of the age-old contrast excuse: bad must exist in order for good to have meaning. Pardon me for getting philosophical, but I’m not a fan of this argument since knowledge of bad would actually be all that is required for good to have meaning, and no actual, existent bad is necessary in any form. This means that sadness is still an unnecessary emotion if one has a sufficient amount of knowledge, understanding, perspective, and good reasoning. While Inside Out’s solution to the Sadness problem is not perfect, I do think it is acceptable, but I personally would have emphasized the important role sadness has in empathy. This brings us to Bing Bong.
Somehow they found a way to incorporate death, and it’s in the most bizarre way, especially when one considers that people can recollect things that they’ve long forgotten, so a mere mention of Bing Bong from Riley’s mom could resurrect him. Still, the decision to kill of Bing Bong is an odd one simply because it’s not really necessary, which just makes it feel like an excuse to get the audience crying. I suppose that he was, by the end of the movie, just dead weight, but he could have stuck around. The cleverness of using his wagon to get back up over the Cliffs of Insanity made that scene powerful and impressive enough as it was, and the wagon had no need to stall. This is, however, nitpicking.
Amazingly, nitpicking is all I can do to criticize it. This comes so amazingly close to the perfect screenplay that I am just as impressed as I’d hoped I would be. I am so happy that Pixar finally made a hilarious, charming, and imaginative movie that’s right up my alley. At last I can congratulate Lassiter, Docter, and the rest of the Pixar team for a job well done.