Is Inside Out Receiving Too Much Praise?

InsideOutInside Out has received overwhelming praise, but how does the film stack up against the best Pixar films? Grant and Zac discuss.

Grant: As the acclaim has mounted for Inside Out over the past couple weeks, I began to realize that I enjoyed the film somewhat less than the majority. For me, Pixar’s ability to create an emotional narrative was in full effect, however, Inside Out falls well short of other Pixar films in terms of comedic moments and excitement.

Regarding the comedy aspect, Lewis Black (as anger) nailed it, but the rest of the actors/characters failed to make a comedic impact. Great talents like Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling were especially ineffective.

Zac: I tend to agree with you here, but I still think Inside Out is pretty much a perfect movie; it sets out and executes exactly what it wants to do.

Now, I am a Pixar homer and love just about everything they have done (Cars 2 is a great spy movie! [See]), but I am with you that Inside Out can be a bit underwhelming on the excitement and comedy fronts. Though, I don’t think it is trying to reach those same heights of adventure that the Toy Story’s, Up, Wall-e, or The Incredibles is going for. Sure, Joy and Sadness are doing some crazy stuff inside Riley’s head to get back to headquarters, but in the grand scheme of things the big third act drama is centered around whether Riley stays on that bus and heads over the Bay Bridge.

Inside Out doesn’t build itself around exciting set pieces. Instead it tries to hit the emotional through lines of a child growing up and the consequences of that at a mental level. It achieves this with nearly 100% accuracy. The execution on display is almost too precise, that we can often see where the film is going based on a call back or something will also diminish your excitement levels because you lose that sense of anticipation. But how else was this movie going to end; with Riley running away? Why put your emotional payoff into the tension of all that drama unfolding? Inside Out doesn’t, the finale of the film is Riley’s emotional growth and realization that Joy and Sadness can go hand and hand and the reward is that she becomes a more complex human being for the first time in her life. That is a pretty big and powerful conclusion, even if almost every human being goes through this.

The film’s themes and story goals aren’t going for extraordinary heights, maybe that is why it doesn’t feel as extraordinary the way Pixar films often do.

Grant: Cars 2 is a great spy movie…for five minutes. Then Larry the Cable Guy appears.

When making Inside Out, I’m sure Pixar was still trying to achieve the extraordinary levels of excitement and comedy that we come to expect from them. They just didn’t deliver. They could have kept a grounded family drama on the outside world, while still pursuing wild fantastical climax inside Riley’s head.

I feel like the Imagination Land scenes earlier in the film provide a good example of missed opportunities. A trip to Imagination Land should enable Pixar to flex its creative and comedic chops, instead we got the fake boyfriend, house of cards, and Cloudtown gags that weren’t funny and had no ties with the rest of the movie. Later, all these gags are brought back to the forefront. And if I’m not going to laugh at the Chinatown reference, then nobody will.

Riley’s emotional growth and Bing Bong’s sacrifice were powerful emotionally charged moments, but I would expect a Pixar film that has received this much acclaim to have developed the story so that it is also a great comedy and adventure film.

Zac: How do you not laugh at “Cloudtown”?

If anything in the film didn’t hit me the way it did most other people, it was the abstract thought section. It was executed fine, it just seemed there for cleverness’ sake. The house of cards was also a completely random reference, unless we missed her building a house of cards in the opening montage, but I thought the boyfriend machine was cute, funny and they brought it back in a fun/ridiculous way for the finale. And also, Sadness rides a cloud, they brought Cloudtown back around too.

Some would argue that the more sedated climax is a step in the right direction for Pixar. I don’t necessarily agree with that statement, Pixar’s 3rd acts batting average is as good as anyone if you ask me, but I can see where some complaints might be coming from that the action can be a tad divorced from the movie’s core goal. Up and Wall-e are two of my favorite films of all-time, but both of their conclusions get much more grand than their simple beginnings. I could see that expectation of ramping things up when watching a Pixar movie leaving you thinking Inside Out is a little flat, hell, I felt the same way shortly after seeing it, but seeing it again and thinking on it I can’t fault Pixar on anything they did with the finale. Inside Out is not at the same level as Up or Wall-e for me, but it is still another exemplary entry into their filmography.

Grant: I think you missed my point about the fake boyfriend and Cloudtown not being tied to the rest of the film. Were they used later in the movie? Yes. Did they have anything to do with the character Riley? No. It would have been just as effective if Joy and Sadness rode a tall stack of waffles and a giant paper airplane to get back to HQ.

The abstract thought scene didn’t work for me either. While it is possible that the lack exciting moments won’t bother me as much on subsequent viewings, I don’t think the comedy will improve. But, I do appear to be the outlier here. My expectations could have been too high, but comedy is a very important aspect of animated films and I didn’t find Inside Out as funny as most Pixar films. It didn’t help that the funniest scene (the dinner table confrontation) was featured in the trailer.

Many critics ranked Inside Out at or among Pixar’s best films. For me it falls within the third tier of Pixar movies. Earlier you mentioned that you have the Toy Story trilogy, Up, Wall-e, and the Incredibles above Inside Out. I would also put Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc, and Ratatouille above Inside Out, would you agree with that general ranking?

Zac: DON’T WATCH TRAILERS!

I was referring to the sense of adventure that group of films were going for, but incidentally I rank all of those above Inside Out as well. I am also right with you on Ratatouille and Monsters, Inc., which I would put on par with Pixar’s best we mentioned above. Inside Out I would put in a tier with Finding Nemo, which sits above the bottom tier consisting of the Cars films, A Bug’s Life, Monsters University and at the bottom Brave. I like all of these movies, love the majority of them, and I think I am a lot higher than you on Inside Out.

I really want to follow up with you after your second viewing, because I don’t think Inside Out is trying to be the movie you hoped it would be. I think Inside Out is executed exceptionally well and achieves exactly what it wants to do.

Expectations can be a troublesome roadblock to enjoying a movie for what it actually is.

Grant: I avoid watching trailers up until the point where I look like an insane person in the theater. I will not plug my ears and close my eyes while humming, I lost too many friends doing that…

I love Finding Nemo. A fantastic film from start to finish. For me, Inside Out is not nearly as good. Expectations do make an impact on the enjoyment of a film, and Inside Out may grow on me, but I will never view the film as one of the best Pixar films, there are just too many things holding it back.

Zac: Final question for you, what did your kid think of the film? I thought Inside Out deserves a ton of credit for being a useful tool for kids to understand their emotions; and some adults too!

Grant: He asked to leave towards the end. It was a sad movie. He is too young to understand the complexities of human emotion. He is still entrenched on Goofball Island.

And for that reason the film’s core message was probably more effective on me. It reminded me that he will outgrow his fun personality. And then I realized that one day he too will try to run away to Michigan. It’s just a part of growing up.

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