Pixar is yet to make a really bad film. Sure, it might have made a few missteps here and there (hello Cars 2) but even its below par offerings are far above the standard churned out by many other studios.
However, in this year’s Inside Out, the Disney-owned company created a film that is a bona fide masterpiece on practically every level. It’s just a shame that there’s a very good chance it won’t get remembered that way.
Why is Inside Out a masterpiece?
It’s almost impossible to define the term ‘masterpiece’ when it comes to films anyway, and there are very few that are unanimously accepted as such. Of Pixar’s back catalogue, only really Toy Story fits comfortably into the masterpiece category, although one could make the case for Monster’s Inc and Finding Nemo if you’re feeling generous.
And it’s the very thing that, for me, defines Toy Story as a masterpiece that runs through the heart of Inside Out – its ability to work as a film for adults as much as one for children. Now, we’re not just talking about jokes that go over the heads of innocent children, but entire themes that take on new meaning when viewed through the eyes of the older, more worldly wise generations.
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Toy Story enthralls children through the obvious – the thought of their toys coming to life and the madcap antics of Woody, Buzz, et al. However, viewed through the eyes of parents, you get a film that is about so much more; a film about nostalgia, your children growing up and their diminishing reliance on you as they get older. There’s a reason why the Toy Story films (and Toy Story 3 in particular) are known to reduce many an adult to tears.
Inside Out scratches this same itch as Toy Story (in fact, the similarities between the two films go deeper than that) and gives us two very different interpretations of the film depending on whether you’re an adult or a child. Children will giggle and gasp at Joy and Sadness’ adventures whilst Fear, Anger and Disgust provide further comic relief, but the real meat and potatoes for the adults comes from Riley.
Like Toy Story’s Andy, Riley might seem nothing but periphery but is actually key to the film’s success. For parents, Riley might as well be their own child and seeing her edge away from childhood as her emotions become more developed and complicated as they conflict and vie for prominence will no doubt ring true and, once again, cause a seeping of saline from many an eye.
The complexity with which Pixar has delivered Inside Out’s messages is quite something. It just gets how difficult it can be for many growing up from childhood to adolescence and sympathises with it. It’s saying that sadness is an essential part of being a balanced human being and that you can’t have joy without sadness, and for that reason it’s not just a brilliant film, but also an incredibly important one.
With child and teen suicide an ever-growing issue, something that explains, albeit in the form of a ‘children’s’ film, that these emotions are OK, nay perfectly normal, could literally be a lifesaver.
Why won’t Inside Out be remembered as a masterpiece
So, Inside Out ticks pretty much all the same boxes as Toy Story, and in many ways is a much deeper, more complex film, but something just tells me that it won’t be remembered with quite the same fondness. Granted, Toy Story has the advantage of being the first of Pixar’s films and therefore had that freshness and level of detail we weren’t really used to seeing at the time. It’s also had the luxury of time for its original audience to grow older and appreciate it through different stages of their lives.
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Inside Out, however, just doesn’t feel like it has the same buzz. I mean, it’s done pretty well at the box office, pushing somewhere in the region of nearly $400,000,000, and it’s had near unanimous critical acclaim, but is it hitting the notes with the most important demographic? – children.
You still see children pretending to be Buzz Lightyear, and even characters such as Lightning McQueen or Mike Wazowski are well loved. Then we have Frozen (yes, that’s not Pixar, I know) which is a whole behemoth of its own. But are children really going to be running around pretending to be Joy, Sadness or the rest of the gang ? Are they going to be pestering their parents for Inside Out merchandise? Some might, most won’t.
Of course, how much merchandise a film sells and the enthusiasm of children to act out film with their friends is no indication of a film’s quality whatsoever, but it is a sign of its popularity and of how likely it is to become a part of popular film culture in years to come.
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Children take films with them as they grow up and show them to their children and so on. Hopefully Inside Out is something today’s kids will revisit a little later in life and appreciate on a new level, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s resonated first time around.
There has been early talk of Inside Out scooping the Best Film Oscar next year, which would make it the first animated film to do so. Were it to do so then, in my eyes, it would be very well deserved, but I still don’t think that would seal it as masterpiece status outside of the cine-literate.
Ultimately, beauty is on the eye of the beholder and all that. It’s up to each individual to decide whether Inside Out is a masterpiece, and personally I think it is one. Without a doubt. But in ten or fifteen years time I can’t see it being remembered as fondly as some of Disney or Pixar’s other works.
I really hope I’m wrong.