No 2015 movie pleased the critics and enchanted audiences while embracing creativity and tugging on heart strings as successfully as Pixar’s Inside Out. As Scott Mendleson pointed out in his Top Ten list, the power Inside Out harnessed at the box office is a rarity considering it wasn’t a sequel, reboot, or adaptation. Movies that don’t fit those criteria get lost in our modern era of branded, multiplex entertainment. Yes, Disney and Pixar are established with the public in their own right, but the studio logo alone doesn’t automatically motivate audiences to buy tickets (Case in point: The Good Dinosaur). Inside Out earned every dollar connecting genuine emotions with audiences during the superficial, blockbuster season.
What makes Inside Out special is the way it balances psychological science and emotional reactions to tell a story while educating and amusing audiences. Wildly imaginative and daring in its creativity, Inside Out is an animated masterpiece that should be considered among Disney’s best. Every classic from the beloved studio has its iconic moment. Aladdin’s magic carpet ride. Cinderella’s transformation. Lady and the Tramp’s spaghetti kiss. Simba’s presentation. Inside Out adds to this line-up with “Bing Bong saying goodbye.” It was truly touching when Bing Bong sacrifices himself so Joy (and Sadness) can restore order to prevent Riley from running away. It is the kind of vulnerable moment that may not sell nostalgia in future Disney marketing (though Joy and Bing Bong riding the wagon probably will).
The more I’ve watched Inside Out, the more I realize just how great the stakes are for Riley to make healthy choices and keep her personality islands functional. Our thoughts lead to actions that have serious consequences. There’s a lot people can learn from Inside Out about what it means to be human and discerning life’s circumstances. I’ve found many things to admire about Inside Out and applied these to my own life.
A strong characteristic which connects Inside Out with viewers is how genuine and relatable it is. All people have emotions (some more than others) and reliving memories in our heads is a common experience. When it comes to Oscar voters and how they “feel,” this isn’t a cold movie that disconnects with viewers as some other movies vying for awards consideration have done this season. If awards were based on feelings and creative accomplishment, Inside Out would be a very strong contender. However other factors are considered.
Awarding Inside Out with a Best Picture nomination is the right thing to do, but the film faces significant hurdles and biases from Oscar voters. A few people I have interacted with online and in person do not give Inside Out the true credit it deserves. Some seem to dismiss it as a “cute movie about a little girl’s emotions.” But the movie is bigger than a cuddly cartoon that teaches children a lesson. It is a vital film about positive relational growth, protecting memories, and the importance of sustaining identity for both children and adults.
Though never intended to capture the zeitgeist, Inside Out is relevant to the current human experience. Numerous people live with Fear, Anger, and Disgust commanding the control panel of their mind while being disconnected from true Joy and sometimes even Sadness. Learning to cooperate is vital. Suppressing those emotions while prioritizing the bad ones wreaks havoc in our world. This stark condition of negative emotions controlling people’s attitudes is harmful to ourselves and society. The lack of civil discourse on the Internet can dehumanize people. Politicians exploit fear, anger, and disgust for their personal advantage. (The line about “confusing facts and opinions” in the film is spot-on about the way people view the world through biased lenses.) Even trusted loved ones can manipulate situations to get what they want. Not balancing positive emotions with the negative has serious consequences.
As technology advances in movie making, Academy members need to face the reality of a changing medium. They have ignored the impressive and technological game-changing work of Andy Serkis in the Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes movies. (He may one day have to settle for an actual lifetime achievement Oscar, if he’s lucky.) These changes are something the industry shouldn’t “fear” or be “angry” about but embrace with “joy.” The kind of storytelling we see in Inside Out could never have been achieved with live action.
Inside Out is worthy of more than nominations for Best Picture and Best Animated Feature. The sincere and witty screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley sets up witty comic gags and serious situations, and maintains the storytelling that would be held back with live action narration. Likewise, the sweet and exuberant original score by Michael Giacchino invokes a wide range of precise emotions at appropriate times. Though overlooked by many, the detailed production design provides intricate specifics of the mind: Imagination Land, the Train of Thought, the storage of memories, and the Hollywood set where dreams are produced. All these aspects of filmmaking throughout Inside Out deserve serious consideration for Academy Award nominations.
For all these reasons, the monumental achievement of Inside Out needs to be celebrated with a Best Picture nomination and the above mentioned technical categories. Inside Out is a valuable film destined to become a treasured part of the Disney•Pixar canon. This daring, energetic, and beloved movie deserves so much more than the consolation a Best Animated Feature nomination its probable victory.