Dear Fellow Film Critics,
Most of the time, we film critics are guided by four key emotions: anger (how does this shit get made?), disgust (who is this shit made for?), fear (will they ever stop making this shit?), and sadness (why did this have to be so shitty?) . But once in a while, a film comes along that evokes pure joy (no, not Joy). It cuts through all cynicism, speaks volumes about the human condition, and is nothing but a delight for the senses.
Without exception, this year, that film for me was Inside Out.
A little voice inside my head told me Inside Out was going to be the best film of the year the minute I walked out of the theatre. Five voices, actually – representing each of my different critical faculties: aesthetics, story, technique, creativity, and me. Yes, the “me” factor is the hardest element to please, because it’s an impossible to define genome that can illogically override all others, yet won’t magically appear just because the other four factors are satisfied. “Me” is built from the unique islands of personality that make up who I am – an emotional being, first, and a film critic, second. Luckily, in this case, I don’t have to separate the two.
At a base level, the animation is eye-popping and beautiful, the voice casting is pitch-perfect, the premise is wildly original (even if the formula is familiar), and the final execution is altogether inspired. For starters, I laughed a lot. From the simple physical humour in the Abstract Thought sequence, to the entire treatment of Dream Productions, every new corner of the mind was a pure delight to explore. Even throw-away jokes, like when Joy knocks over two boxes on the Train of Thought and can’t separate the “facts” and “opinions” (“Ah don’t worry, happens all the time!”), left me laughing and utterly in love with the movie – and the minds behind it.
I also cried more than I care to say. When Goofball Island crumbles into the abyss, it’s more than just a cartoon plot point. That shit is real. We do grow up, we do change, and sometimes we do lose a part of ourselves. Even Bing Bong, rendered primarily as a childish goof, makes a final sacrifice that is deeply meaningful and boldly symbolic. I never had an imaginary friend – at least not one that I remember (hmm…) – but it doesn’t matter. The experience of growing up and sorting through complex emotions is universal. The boldness of the filmmakers to explore how “core” memories shape our identity and, most impressively, how those memories take on a different meaning over time, is remarkable. It takes us all decades to fully learn and appreciate that insight. And yet it’s packaged in one of the most delightful films I’ve seen in years. So what if it’s through Happy Meals?
Inside Out is not just “good for a kid’s film”. I don’t even think it is a kid’s film. I can’t imagine how anyone pre-pubescent can begin to grapple with the emotional depth and intellectual sophistication that the narrative presents. The film isliterally about learning how to live with sadness. They’ve made the metaphor the actual story, and made being meta more than about being ironic or referential. Nothing else this year even comes close to matching that level of narrative ambition.
Normally, when people say an animated film will also appeal to adults, they mean one of two things: it leans heavily on pop culture references, or it’s got some naughty innuendo. Rarely do they mean that it will send you into a puddle of tears, roar with laughter, and marvel at its brilliance.
But marvel I did. The film spoke to a lot more than my personal quirks and experiences (though the hockey angle and moving to a new town at a tender age didn’t hurt). And yes, the fact I had a daughter this year played no small part in why the coming-of-age tale of an 11-year-old-girl was so touching for me. But I simply couldn’t shake how profoundly they made simple ideas. Or how easily they transported us into complex situations. The film is, in a word, remarkable.
In any other hands, Inside Out could have been a poorly executed moral lesson or weak foray into pop psychology. Instead, it’s the best film of 2015.