Going to use Spoiler Tags since the film hasn't come out yet.
If there's one thing that I find completely perplexing in your review, 1SO, it's this bit about the emotional payoffs being mild. Has Pixar ever made a film where one of the leads of the film is metaphorically killed off like Bing Bong?
Not 'like' Bing Bong, but I found Ellie's death in Up to have more of an impact. From the moment she stumbles walking up the hill I was a mess. Bing Bongs death was more like Woody saying goodbye to Andy at the end of Toy Story 3. Inevitability and acceptance, because Bing Bong knew he could no longer be useful to Riley and belonged down in the pit.
I've been racking my memory and I can't remember one. I was half expecting for Pixar to pull a Marvel and cheapen the sacrifice by having him come back 5 minutes later, but this was not so. He's gone. Forever. A huge part of Riley's childhood gone in mere seconds in order for her to regain Joy. The last line, "Take her to the moon for me, okay?" will be haunting me for a long while.
So is this what Tasha Robinson and Matt Singer are crying over? Cause that makes sense. I was sad too. Looked over at my wife at that part and we both had tears in our eyes. I didn't want to mention Bing Bong in my main review because he's not being advertised, even though there's merchandise with him. I liked him more than any of the emotions. Perhaps a more interesting character because he gets to be more than one note.
The film doesn't have high stakes nor does it need them. This is a film about a child and, appropriately, this child's experience of these big shifts in her life are high enough stakes for her. This is Pixar at its most realistic. You've quoted other films Pixar has done, but those are mostly all flights of fancy into creativity. While I admire the way those films work to provide allegory, I don't think this film should be penalized for going a less alternative route. Perhaps it should be for the way it's humor is executed, but the arc of Riley/her emotions are deeply relatable and nuanced.
I get the reasoning behind going this way with Riley's external struggles. It doesn't make sense to see her life threatened just to go big, but I really didn't like the progression where Riley was making decisions that killed off her core islands in sequential order. Turned her emotional instability into a video game.
What I found nuanced was the realization by Joy that Sadness was just as much a core of Riley's life. That the core memory that created Hockey Island comes with the fact that she missed the winning goal.
My main problems come with the overly cartoony way that Joy uses to finally get back to headquarters after the escape from the pit. The imaginary boyfriend bit strained the logic of the world to its breaking point. And how did Sadness get on a cloud? Why can only heat break the HQ glass?
Holy Crap, the boyfriends were that the low point for me too. I think they were hoping to get away with it because of stuff like the room of abstract thought, but it was just absurd. Thought the same about Anger blowtorch.
I wasn't annoyed by the narration. It actually did explain everything I needed to know pretty concisely. I wish they found a better way to Show Not Tell the mechanics of the world. Alas.
Like they've done in every other Pixar film. Even the brief bits of Fred Willard in Wall-E leave most things unanswered. Think about that opening when Riley is a baby and how beautiful it might've played without Joy narrating the moment.