CANNES, FRANCE — When Dorothy made her trip to the Land of Oz, she just had to follow the Yellow Brick Road.
But for the journey inside a young girl’s mind that is Inside Out, the new Pixar movie that premiered Monday at the Cannes Film Festival, many paths must be traversed.
All of which makes this animated film an uncommonly rich one, even by Pixar’s lofty standards, and a feast for both the eyes and the brain. It went over like gangbusters inside the Grand Théâtre Lumière, where it generated loud and sustained applause and cheers.
“It’s not up for the Palme d’Or, but it could still win, right?” actress Amy Poehler joked at the press conference following the screening.
No, it can’t, because it’s not in the Palme competition. But the reaction here bodes well for the film’s June 19 wide release by Pixar’s parent company Disney.
And what audiences everywhere will experience is a movie that both amuses and challenges them. Five primary human emotions become colourful cartoon characters, voiced by talented actors: Joy (Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).
They all jockey for control of the thoughts and memories of 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a Midwestern girl who loves to play hockey and who generally allows Joy to guide her.
But when her father suddenly gets a new job in San Francisco, and the family is uprooted, Riley falls prey to Sadness, who appears naïve and harmless but has a habit of sneaking up on people. Soon a full-blown case of depression looms.
Even worse, Riley’s happy memories are in danger of being erased and supplanted with permanently terrible thoughts. Joy and Sadness are obliged to join forces and travel through the maze of Riley’s mind in a bid to restore her equilibrium, while Fear, Anger and Disgust attempt to hold the fort back in Headquarters, the control centre inside Riley’s noggin.
The story tips its hat to The Wizard of Oz, Fantastic Voyage and numerous other works of fantasy journeys. But it has a charm all its own, and characters straight out of psychologist’s textbook: an elephantine “imaginary friend” named Bing Bong, a threatening giant clown named Django and cerebral housekeepers called “mind workers,” who recall the frantic Minions of the Despicable Me franchise.
The jokes flash by at synaptic speed, with shout-outs to such adult pleasures as the movies Vertigo and Chinatown. Some of the concepts are hard to grasp, which isn’t too surprising considering director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera, who were previously at Cannes with Up, spent years consulting with psychologists about the myriad complications of the human mind and its emotions.
John Lasseter, Pixar’s creative chief, said he immediately grasped both the pros and cons of Inside Out when Docter first pitched him the idea several years ago.
“Right away, I knew it would be something very special, but also a very difficult movie to make.”
The problem was getting the right tone, neither too comic nor too dramatic, while allowing the emotions the nuances that make them really interesting.
For example, Sadness has mixed emotions about the havoc she’s causing—she really doesn’t want to hurt Riley — and Anger frequently loses his cool not for random reasons, but because he’s outraged by unfairness.
And Joy perfectly expresses the mixed emotions within a young girl — who was inspired by Docter’s own daughter Elie — as she prepares for her first day at a new school: “Make sure Riley stands out today — but also blends in!” Joy tells the other emotions.
But as complicated as everything gets in the film, Docter said the only people he and his team worried about were adults.
“Not so much for the kids, because they get it.”
Everyone will enjoy the closing credits, which include hilarious zooms through the minds of dogs and cats, who as any pet lover will tell you, think very different thoughts.
GROWING UP IN THUNDER BAY: Another place of wonder has been exciting audiences during the Cannes fest, and for Ontarians, it has special appeal: the cliffs and forests of the Thunder Bay area.
Toronto writer/director Andrew Cividino travelled there to make Sleeping Giant, his feature debut that expands on a short that premiered at TIFF last year. Cividino’s film has been playing to appreciative audiences as part of International Critics’ Week, a parallel program at Cannes.
Sleeping Giant stars teens Jackson Martin, Nick Serino and Reece Moffett as kids on the cusp of adulthood, during a momentous summer when jealousies and anxieties, (especially about girls), loom as large as a dangerous cliff that challenges the brave and crazy to jump off it.
Getting inside a boy’s head as skilfully as Inside Out gets inside a girl’s, the film is a great leap forward for Cividino and his talented young cast, and chances are good you’ll see it as a festival near you later this year.