Why Inside Out is a masterpiece but won’t be remembered as one

Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Joy from Pixar's Inside Out

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.

Riley and her parents in Inside Out

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.

Related – Film Review: Monsters University

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.

Emotions in Inside Out

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.

19 thoughts on “Why Inside Out is a masterpiece but won’t be remembered as one

  1. Brittani says:

    Nice write up. I didn’t love Inside Out, but I appreciate how original it is. I feel like it’s already got Best Animated film in the bag, but I think Best Picture is still a stretch.

    You’ve got a good point about this one being remembered like how our generation has a soft spot for films like Toy Story, and I don’t think this one will stick. The deeper meaning will go over kids’ heads. It might be something they watch with their kids one day, find that meaning and go “wow” and try to make their own children watch over and over. If I compare it to my own child who I took to this film, the only thing he will still mention from it is “Headquarters” otherwise he kept telling me how sad it was.

    • Thanks Brittani. Yeah I think it’ll definitely win Best Animated, I really hope it goes that one further though.

      I hope you’re right in that kids today will revisit later down the line and realise what they missed the first time around. This doesn’t quite have the same appeal for kids as the other Pixar films have. They might remember the odd bit but I doubt it’ll stick in their heads like Toy Story or one of the others.

  2. table9mutant says:

    Excellent review! One of the best that I’ve read for this film. 🙂 You sound like my husband, who I think felt the same way about this one as you did. Although I think I may have said something about it possibly creating world peace in my review… Lol. I really don’t think it was that much of an exaggeration, though. I know Pixar have a great reputation but I think they deserve even MORE recognition than they get, probably just because their masterpieces happen to be “animated”. And they indeed have some masterpieces. It’s funny you don’t mention my favorite, though. While the second half is flawed, I find the beginning of WALL-E to be absolute perfection that brings me pure joy every time. I still get chills watching the opening. The beginning of Up, as well – I cry every damn time (though I’m not crazy about the rest of that film). Sorry – I could ramble on about Pixar all day. I’m so happy that Inside Out caused such a reaction with you. It’s the sign of truly brilliant filmmaking. 🙂

    • Very nice of you to say so, thanks!

      This is definitely one of those films that I genuinely believe could change people’s lives. Not everyone’s but for certain people, whether that’s parents or teenagers, I think it could genuinely have that effect. And YES to Wall-E, I don’t know how that one escaped me! The first half of that really is magical, I wish I’d seen it in the cinema. And if you want to ramble on about Pixar, I’m all ears, I could too!

      • table9mutant says:

        I agree with you on it being possible to change individual lives. Definitely! I do think certain movies can do that and Pixar have probably made more of those types of movies than anyone else. 🙂

  3. le0pard13 says:

    Fine analysis, Chris. Easily, this is one of my favorites of the year. I, as you, hope you’re wrong…for all the great reasons we agree it’s a Pixar masterpiece.

  4. Dan O. says:

    Interesting post. I loved this movie and consider it one of my favorites of the year. However, I have a feeling that the Pixar will go back to their old ways soon – forgetting about the colorful and wildly original stories that made them such a hot and lovable brand to begin with.

    • Thanks Dan. They’ve got The Good Dinosaur soon, right? I have a feeling that one will be a bit of a misstep and I can’t say I’m that excited about Finding Dory. Think I’ll be waiting a while for the next great Pixar film.

  5. Interesting piece mate. I remember Beauty and the Beast breaking the mould by being the first Dinsey film to receive a Best Picture Oscar nom. I’d love it if, firstly, Inside Out gets the same attention and would love it even more if it broke through the glass ceiling and got the big one. It’s a masterpiece as you say; a film that will be remembered for many years to come. I hope you’re wrong about it not being regarded as one, but absolutely see your point.

  6. Nostra says:

    Great writeup and I think you are right that it won’t be viewed the same way as Toy Story. Currently this still is my favorite movie of the year exactly because of the reasons you mention, it works on various levels and as a parent so much is recognisable.

  7. So true. I hope you’re wrong, I really do, but it’s unlikely. I think part of the “problem” is that Inside Out doesn’t have that mass-market pop-culture appeal that a Toy Story or Cars or Monsters Inc does where it’s available on toys and t-shirts and lunchboxes and online gaming etc. Some of the more recent Pixar great films are true masterpieces (look at UP as an example) but I doubt you’d find a kid at school who even remembers that film. As an adult, I still regard it as a brilliant piece of filmmaking in its own right, but Inside Out is similar in that it’s not as…”marketable” to a wide audience.

    It’s a fact that unless you have anthropomorphized animals, toys or easily marketable human avatars, a kids film is never going to remain in the eye of pop culture for very long, it’s just a universal truth. Films like UP and Inside Out are kids films made for adults, basically, and while kids can access them at some level, overall I think adults gain more from them than the tots. Just my opinion, mind.

    Still, I’d so love to see Inside Out up for a Best Picture gong this year (not just an animated BP either, an award that’s so disingenuous I find it hard to stomach) because it truly is a masterpiece.

    I just think in five years or so it’ll be forgotten in the wave of whatever new film Pixar has coming along.

    • I think you’re right that Up suffers from the same problem as this. Will they make an Up or Inside Out ride at Disney? Probably not. Pixar are kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. They can make genius stuff like Inside Out that gets largely forgotten or make stuff like Cars that isn’t regarded as highly but will sell millions worth of merch.

  8. Great piece Chris. I think it probably is a masterpiece — it’s gotta be up there with Toy Story, like you say. The merchandise point is an interesting point, and one that I hadn’t really considered. It could be a factor, but hopefully as children grow up (just as we did with Toy Story) they’ll come to realise Inside Out’s non-superficial underbelly.

  9. Mark Walker says:

    Good to see you posting again, Chris. Interesting take on where this film will go in future. I agree it is an important film and my kids’ heads were certainly opened up in terms of their feelings and emotions. I loved it for that but I found the film itself tailed off towards the end.

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