REVIEW: Inner Workings [2016]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: G | Runtime: 7 minutes | Release Date: November 23rd, 2016 (USA)
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Director(s): Leonardo Matsuda
Writer(s): Leonardo Matsuda

“Boring, Boring & Glum”

When the title of the film is Inner Workings and its conceit is to personify a human character’s internal physiology, comparisons to Inside Out are unavoidable. Not even the delineation that Leonardo Matsuda‘s short deals with organs rather than emotions can help if you have your mind set on an ill-advised idea of plagiarism. What does allow you to hope for the best, however, is that both are under the Disney umbrella (I include Pixar) so no nefarious intent is at play. Luckily it doesn’t take long to acknowledge how different the properties truly are either. This isn’t about a child maturing into adolescence and all it’s complexities. No, Matsuda’s tale looks inside a conflicted adult desperate to reconcile his career obligations with his desire to truly live.

If I were to compare the piece to anything it would be Terry Gilliam‘s dystopian The Crimson Permanent Assurance. There’s this heavy (comedic) dread and complacency at play as Paul (the lead character) moves through life beholden to his brain’s pragmatism. It enjoys safety and security, hypothesizing what could go wrong and ensuring it won’t. So despite all the fun distractions enticing Paul on his ten-minute walk to work (and his heart doing its damnedest to divert course), the brain is unwavering. Surfing leads to death. Eating leads to death. Buying a pair of sunglasses leads to death. The only option where continued life is “assured” is to go to the office, put on a frown, and routinely click some keys until the lunch bell rings.

As anyone who’s worked a cubicle job they despise but feel trapped to endure for the paycheck knows, the end result of such unhappiness is a worse death. To force the dormant joy at your core further down until it disappears completely is a form of psychological suicide we have each performed at some point. Eventually we hope we’re able to turn our logic off to let our souls takeover because life needs light to shine for us to carry on. We mistakenly believe frivolity is a desire of the present and not a means to a happy future because it’s difficult to accept that the lack thereof now means a void forever. Ambivalence will creep in it you’re not careful and existence will crush you flat.

How Matsuda personifies the brain, heart, lungs, muscles, and stomach is cartoonish in the best way. These body parts become over-the-top fun even when they are stunting each other’s happiness. Cribbing from those old biological charts in encyclopedias with transparent overlays separating nerves from organs, the animation moves from a two-dimensional textured polish to computer-generated three-dimensional glossy shape. The brain is sufficiently severe while the heart bounces with energy to spare. The lungs become a goofy metronome and the bladder a reservoir carefully policed by its kidneys. We watch the dynamic between them all as Paul is dragged left and right by their whims. It’s pragmatism versus idealism—existing versus living. Unless we try something new every once in awhile we’ll never approach our true potential.

courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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