I usually am not called to speak out against trailers, a scant premonition of a more complete artifact that likely rings truer, but sometimes a trailer calls attention to a glaring representational issue in a film long in advance. I certainly can’t judge whether Inside Out is a good or bad film from this far off, but it has already set itself on an at least ostensibly problematic path that can’t be averted. I’m not talking about the atrocious first minute that would rather sell us on “Pixar’s uniform greatness” – a once comfortable notion made recently noxious by Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University – than the film itself. I’ve come to expect that Disney would leverage all the sentiment they can muster, in spite the aforementioned duds.
Formally, it’s a bad trailer. And that’s fine, because there’s still a complete and separate film on the way that will succeed or fail on its own terms. One of the terms it sets for itself, however, hints at a problem in the film that ought to have been remedied before production was underway. The gist of the film, as revealed by the trailer, is that it’s set in the mind of a young girl, where her mood is controlled by her emotions: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear. Already, it’s making the Divergent mistake of narrowing it down to five “basics”, ignoring more specific emotions in between. However, that’s perhaps just nitpicking, since condensing it to five streamlines what is, in real life psychology, a very messy process.
It’s not what emotions are chosen that’s problematic, but how they’re presented. In the mind of this young girl, Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) are clearly girls. The other two, Anger (Lewis Black) and Fear (Bill Hader), are male. Male emotions in a girl’s mind.
Now, this could this could hint at a bit of trans-identity, or even intersex identity, to which I’d applaud Pixar, and may still hope that’s the case going forward. I rather doubt it. So, a question arises, could Anger and Fear not be represented by women? Or would Anger be too much like Disgust, and Fear too much like Sadness? It’s also worrisome that these emotions in particular are represented by men. Perhaps it’s a sly gender commentary tucked into this film, that the predominant emotions in men are the negative ones. It’s not a healthy commentary, though.
I should note that none of these are beyond remedy by simply seeing the finished product. They’re signs of the deeply troubled waters Pixar is wading into with this film, as well as the consequences should they oversimplify it, in the way many animated films nowadays are wont to do. Is it good that the majority of characters in Pixar’s latest film are women? Emphatically so, but we’re already seeing the possible effects of studio compromise in this trailer, in more ways than one. The once prestige animation house has a lot riding on next year, with two films (including The Good Dinosaur) seeking to redeem their sullied reputation (ugh, no pun intended). For better or worse, 2015 will give us a clear look at the company’s future direction.