Inside Out: Growing Up With Pixar

The bittersweet and inevitable farewell to childhood has been a prominent theme in studio Pixar’s work for decades. Most notably, the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo. Inside Out elevates this theme, tackling it in the studio’s most mature way yet. This sparkling animated feature sets a new bar not only for the studio, but for inventive and creative originality expressed through the medium of film. Inside Out is Pixar’s ultimate manifesto on that painful bridge we all must cross from child to adult.


Pixar is known for tugging on our heartstrings, the most tender spots in life’s journey that can immediately make us weep. (The first 10 minutes of Up. That’s all you need to say, really.) One of those important spots? Growing up.

Monster’s Inc. tackles this through the relationship of the adorable giggly Boo and her John Goodman quasi-yeti Sully, who she affectionately calls “Kitty”. Boo eventually reaches a point where she must say goodbye to her fuzzy friend. Boo is sad that her playmate is leaving, but she doesn’t fully grasp the finality of this farewell. But monsters Sully and Mike do. “Go ahead. Go grow up.” Mike tells Boo as he ushers her to the door. Their playtime is over. Eventually Boo will grow older and there will be no more Kitty or monsters in the closet. The melancholy of their goodbye is negated in the end though, when Mike rebuilds Boo’s door. Sully enters, off-screen we hear Boo recognize her Kitty. While their whimsical trysts may be over, at least Sully can still visit.

Finding Nemo deals with that tough first leap, when children have that itch to move on from their ‘baby’ pastimes and habits to go out on their own.This is tough for our protagonist, Marlin. Marlin is an overanxious helicopter parent, constantly fretting and overprotective over his son. (So much so that he even wants Nemo to play in the baby playground).

But Marlin behaves this way because he is still scarred from the death of his wife and other children. He wants to shelter and keep Nemo out of harm’s way for as long as possible. After the long journey of finding Nemo is over, Marlin learns to accept that painful transition for parents, the time that comes to let your child go experience the world without you there to hold their hand (or fin). “Go have an adventure!” Marlin yells at Nemo before he goes off to school. “Goodbye son.” He softly whispers.

The most congruent to Inside Out’s themes lies in the Toy Story trilogy. Likely the most painful and outright stab in the heart that confronts adolescence’s transition. When She Loved Me. Cue. the. tears. All I need to hear is the first bars of that song and I’m already crying. Adults and teenagers alike know very well why this scene hurts so much. We recall how easily we abandoned some of our toys as children. The doll we once lovingly toted around everywhere now sits untouched high on a shelf.

(Warning: watch at your own risk)

Toy Story 3 was nostalgic for many audiences, released 15 years after the original. For many audience members, they were children at the time of the original’s release and were now about to go to college. The ending elegantly touched that nerve that was ever so raw. Andy, now a young man ready to head off to college, passes the torch by giving a young girl named Bonnie his once beloved playmates. Andy has the recollection of how much he loved them, and though he is reluctant to give away his favorite toy Woody, he knows that, and so do the toys, that his wonder years with them are over.

Pixar repeatedly paints an eloquent picture of growing up, but Inside Out is the only time it is done differently. In past Pixar films, the child matures while our main characters are on the sidelines observing them. Sully and Mike mourn for their goodbye to Boo. Marlin feels bittersweet now that Nemo can now swim in his own current.  Woody, Buzz, and the toys are saddened in their farewell to their beloved friend, but knowing in that it is time to move on. The passing time with Jessie’s owner is seen through her eyes. We feel the pain of these characters, acknowledge it and recognize it in ourselves.


Inside Out turns the subtext seen again and again in Pixar’s previous films into the actual text of the film. Pixar continues to confront how much a childhood ending hurts, but this time as it is actually ending. We saw in Toy Story‘s Andy how he was nostalgic about his past and giving his childhood icons, and the era itself, away. But he reflects on this as a young man that has already crossed the bridge to adulthood. For Riley, that far away childhood is right here and now, and it is slowly slipping out of her fingers. Inside Out shows how that nostalgia Andy experienced is born. Out of sadness and joy.

The one solvent in our pain for our characters’ ruptured relationships is that we get to see them continue living in their world, either with lessons learned or with new owners. This is completely severed in Inside Out, and makes for a much more heartbreaking and poignant revelation.

(Major spoilers if you wish to avoid)

Bing Bong is a “pink cotton candy nougat-filled elephant-cat hybrid” that cries candy. He is Riley’s old imaginary friend. We see flashback scenes of her interacting with the lovable creature, playing music, running around, and their favorite pastime of riding in a pretend rocket. When Bing Bong and Joy get trapped in a dark abyss, Bing Bong sacrifices himself on the rocket ride to the top so that Joy can escape, survive, and help Riley. The moral of this absolutely heartbreaking moment? To move forward as healthy adults, we must set aside some childish things. Bing Bong serves as a mashup of Jessie, Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Sully from Monster’s Inc., who all demonstrated that beloved childhood playthings eventually lose an active place in our hearts. But for Bing Bong, which sets Inside Out apart, there is no going back. Once Bing Bong is in the abyss, he will fade from Riley’s memory forever. And while it is heartbreaking, adults know full and well just how true this is.


The moral of Inside Out‘s story is what Joy must learn. Throughout the film Joy is unhappy with Sadness for touching Riley’s memory and imprinting sadness on them. Joy stubbornly wants nothing for Riley except happiness, which she has mainly had for the entirety of her 11 years on Earth. For much of our childhoods, (those fortunate to grow up with happy ones) this is very true. Happiness and joy really is our dictator. Of course there are bad days for children, but none that rip through you as much as when you’re older.

After Riley moves she grows to miss her home for much of what is stood for, the comfort and security of being little. Soon she realizes that there is no going back and this hurts. In the climatic scene, Riley opens up and tells the truth about her sadness after moving. She and her parents share an emotional hug. Riley’s core memories become tinged with both sadness and joy, for now those memories are not in the distant past. The way Joy watches these memories up on a projector-like screen evokes how we watch childhood movies of days past. Riley can reflect on these times with happiness, but now that she is growing older and they become farther away, she reflects on them with sadness as well. We see Riley playing with her family and friends as a toddler and young child. Those times are bittersweet, for you miss them and are grateful that you had them. Sadness and joy co-exist.

Inside Out Japan Pixar Post 3

Growing up is getting further away from those times where you could play all day, so carefree and simple. Riley is confronted with this for the first time, and we follow that journey ever so closely. Closer than Pixar ever has before. Pixar no longer hides behind other characters, they dive right into the person experiencing this journey. This makes for an exquiste and aching portrait of that journey that goes where no Pixar film has gone before. While the themes of Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo are resonant for those older, Inside Out hits them home at the highest level. But Inside Out is still so fun that watching it makes you feel like a child again. It makes it all the more poignant for the sheer beauty in how it expresses the longing for those simple times, as well as the reflection on the exquisite pain of growing up.

Scarecrow: Make ‘Em Laugh

(spoiler alert for discussing ending scenes)

Scarecrow is an underrated gem from 1973 starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman. The film starts out as an on-the-road buddy comedy, the two actors playing hobos travelling across the country for different reasons. Gene Hackman plays Maxx, who is the central focus for much of the beginning, a cankerous man who is trying to get back to Pittsburgh to start a car wash business. Al Pacino plays Francis, later nicknamed Lion, who has been at sea for five years. He needs to go to Detroit to see his child, who’s birth caused him to flee. Carrying a lamp as a present (he is unsure of the gender) he plans to meet his family and become real father after all. Lion serves as his jovial sidekick, but there is more than meets the eye to his story. By the end of Scarecrow, we realize that the story has been very much about Lion after all.


In one of the beginning scenes we learn that Lion has a certain creed, a way of life that helps get him through. He tells Max that scarecrows do not actually scare crows, but instead makes them laugh.

Lion: That’s right, the crows are laughin’. Look, the farmer puts out a scarecrow, right, with a funny hat on it, got a funny face. The crows fly by, they see that, it strikes ‘em funny, makes ‘em laugh.

Max: The god damn crows are laughin’?

Lion: That’s right, they’re laughin’ their asses off. And then they say, “Well that ol’ farmer Joe down there, he’s a pretty good guy. He made us laugh, so we won’t bother him any more.

By imparting this to the hotheaded Max, he is suggesting that the he mellow his enemy with humor. Using clowning as opposed to hostility will lessen the chances of Max always ending up with a black eye.

­Throughout much of the film, Lion is the funny side man, there to diffuse awkward situations with his child-like humor. Always smiling and lighthearted, Lion seems amazingly free of any angst or anxiety. We see Lion using his joking as ways to cover for Max many times throughout the film, trying to stop him from getting into fights or throwing off tense situations. Lion feels that his advice and worldview will work in Max’s favor, since it has seemingly worked for him. In one important scene, we see how his jesting is truly a defense mechanism for Lion. One that will not always work out in his favor.

Max and Lion have ended up in jail. Max has been in jail before, he knows the ropes and is not there to make friends. But the goodnatured Lion quickly gains a friend, who ends up wanting him for malicious intentions. Lion and Riley end up alone in a room, where Riley starts cornering and attempting to sexually assault him. At first Lion laughs it it off and makes a Frankenstein reference “Get back, Igor”. But the audience can see the horror behind Lion’s smile. Riley is infuriated, thinking Lion is laughing at him. Lion ends up getting severely beaten by his “friend.”

One scene is the climax for Lion’s arc, where the audience sees that there is so much more brewing beneath Lion’s joyful exterior. It begins where a drunk Max has started a fight with yet another guy in a bar. Lion again attempts to diffuse the situation by turning a famous striptease song on the jukebox. But instead of Lion putting on a show it is now Max, who willingly stops himself from engaging in another fight. Lion is then forced to confront the realities of his worldview, when his pupil has put his principle into practice. It is now Max’s turn to make ‘em laugh. The camera focuses on Lion in a long shot, we study his reaction. The long shot conveys that Lion’s humor has just been a mask, which is slowly fading away. Lion has been hiding his true self underneath this clown’s mask all along, and the film’s ending scenes hits this home even further.

Max and Lion finally arrive in Detroit. Instead of showing up at his ex-girlfriend’s home unannounced, Leon decides to call her. But his phone call is not welcomed. Annie tells Lion that she miscarried due to her turbulent emotions after his abandonment. The film cuts to Annie in her home, where we see a young boy, five years old, who looks EXACTLY like Al Pacino. Clearly, Annie is lying. She then preys on Lion’s Catholic guilt by reminding him that since the unborn child was not baptized, he live in purgatory for eternity. (Lion’s Catholicism was touched upon in earlier scenes, already establishing that his faith was important to the character.) After they hang up, Lion is clearly devastated. But he turns and cheerfully makes up an excuse to Max that he doesn’t need to see his child after all.


The next scene shows Lion playing around with neighborhood children, doing imitations of the pirate Long John. The film is explicitly conveying just how much humor serves as a way of coping and glossing over his pain. Soon the joking stops, and something in Lion snaps. He carries a child further into the fountain. This can be seen as Lion’s way of baptizing his son, making up for the loss in this abstract way. A scene follows at the hospital where we learn that Lion has suffered from a catatonic breakdown, he lays on the bed unmoving and dead-eyed.

But Scarecrow does not end on an entirely somber note, for Max leaves for Pittsburgh promising to return to Lion with money to pay for his hospital stay.

Scarecrow begins as a slightly typical buddy comedy, with one lead and a supporting jester. But the jester turns out to be a sad clown, making for an introspective look at the way we all play roles in our life, and how humor can often be used as a Band-Aid for our pain. Scarecrow is commendable for turning the tables on the audience by taking the story in an unexpected direction.

(Also,  I’d like to NOT thank the DVD for having this picture on the back and fooling me into thinking that he would meet his adorable son.)


Scene Sound Off: Gone Girl

*photos and scene may be NSFW*

The Desi murder scene in Gone Girl is not only one of the most exciting and terrifying parts of the film, but also a great example of a film elevating a scene from the book. I remember reading this part in the book, but it didn’t nearly chill me as much as seeing it on screen helmed by the great David Fincher. There were loud and audible gasps in the theater when this happened, even from me, who already knew it was coming. Watching Desi die was far more frightening than reading it.

The scene opens with Desi arriving at his house. Amy hears Desi coming, and perfectly perches herself on the couch for his arrival. On a side note, I absolutely love Rosamund Pike’s husky and alluring voice as Amy. This scene has already begun shrouded in a sense of mystery.  One shot shows Desi and Amy completely in shadow, as the background is illuminated.

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Amy takes off her clothes, dressed in white lingerie. Of course, she is anything but pure. She has been painting herself as an innocent and abused victim for Desi the entire time.  Also, the white will make for an amazing contrast to dark red and black of Desi’s blood pouring on her.

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Amy opens her legs, she almost looks like a preying mantis about to consume her prey. The shots of the backs of Amy and Desi make for nice parallels and composition.

What really makes the scene amazing  is Trent Reznor’s score. As does the entire film. The pulsating heart-beat like music paired with the screen fading in and out makes the scene even more terrifying than it already is. In those brief all-in-black pauses, we fear for what we will see next. Our heart beats in rhythm to the score.

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Amy kills Desi at the height of his climax, when the blood is most flowing. When Amy slashes The camera is looking up at Desi, which makes it seem like the blood is going to fall on us. We see the initial slash and aftermath completely from Amy’s point of view. Instead of observing this murder we are right inside and a part of it. The cut makes for an overwhelming and horrifying shower of blood, and Amy freely moves about, rolling around in it. She is still having sex with him right after she first slits his throat.

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This scene is the farthest we’ve seen Amy go. Up until now all the havoc she’s wreaked has been on herself. We’ve seen the insane lengths she’s gone to create her murder scene, then the scenario of her being tourtured/raped by Desi. We’ve seen Amy spill her own blood, but this is the first we’ve seen her commit actual murder. The audience now sees that there are no lengths to which Amazing Amy will not go. Our eyes are opened to the true sociopath she really is.

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That final shot of Amy covered in blood, white lingerie now completely black, flipping her hair is perfect and the personification of Amy’s entire character. Even when you’re spilling buckets of blood from someone, you still have to have every blonde hair in place. Watch the scene below!