I enjoyed Inside Out, but didn’t love it. It took me a while to figure out why (or at least part of the reason).
For a story about emotion, the tale is surprisingly emotionless. The internal characters wander from scene-to-scene, yet there isn’t much purpose to their wandering other than to set the next scene, to get from Point A to Point B. Perhaps the complaint I have with Inside Out is that we don’t really need to spend all that time in Riley’s head at all.
When Joy and Sadness are accidentally ejected from HQ and spend most of the movie struggling to get back, it never feels like they’re making any progress toward that goal. And the ending is so sudden, the revelation of Joy so quick, the return of our wayward emotions to HQ with such surprising ease that it felt a bit unearned.
What’s missing for me is that AHA moment. In Incredibles, Bob talks about being a fool because he’s so wrapped up in being a hero he almost threw away his family. In Wall-E, the Captain pulls himself up and pushes Otto’s off button. In Brave, Merida breaks down as she realizes how much she loves her mother and how important their relationship is.
In Inside Out, Riley the character has that moment with her family, but the people inside her head don’t. Because they’re abstract embodiments, they behave in mostly simplistic ways and it feels as if every complication they face is meant to reflect something going on externally in Riley’s life, not something they themselves are dealing with.
It’s a strange complaint. I get that. The exception is Bing Bong, Riley’s old, nearly forgotten imaginary friend. Yet even when we are introduced to him, he’s found wandering the long term memory, collecting memories. Why? We never find out. How has he survived to this point? We don’t know. What struggles does an imaginary friend go through? Not important.
Like all elements of the story, he exists to serve Riley’s story, but is at least colorful enough to be noteworthy.
It’s hard to be critical of Inside Out. Its intentions are good and it succeeds in making Riley’s journey worth exploring. But all the time in her head seems more like passing time the more I think about it. It just doesn’t really add a whole lot to her emotional journey that couldn’t have been accomplished by watching her in the real world alone.