Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen’s Inside Out is a film with the richness of great poetry. It recalls the work of Khalil Gibran, most notably the portion in The Prophet that discusses the balance of joy and sorrow: “Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater." /But I say unto you, they are inseparable./ Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”
Docter and Del Carmen limn Gibran’s verses, fashioning a film of such vivid élan that captures the melancholic harmony found in the mind and spirit. It’s par for the course for Docter, who after Monster’s Inc. and Up, has left a permanent impression on American animation. He’s Pixar’s poet laureate, a filmmaker of such evocative humanity, whereby his films contain dictums on you and me and everyone we know.
The subject of Docter’s films have shown an acute preoccupation with aging, with their plots involving our capacities to contend with jarring life changes. When confronted with great change, we often find ourselves ill-equipped to deal with their immediate consequences: a breach in company protocol in Monsters Inc., the feeling of letting down a spouse in Up, and a drastic move for a child in Inside Out. It’s through this personal suffering that Docter explores nothing less than human life.
Docter’s recurring narrative preoccupations have yet to become redundant in their explorations, as each film explores his central subject and plot with pronounced fealty. Monsters Inc. saw his concerns explored through a vessel of a macro ideologies- how does one function in a society where I am being rendered obsolete? Meanwhile, Up saw his concerns through the body - am I physically and emotionally capable of taking this adventure? And in Inside Out one finds these concerns of aging in youth allocated to the mind.
Inside Out is a film about how we cope. It employs anthropomorphic cartoon avatars as our emotions – Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger, Disgust - to realize a fundamental narrative of a girl going through a tough period in her life; a period that forces her to start over, to rebuild, and reclaim an identity. The themes here are big, the emotions bigger still, and cumulatively they amount to something seismic. Inside Out may have already been accused of simplifying the complex, of failing to encapsulate the anfractuous wonders of the mind and reverting it into something digestible. I’m not certain how that could be considered a problem. A hallmark of Pixar’s canon has been their capacity to submit a palatable response to their existential concerns. Inside Out takes the various voices, emotions, thoughts, and memories that compose our inner workings and made them traversable, treating them like the corridors of an amusement park fun house to lose yourself within.
With the exception of Toy Story 3, the Pixar entrepôt has more or less maintained an effete holding pattern, with Brave, Cars 2, and Monsters University displaying an acceptable though clearly regressive standard. Mainstream American animation has followed suit, failing to reach the heights of the Pixar renaissance that gave way to Ratatouille, WALL-E and Up. Yet in 2015 we have been besieged by two melancholically sanguine animated efforts with Inside Out and Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow. The similarities between the two echo their concerns of being attuned to your emotions, of the human spirit’s enduring qualities, and a testament to the adage that no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable. Inside Out, like World of Tomorrow, is a beautiful film filled with the wisdom of joy and sadness, of their constant struggle, and of their role to human vitality.