Inside Out: a sad, sorrowful joy

American psychologist Paul Ekman pioneered the study of human emotions creating an atlas of thousands of emotions. These can be boiled down into seven: anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise.

For Disney Pixar’s latest film, Inside Out, we start with the basics.

A child, Riley, is born. In her head she experiences her first emotion and Joy (Amy Poehler) steps into the void. A bubbly, bouncy, excitable character who controls a console in Riley’s head dictating how she reacts to any given situation. She’s quickly joined by Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Thus making up five of Ekman’s seven key emotions (surprise and contempt not making the cut being similar to anger and disgust I imagine, and for the film’s sake, seven are too many characters).

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With this film, Pixar, in all their inventiveness, have laid out how the human mind works in a way that’s fully accessible to children and adults alike. For example, to begin with they introduce us to how memories are formed and how they’re attached to the emotions; glowing orbs that roll into Riley’s mind, each colour representing the overriding emotion linked to that memory. From a few scenes we quickly understand the concept of long and short-term memory and ‘core memories’ that form the building blocks of one’s personality, in this case Riley’s. These power the fundamental aspects of her personality: friendship, family, her love of hockey etc. We also understand how the five characters/emotions fight for supremacy when faced with certain situations and how they defer leadership to each other.

For example, for most of Riley’s life Joy has ruled the roost (and her emotions). Then the family move to San Francisco and Riley loses her friends and everything she has known and her personality changes irrevocably. Joy finds herself increasingly unable to control Riley’s mind and the other emotions. This was the building block – and brain child – of director Pete Docter, and the idea upon which he based the story.

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As things go from bad to worse for Riley (at least in her head, moving to San Francisco can’t be that bad surely?), Joy and Sadness find themselves out of brain HQ and marooned in her long-term memory. So theirs becomes a journey movie, as they must get back in control of Riley’s mind and back to HQ. At least, that’s Joy’s plan. Sadness sort of tags along for the ride dragging her down.

The way Docter and Pixar personified these emotions in order to explain growing up, being a child and the loss of innocence, is remarkable and, at times, quite heartbreaking (the loss of Goofball Island brought a tear to my eye). Rarely has a film so succintly laid out the inner machinations of a person’s mind before. We get Imagination Land, the Train of Thought, Dream Production, even the corridor of Abstract Thought. It’s like Google decided to set up an office in someone’s mind and let loose (scarily, this may happen in the future).

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And just to prove it’s not just Riley (and young girls) the filmmakers understand, at certain points they dive inside other character’s heads to hilarious effect. More jokes for the adults than the kids, but the balance between pleasing audiences old and young is never an easy thing, and here Docter and his team makes it look easy.

Like a mash up between Alice in Wonderland and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this is is a movie which tackles big themes and complex issues in an almost effortless way. It will make you laugh and cry (definitely if you’re a parent) and, as long as you understand the importance of – and why we need – both, then the filmmakers will, no doubt, feel their work is done. Hurrah Pixar, add this to your classics.

Can Disney save Star Wars?

Upon hearing the news that Disney have recently acquired Lucasfilm I asked myself this question. Good old George, the 68-year-old filmmaker sold Lucasfilm for $4.05bn (£2.5bn), my initial reaction was not exactly excitement, more tentative hope.

Lucas is more or less a pensioner and his heart went out of making these films a long time ago. In some ways I’m amazed he managed to get the latest trilogy off the ground at all. Selling to Disney at this point was perfect timing and great business sense. How many other pensioners do you know that increase their fortunes by $4bn a couple of years before they turn 70? No wonder he looks smug.

He has said he wants to pass the franchise on to a new generation of filmmakers, with episode 7 being set for release in 2015. Episodes 8 and 9 will naturally follow, completing a 9-film trilogy spanning decades. Quite a legacy.

The force is strong in this one
Some die-hard fans have been moaning that Disney without Lucas means the corporation will be butchering the beloved world Lucas has created. I think that’s unfair.

Disney has moved on in the last 10 years. It’s worth pointing out they have a savvy – albeit slightly bullish – track record of acquisitions, with Pixar in 2006 ($7.4bn), Marvel in 2009 ($4.2bn) and now Lucasfilm in 2012 ($4bn).

With Marvel and Pixar, Disney have – to their credit – allowed these studios to approach their films, characters and stories in a way that stays true to their philosophy.

For Marvel, they’ve also chosen wisely in terms of Directors: Kenneth Branagh (Thor), Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Joss Whedon (Avengers). When Disney and Pixar merged in 2006, it was explicitly laid out that Pixar would maintain its identity and creative control, allowing this has meant their philosophy of filmmaking has continued and given us films such as: Up (2009), Toy Story 3 (2010) and Brave (2012).

I see no reason why Disney won’t continue in a similar fashion with new Star Wars films. This cinematic franchise has been around a hell of a lot longer than Marvel or Pixar films, with an incredibly devoted fan base to match.

I don’t believe it. That is why you fail
Make no mistake episode 7 is going to be a massive challenge for whichever Director Disney put in charge. It will be a continuation of Luke, Leia and Han’s story, so it’s completely new territory. There has been brief – probably comical – mention of the original actors returning, but they’re all pensioners now and it’s not worth entertaining the thought.

I’m not going to start dictating the best way Disney should approach these films, I genuinely have faith they’ll treat the brand with respect – and hopefully take it back towards the look and feel of the original films.  Either way, Lucas remains a ‘consultant’ for the next trilogy, so his reign of terror is largely over. Onwards and upwards!