'Inside Out': Is the new movie another creative hit for Pixar?

Pixar's new film 'Inside' centers on a young girl, Riley, and the emotions living in her brain. The film studio has a great track record for producing satisfying stories that entertain kids and adults. Is this movie another hit?

'Inside Out' stars Amy Poehler (center), Lewis Black (l.), Mindy Kaling (second from l.), Bill Hader (second from r.), and Phyllis Smith (r.).

The newest Pixar film, “Inside Out,” is set to hit theaters on June 19 and judging by early reviews, it’s yet another creatively satisfying Pixar story that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

“Inside” centers on a young girl named Riley whose family has recently moved. The transition, combined with the normal emotions experienced by an almost-adolescent girl, mean that protagonist Riley's feelings are changing as never before. We see her emotions embodied by Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).

The movie won’t hit theaters until tomorrow, but early reviews have already been superlative. The film currently has a stellar score of 94 out of 100 on the review aggregator website Metacritic, with Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan, for one, writing that the movie is “at once sophisticated and simple, made with visual magic and emotional sensitivity, casually probing deeper questions about what matters in life…. [T]he saga of ‘Inside Out’ finds room for crisp action, genuine jeopardy, cartoon slapstick, even adult humor.”

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times agreed, calling the film “a bold, gorgeous, sweet, funny, sometimes heartbreakingly sad, candy-colored adventure that deserves an Academy Award nomination for best picture…. Directed with great flair and pitch-perfect timing, brimming with sparkling visuals, filled with first-rate voice performances, thrilling adventures and unforgettable moments, 'Inside Out' is an instant classic.”

Even critics who gave the film slightly less positive reviews still offered plenty of praise. Guardian writer Peter Bradshaw felt that the film doesn't deliver “anything as genuinely emotionally devastating as 'Up,' or the subtlety and inspired subversion of 'Monsters Inc' and the 'Toy Stories'” but nevertheless called “Inside” “a terrifically likeable, ebullient and seductive piece of entertainment … tremendously buoyant and watchable.”

Pixar has enjoyed an unusual streak of creative hits. From its first feature in 1995, “Toy Story,” to the sequel “Monsters University,” almost all of its films have not only done well at the box office but also received extremely positive reviews from critics. There have been occasional stumbles like 2011’s “Cars 2,” which has the lowest Metacritic score of any Pixar film, but of the 15 films released so far (counting “Inside”), almost all have been regarded as creative triumphs. Its films “Up” and “Toy Story 3” were nominated for Best Picture, an Oscar category that can be tough to crack for animated movies. 

Pixar’s output may not be perfect, but it's had far fewer creative stumbles than most studios. What causes this creative hot streak? Ed Catmull, Pixar president, discussed the environment in a 2014 book titled “Creativity, Inc.” Monitor writer Janet Saidi, in reviewing the book, notes that Catmull's focus at Pixar is on “the stories, and the people working hard together to create them." It's his belief that the creative side of the process "should always be the focus … the technology [is] beside the point.” 

Catmull himself explored Pixar’s process in a 2008 piece for the Harvard Business Review. Of Pixar’s movies, some of which are based in ideas that seem odd for an animated movie (a film for kids about a senior citizen?), Catmull wrote, “Since we’re suposed to offer something that isn’t obvious, we bought into somebody’s initial vision and took a chance.” As for the work environment itself, he wrote, “What we can do is construct an environment that nurtures trusting and respectful relationships and unleashes everyone’s creativity…. Everyone is fully invested in helping everyone else turn out the best work.”

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