Home > Reviews > INSIDE OUT – Michael Giacchino

INSIDE OUT – Michael Giacchino

insideoutOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The last couple of Pixar movies – Cars 2, Brave, Monsters University – have been comparative disappointments by their ludicrously high standards, and a turnaround in fortune was required. As such, directors Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen stepped up and produced Inside Out, a beautiful, moving portrait of what it means to grow up. The conceit of the story is built around the theory developed by renowned psychologist Paul Ekman that the human experience is built around six core emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and joy. The film follows Riley, a happy 11-year-old Midwestern girl, whose carefree life is thrown into turmoil when her parents move to San Francisco. Inside Riley’s head, the five emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) – try to guide her through this difficult, life-changing event; throughout her life to date, Joy has been Riley’s dominant emotion, but ever since the move Sadness has been inexplicably compelled to move to the forefront. After one particularly traumatic event on the first day at her new school, Joy and Sadness are accidentally swept out of the Headquarters where Riley’s conscious thought is processed, and into the labyrinthine storage area where Riley’s long-term memories are kept; as such, the mis-matched pair must find a way to return to HQ, where Anger, Fear and Disgust have been left in control.

The film is a masterpiece of concept, design, and emotional depth; somehow, it manages to convey such complicated notions as abstract thought, dreams, subconscious fears, the onset of puberty, and more nuanced emotional combinations, in a way which is easy for children to understand, but also allows adults to connect with it too. The balance between broad humor and pathos is perfect, and the film is thankfully not afraid to portray more negative emotions in a genuine way. Contributing enormously to the success of this is Michael Giacchino’s clever score, which – much like the film itself – seems too happy and breezy on the surface, but is in fact deeply felt underneath. This is Giacchino’s fifth score for Pixar, following on from The Incredibles, Ratatouille, the Oscar-winning Up, and Cars 2.

Giacchino’s score can pretty much be split into two schools of thought: representations of the emotions that Riley feels, and music to accompany the things that happen to Riley’s emotions inside her head, although this is not absolute, and there’s lots of crossover, as one would expect with the two ideas being both physical and metaphysical representations of the same person. The cornerstone of the score is Riley’s theme, which is introduced in the opening cue, “Bundle of Joy”. Initially performed on solo piano, it gradually grows to encompass guitars, strings doubled by light woodwinds, a harp, and, unusually, glass bowls. These instruments form the cornerstone of Riley’s musical identity as the film progresses, with the glass bowls seeming to represent the general concept of Sadness; their subtle omnipresence in the background of the entire score is reflective of one of the film’s key ideas.

Despite initially appearing as a whimsical theme with an appropriately child-like demeanor, Riley’s theme is actually surprisingly malleable, twisting and contorting into several different variations to represent different aspects of Riley’s life experiences. Meanwhile, “Nomanisone Island/National Movers” introduces the score’s secondary theme, the Family theme, which specifically represents Riley’s relationship with her parents; it starts out upbeat and enthusiastic, underscoring the adventures the family has on its road trip across the country, but takes a darker turn as the family arrives in their less-than-salubrious San Francisco neighborhood – the last resting place of Remy, for those who notice these things.

Much of the first third of the score focuses on Riley’s theme. In the second cue, “Team Building,” Giacchino opens with a hearty tuba solo, but then transfers the theme to lively, playful guitars accompanied by a more rambunctious rhythmic undercurrent that has a hint of Ratatouille to its orchestration. The way Giacchino’s music jumps from style to style within this cue illustrates perfectly the stream-of-consciousness thinking of a child, with all its lack of focus and surprising shifts in tone. Later, “First Day of School” uses the guitar in combination with pizzicato strings, dancing woodwinds and a whole host of lively percussion items to capture the breathless anticipation of that most important day in a kid’s life, while “Riled Up” takes the theme, strips it down, and uses it as the basis of a snare-lick laden militaristic march that illustrates one of Riley’s few moments of bad temper.

The middle third of the score concentrates on the music that accompanies the adventures of the emotions, particularly Joy and Sadness, as they explore the different areas of Riley’s mind, and gives Giacchino the opportunity to move around in numerous different genres and musical styles. “Goofball No Longer” is a surprisingly intense orchestral action sequence underpinned by a particularly insistent xylophone rhythm. “Memory Lanes” is peppy and full of can-do spirit, illustrating Joy’s exuberance and upbeat nature with more Ratatouille-esque orchestrations, this time in the shape of an accordion. “The Forgetters” have a broad, jazzy motif with a prominent woodwind part underpinned by a slightly bored-sounding Hammond organ.

“Chasing the Pink Elephant” introduces the circus-like motif for Riley’s invisible friend Bing-Bong, a mass of hooting woodwinds, oompah-brasses, and breathy calliope pipes, which is revisited later in the similarly goofy “Imagination Land”. “Abstract Thought” is perhaps the most peculiar cue on the album, blending the main orchestral ideas with rock guitars which gradually crumble and decompose into a chaotic collision of Elliot Goldenthal-style saxophones and Looney Tunes chase music. “Dream Productions” is a fun pastiche of the hustle and bustle of 1940s Hollywood studio music, “Dream a Little Nightmare” is an uproarious action sequence with more bleating saxophones, and “The Subconcious Basement” even begins to enter horror music territory, using the Hammond organ and string tremolos to create a sense of tension and nervous anticipation.

The score’s final third is where the various musical ideas begin to blend with each other, as the actions of Joy, Sadness, and Bing-Bong begin to directly affect Riley’s real-world actions. “We Can Still Stop Her” is the score’s most powerful and dramatic action sequence, but it segues into “Tears of Joy,” an achingly beautiful piano solo accompanied by a tender string wash and a processed marimba, which gives it an otherworldly echo effect that recalls the opening seconds of the first cue. The way Giacchino brings back a deconstructed version of the Family theme in such a quiet, intimate setting is superb, cleverly drawing parallels between Joy missing her “family” – the other emotions in HQ – and Riley’s estrangement from her own parents due to Joy’s elongated absence.

“Rainbow Flyer” is a helter-skelter version of Riley’s theme, emboldened with a combination of Joy’s boundless optimism and Bing-Bong’s creativity, which finishes with the score (and film’s) most emotional moment. Another brief action sequence in “Chasing Down Sadness” – listen for the cool little motif that passes from flute to trumpets half way through the cue! – leads into the finale, “Joy Turns to Sadness/A Growing Personality”. I mentioned earlier the use of glass bowls throughout the score as a very subtle instrumental leitmotif for Sadness, but during these final few cues they start to assert themselves much more, as Sadness’s key role in refining the depths of Riley’s personality becomes more apparent. The final performances of the Family theme, and Riley’s theme, are just lovely, and lead into the extended 8-minute “The Joy of Credits,” which revisits the main theme in a variety of styles.

Taken at face value, Inside Out seems to be the least impressive of Giacchino’s four scores in 2015, lagging behind the more obvious thrills of Jupiter Ascending, Tomorrowland, and Jurassic World. It’s quieter, more ‘child-like’, more whimsical, an entirely different musical animal from those three action extravaganzas. However, when you actually start to dig into the meat of the score, you begin to understand just what Giacchino has done here, and what an achievement Inside Out is. Just as the film has to work on multiple levels, the music does too, and Giacchino successfully navigates this intellectual minefield with a pair of core themes that represent the most important aspects of the protagonist’s life, but which are musically flexible enough to go through numerous changes in tone, orchestration and tempo, while still retaining their personality. This, combined with Giacchino’s superb creativity in terms of the instrumentation, and his knack for eliciting the right emotions from his audience at just the right time, makes this a winner all the way. Considering the critical acclaim the movie has received too, I’m predicting a third Academy Award nomination.

Buy the Inside Out soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Bundle of Joy (2:48)
  • Team Building (2:18)
  • Nomanisone Island/National Movers (4:20)
  • Overcoming Sadness (0:51)
  • Free Skating (0:59)
  • First Day of School (2:02)
  • Riled Up (1:02)
  • Goofball No Longer (1:11)
  • Memory Lanes (1:22)
  • The Forgetters (0:50)
  • Chasing the Pink Elephant (1:55)
  • Abstract Thought (1:47)
  • Imagination Land (1:25)
  • Down in the Dumps (1:47)
  • Dream Productions (1:43)
  • Dream a Little Nightmare (1:50)
  • The Subconscious Basement (2:01)
  • Escaping the Subconscious (2:09)
  • We Can Still Stop Her (2:54)
  • Tears of Joy (2:39)
  • Rainbow Flyer (2:58)
  • Chasing Down Sadness (1:45)
  • Joy Turns to Sadness/A Growing Personality (7:49)
  • The Joy of Credits (8:18)

Running Time: 58 minutes 43 seconds

Walt Disney Records D002064702 (2015)

Music composed by Michael Giacchino. Conducted by Tim Simonec. Orchestrations by Tim Simonec, Peter Boyer, Brad Dechter, Mark Gasbarro, Norman Ludwin, Cameron Patrick, Marshall Bowen and Jeffrey Kryka. Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki. Edited by Stephen M. Davis. Album produced by Michael Giacchino.

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  1. Nasir
    August 21, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    It absolutely should receive an Academy award nomination. The movie is devastating and it owes a lot of it too MG’s score.

  2. September 5, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    With all these great Giacchino’s scores coming this year, can we say that 2015 is for Giacchino what 1977 was for Williams, 1995 was for Horner and 2014 was for Desplat?

  3. December 1, 2015 at 6:34 pm

    When I first saw the pics for this movie I thought it was about little living emojis/emoticons, it does look like that doesn’t it? Nope, instead its actually about little living creatures inside your head that represent emotions. When I say living creatures I’m not so sure that’s even correct, they are more like representations of the mind or emotions

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