Old media has been struggling with how modern audiences consume their movies, books, and music for quite some time. With broadband internet allowing us to quickly and cheaply bring all the media directly into our homes, there is less and less reasons to purchase them as physical objects. It's fascinating to me to see the different methods media producers come up with in order to get us to pay for the things we consume.
As televisions increase in size and definition and home theatre sound systems become more affordable for the average consumer, there is less reason for anyone to actually go to the movie theatre and lay down large quantities of cash for their tickets. This is especially true as cammers (movie pirates who record a film in the theater and then torrent it to the Internet) make new movies available just as soon as they come out.
One of the ways moviemakers are combatting all of this is to make their movies must-see events. We’ve seen a large increase in big-budget, car-chasing, super-exploding action films. These are the sort of movies one wants to see on the largest possible screen with the loudest acceptable sound system.
Other films have started having special screenings with various extras to lure audiences into the theatre. Pixar’s newest film, Inside Out, did just such a thing this past Tuesday with "Insider Access to Disney•Pixar’s Inside Out", and I was privileged to attend.
As we arrived at the theatre and presented our pre-bought tickets, we were given little posters for the film and faux special passes like rock stars going backstage. Before the main film, we were treated to a 15-minute tour of Pixar Animation Studios by director Pete Docter, and afterwards there was a live-via-satellite Q&A with Docter and Amy Poehler. Neither of these two features were particularly fascinating and they felt like your typical DVD extras (and no doubt will be included as DVD extras when the movie hits home video), but it did add to the overall feeling that we were getting something special out of our going to the movies experience.
Pixar Animation Studios is exactly as you would imagine. It has that new, hip, California tech start-up feel to it. It's got a state-of-the-art, very modern design. Everyone looks very cool and casual. There’s a coffee bar in the lobby and offices dressed up as caves, taco huts, and hipster casinos. It's all too awesome to be true as if just working at one of the most amazing film companies on the planet wasn’t enough to get those folks out of bed in the morning. Unfortunately due to the rather secretive nature of Pixar, a lot of places were either off limits or edited out so that we couldn’t see any information on upcoming, unannounced films. I could see a few snippets of already announced film such as Finding Dory and The Good Dinosaur, but not enough to really give any inside scoops.
Probably the best part of this feature was seeing John Lasseter inside the writer’s room for Toy Story 4. He was very protective of anything to do with that movie, but just to see his giddy face at the prospect of a new film in that franchise was priceless.
The Q&A with Amy Poehler and Pete Docter was relatively boring, truth be told. The questions came from Twitter and were very basic and uninspired, and while they were answered well, you could tell that both participants were exhausted. I couldn’t tell if they were suffering from jet-lag (they were in the midst of a press tour in Sydney) or if they’d just wore themselves out talking to too many reporters. Docter did give some interesting insight into the film’s creative process (including how they originally started with dozens of different emotions inside the characters brain, but had to cut it down to five). Really, it was a fine thing, but I was ready to go by the time it was over.
The film itself is wonderful. It had that perfect mix that Pixar does so well of child-like wonder and real adult emotion. In a plot straight out of a '90s sitcom, Inside Out goes inside the brain of a human where we find our five personified emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling.) These five characters sit at a panel all day controlling their human - in this case an 11-year-old girl, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias).
Joy is generally in control and keeps Riley happy. That is until her parents move her across the country to San Francisco where she has to adjust to a new school, new friends, a new house, new everything really. It's a traumatic time for the girl and her emotions don’t know how to control it.
In the ensuing chaos Joy and Sadness get sucked into the enormous maze of long-term memories (in this world memories come in the form of soccer-ball-sized bubbles color coded to what emotion is mostly tied to that memory). A grand adventure ensues through the imaginative mind of young Riley (and much older Pixar writers) as Joy and Sadness try to find their way back to the control center where they can bring back her core memories and set her straight.
The film is, well, frankly a joy to watch. Unlike that aforementioned '90s sitcom, Herman’s Head, this film knows how to make something special with this concept. Though they throw in lots of jokes and plenty of gags for the kids to giggle at, they’ve layered it with some deep and pretty profound emotion. As a father of a young girl, there were several times when I just wanted to reach out to little Riley and give her a great big hug while whispering that everything was going to be alright.
The best portions of Inside Out feel like that montage at the beginning of Up where we see Carl and Ellie grow old together or the first hour or so of Wall-E before they board the space ship. It has that sort of gripping emotional tug while never losing site of its family entertainment value.
Poehler is clearly the lead and her Joy is great fun. She uses a lot of that Leslie Knope manic optimism to propel the action along. But the real star of the film is Phyllis Smith. At first her sadness feels like a one-note character - the perpetual bummer who everybody dumps on, but as the film progresses and its themes get played out, she becomes one of the most wonderful and meaningful characters I’ve seen in a film in a long time.
Richard Kind as Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend, is brilliant. He adds a playful sadness to the film as someone who was once important to Riley but is now slowly being forgotten. His last scene is something that will no doubt raise the stock of Kleenex to a new level.
Unfortunately, the rest of the emotions never get a chance to become any more dimensional than their names suggest. Lewis Black as Anger is great fun, but he’s basically doing his stand-up schtick without the nuance. Both Hader and Kaling have a few good lines, but mostly seem to exist to fill the screen up while Joy and Sadness are out on their adventure. Likewise, the Dad (Kyle MacLachlan) is not much more than a one-note character - always on his phone, fairly absent for his daughter during her crisis - that I wished they’d made her mom a single parent.
But really this is Pixar’s best effort in years. Just a wonderfully imaginative and beautiful film.
I absolutely enjoyed myself at this "Insider Access to Disney•Pixar’s Inside Out" special event. As moviemakers continue to struggle finding ways to get people to come to the theatre, instead of watching everything at home, this sort of special screening is a nice way to go about it. I really felt like I was getting something special out of it. As the film opens on Friday, June 19, it's absolutely worth pushing through the crowds, laying your money down, and viewing this incredible film in the theatre.