Mindless Iconoclasm is a series of posts where I argue an unpopular opinion of mine. In this edition, I have some criticism of Pixar’s most recent film.

I went to see Pixar’s latest effort, Inside Out, this weekend, and I quite enjoyed it. But I don’t think it reaches the upper echelons of the studio’s best films, and I’d like to explain why.

Before we proceed, I should make one thing clear: Inside Out is by no means a bad film. It’s a very good one, actually! I enjoyed it, and if you enjoyed Pixar’s previous output, you’ll almost certainly enjoy it too. I just think that Inside Out doesn’t succeed at fulfilling its loftier ambitions.

The problem is that Inside Out fails at delivering its message or even having a coherent message. The movie tells us that sadness is necessary, but never settles on an explanation of why. Is it because sadness is inevitable? Because it’s valuable? Because emotions become more complex and multifaceted as we age? The film doesn’t adopt a consistent viewpoint here, instead drawing on all of these explanations; as a result, the message is muddled.

More broadly, the movie doesn’t succeed at reconciling its two halves: what goes on outside Riley’s head; and what goes on inside. Sometimes, the metaphor makes sense: Joy’s irrepressible desire to control the operations inside Riley’s head reflect her desire to cling desperately to happy memories. Other times, the metaphor falls apart. For instance, Joy and Sadness get sucked out of headquarters because of Joy’s desire to preserve Riley’s core memories as happy ones. But this doesn’t make sense in real life: Is the movie trying to say that attempting to be happy makes you unhappy and incapable of feeling sadness? Or it trying to make a subtler point about masking emotions? This is unclear.

The result is a movie whose thematic value hinges almost entirely on its beginning and ending (both of which are fantastic, by the way). The midsection of the movie is given mostly to entertaining but slight animated setpieces and a subplot about Disgust, Fear, and Anger running headquarters. (Those three emotions don’t receive any character development of their own.) The amazing quality of the beginning and ending were almost enough to fool me into thinking that the movie had said something profound about the duality of joy and sadness, but upon further reflection, I realized that the movie hadn’t said very much at all.

Again, I’d like to reiterate, this doesn’t make Inside Out a bad movie. Far from it, in fact! But it does mean Inside Out is just a well-made, colourful, funny, and occasionally moving animated film, instead of a masterpiece that delivers insightful emotional truths.

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