As revitalizing, multifaceted, and superlative as Inside/Out truly is it’s carrying a lot recycled Pixar narrative components, mostly from the studio’s firstborn franchise which has earned an estimated $1,956,823,883 at the worldwide box office alone (with those numbers you could hardly blame them for sticking to a formula). Like Toy Story it also features a control freak whose love for her child/master sets the conflict in motion. The conflict similarly involves two opposing characters getting lost thanks to the aforementioned control freak’s stifling inability to allocate tasks equally to all five primary emotions (which also include anger, disgust, fear, and sadness – which happens to be the journey companion to the control freak aka “joy”) which in the case of Toy Story is more a matter of jealousy whereas Joy’s motivations seem to stem primarily from genuine misguided motherly love. I suppose it’s weird that your own emotions could look upon you as a parent would, but in the case of “Joy” it makes sense that her relationship with Riley is one of nurturing and protection. The incredible journey of self-discovery has served the company well critically and financially (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Wall-E, A Bug’s Life, Cars, Up…… pretty much every Pixar movie) so it’s not necessarily groundbreaking in its narrative catalyst and end goal. Inside/Out is about a power struggle for the mind and heart of a twelve year old girl named Riley who gets her first taste of disillusionment when her family uproots and moves from Minnesota to San Francisco.
Having faced a similar seemingly life-shattering move myself at around the same age, I can attest that Pete Doctor and company hone in on some accurate mild-calamities that could potentially set the kind of major personality changes into motion that are depicted here. My family moved when I was eleven from our childhood home in Brackney, Pennsylvania to Williston, Vermont leaving behind friends, family, the house I spent all of my years up to that point in, and a school that I had just felt comfortable going to on a daily basis. The move was terrible initially thanks to the first wave of kids I met in my new school, all jerks, and the house that we moved into which had significantly less forest and backyard. Now call me a spoiled kid who needed a good lesson in adaptability but there is more to a move than the physical changes it presents. The area I moved into in Vermont was dense with former love children turned lawyer/insurance-salesman/politician, albeit each still listening to The Grateful Dead though gravitating naturally towards travesties like Phish. Many of their kids were the probable consequence of their wealth and lack of backbone. Spoiled rich kids of former hippies make fantastic bullies, impervious to consequence and far more vicious in intent. Of course I’m generalizing and my generalizations are coming from a hallowed place of deep bitterness and resentment where a fair share of “personality islands” fell in its wake. And while my life had never been controlled by joy to the extent of Riley’s, I certainly discovered an increase in blue orbs in my core memory stash.
I remember that particular time being tough between my father and me for various reasons. I only remembered them from my own point of view but conversations later revealed that he too was at a harsh juncture due to the loss of his mother the year before. Since I’m filtering this personal history lesson through Inside/Out’s fictional conscious mind headquarters and beyond I’ll point out that what would be my dad’s “parent island” had recently fallen along with undoubted other pillars of his personality which caused him to turn to one of those hallowed cherished/hated pillars of the real world, in this case to the detriment of my entire family. If we were bouncing back to my young perspective, I saw a person that I once cared for fall apart so to speak. I didn’t realize the impact my attitude had on him during this dark period, but nevertheless I saw his choice of solitude as a betrayal to the friendship we used to enjoy. I only bring this up because Riley’s sense of betrayal is similar though her parents are characteristically brighter than what I knew. Her parents are kinder and more observant to their daughters hurting, but their uncharacteristic neglect along with a brief moment of impatience from the otherwise well-tempered father (though honestly his reaction was nothing more than the straw that broke the camel’s back) represent the proof that Riley’s world of old was officially fading away. For me, the heart of the movie beats in the real world even as it’s being watched by the feigned creations that dominate most of the screen time. Pixar has a knack for landing the emotional apogees with serene command, and the moment in this movie is as good as the histrionic drool would suggest.
And I guess all of this talk of milestones has me thinking about my earlier experiences with movies. I’ve rambled on and bragged that my early days were benevolently stacked with classic cinema, the kind of education a lot of cinephiles discover much later and with much more debt. But I tend to highlight this time through an ill-at-ease modern susceptibility, meaning I cherry pick experiences/films that make me look cool. In actuality, the majority of auteur approved classics were introduced to my brother and me around the age of twelve, where I can specifically remember seeing Lawrence of Arabia and On the Waterfront as well as Rio Bravo and the Ford westerns and more obscure 50s movies that had their time in the sun thanks to revivals and reevaluations. Before that point my dad ---- who was compelled by the third person of the Godhead to keep our minds’ away from all things filthy from the filth-friendly 80s and 90s (unsuccessfully thanks to my grandparents and their cable/satellite dish) --- did a good job of easing our inattentive eyes/minds towards the likes of classic comedy teams, cartoons, Harryhausen/O’Brien monster flicks, and preapproved/taped off of television modern movies. If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a brief walk down my since clouded (filthy things) memory lane to what I might consider to be seminal core memory cinematic building blocks.
My first confirmed movie theater experience was in 1988 during Walt Disney’s Bambi re-release. I saw it at the Tioga theater in Owego, New York which is still standing in its same location. I don’t remember much about the experience though I was told by my mother that she had a hard time keeping me in my seat, as we were right near the aisle. I instead have two other memories from this trip. First, we stopped at a fast food joint and got happy meals containing characters from the movie, my brother got the coveted Thumper toy and I got Friend Owl, as voiced by Will Wright who also acted in They Live By Night, Adam’s Rib, Johnny Guitar, and about 221 other credits including television appearances. The other memory from that evening involved a car accident where I remember children bloodied and hurt being assisted by my father until the ambulance arrived. Surprisingly it didn’t rattle me as much as I would think it would rattle a five-year-old unfamiliar with this type of hurt. Then again, by the age of five I had received stitches and a hodgepodge of injury-related trips to the doctor and E.R. so maybe my grit for gore was formed in those clumsy developmental years. Later, I would receive the Bambi VHS in 1989; it’s first time released in that format. I still have the tape though I couldn’t tell you if my current reaction to it would be more in line with Manny. I suppose I’ll find out soon enough.
Another vital moment in my projected baptism was my first experience with Abbott and Costello, which was also, to the best of my knowledge, a: the first time I ever popped in a VHS tape, b: the first time I had seen a monster onscreen, c: the first time I had seen a comedy outside of cartoons. The movie was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and it was taped by my neighbor Fran who had the capability of recording a triple feature thanks to his dual-speed/long play VHS recorder and his cable-box which caught Uncle Ted’s Monstermania airing of Meet Frankenstein, Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Meet the Mummy on MVIA. Ted was born Edwin L. Raub, in 1921. He served as radio operator during WWII at both the storming of Normandy and Operation Market Garden, where he earned a couple of Purple Hearts and got severe burns on both hands thanks to an explosion involving gasoline can. During his recovery he started learning card tricks where he would entertain other injured soldiers which in turn led to a vocation “to perform for churches, and then I worked clubs, resorts, every mall in Northeastern Pennsylvania, shopping centers, store promotions and private parties." From there he tweaked his magic show to cater to scatterbrained children, smuggling in an anti-drug/alcohol message fit for Regan era youth, performing up to 500 times a year, perfecting his craft, and eventually taking those talents to the now-near-extinct profession of horror host (perhaps a later post should be dedicated to this). He even employed the walking/breathing scab known as Bill O’Reilly as writer for the show. Predictably the two didn’t get along and O’Reilly, true to his loathsome form, spread the word on Raub’s supposed alcoholism which was refuted by several people including his daughter.
This type of senseless libeling became Bill’s stock and trade, a vocation that has earned him an estimated net worth $85 million riling up knuckle-dragging neoconservative bigots about invisible phony threats from “the other.” Uncle Ted and Nefu Ned deserved better, but that’s neither here nor there. As for that VHS, I think I was initially more enamored with the red fez and the disorderly mustache than the movies themselves for the first few viewings though my long relationship with Bud and Lou lived on. It became an ongoing birthday/Christmas tradition to receive a tape from the duo, the first being Buck Privates from my grandmother. By the time I went to college I owned damn near their entire oeuvre, which I packed into a box and would watch when I got homesick. Rio Rita became a favorite amongst my friends and I, though Meet the Invisible Man worked just fine. One of my most cherished Bud and Lou memories came when I worked at Vestal Nursing Center, a job charitably given to me and sustained by my landlord, who also happened to be my friend Lisa’s, dad. We (my brother and bandmates Steve and Travis as well as our traveling companion, Nate) dropped out of college to tour and write music. We would spend up to nine months a year on the road, before the days of social media oversaturated the “market” making the “get in van” mentality less endearing and more likely to sink you before you ever float.
Anyway, touring at that rate can drain whatever savings you had rather quickly, especially when your van breaks down and you are already forking out personal funds for gas when well-meaning crust punks only provide $20 for your tank before a seven hour trip up the Cali coast. As taxing as these situations would be, I was as happy as I’ve ever been, cut loose and free until reality officially set in once we pulled back into our hometown of Binghamton, homeless. My brother and I were officially cut loose thanks to our decision to bail on a higher education to pursue something as foreign to our father as punk music (note: we weren’t punk unfortunately, more like a watered down post-hardcore/emo hybrid). This left us without a home and so quick calls were made and we were allowed to squat at our aforementioned future landlord’s vacant rental house. He felt bad for us and wound up letting us stay there for four years, getting us all jobs with him at the nursing home, where our docile and gracious boss Bob would let us come and go as we pleased. Our basic job was damage control meaning painting, plastering, fixing call-bells, cleaning, etc. When painting I would have to make sure the resident would be out of the room for multiple reasons (paint fumes, space, and dust). Before that however I would find dings and plaster them. This process would allow me time to chat with the residents, who all seemed to like me. One particular lady, whose name I don’t remember, talked about her early days with her since-deceased husband. She talked about dates in that day and somehow she brought up Abbott and Costello which immediately sparked conversation about our shared interest. She spoke about the audience reactions in that day, the loud laughter and the eager anticipation to return to the theater for their next movie. It made sense, considering their box office ascendancy in the forties. And that was about the extent of our conversation, one of many that helped me learn better manners and listening skills.
Abbott and Costello aside, I also remember that my dad asked Fran to tape a few more monster movies for us. The other triple feature was The Blob (1958), King Kong (33), and Son of Kong (33). I watched King Kong so many times that it began to suddenly fast forward on its own. This happened to several tapes including the ones my dad received from my grandmother. I remember TNT’s Monstervision which gave us The Giant Behemoth (59), It Came From Beneath the Sea (55), and The Lost Continent (68) which disturbed me in ways I hadn’t known at that point. My dad also purchased VHS tapes to cater to my love for monsters, my pride and joy being the beloved union of Godzilla and King Kong in 1962, brought to us by Ishiro Honda. I can still taste the red berry juice, smell the giant octopus, and remember cheering with my brother as Kong turned Godzilla into a weight throw. Justin rooted for the lizard and I for the ape. We would watch everything together from Swiss Family Robinson to Dean and Jerry/Danny Kaye/Laurel and Hardy to Star Wars. So my movie life at the age of 5 and 6 was, as I said before, compartmentalized between monsters, funny men, and cartoons. Modern movies were a treat, usually preceding the classics but that’s another talk for another day. Of course all of this movie watching had to contest with my toys, the woods, my bike, and television shows which frankly worked better for me. I remember Denis the Menice, Masters of the Universe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pirates of Dark Water, Denver the Last Dinosaur, and Darkwing Duck. Do you remember Dino-Riders or Battle Beasts? How about Rush’n Attack from Konami, an obvious cash-in on Milius’ paranoid WWIII turd. What about Tecmo Super Bowl or Ghosts and Goblins? While most kids were shooting ducks, Justin and I were playing Wild Gunman. These were the days when I believed that springs had seaweed that would grab your leg and pull you to the bottom. I also believed that if you got punched upwards in the nose your nose bone would poke your brain and kill you. Augh the good old days, never to return but preserved snuggly in my core memory while I try and live in the present, which means sharing space with blasé whippersnappers who prefer overhyped glum rubbish like True Detective to awww shucks entertainment like Inside/Out. I suppose you now know which ring I’m throwing my hat in.