10 Cloverfield Lane is built on a premise that goes beyond itself: what if you could watch a sequel to a movie without knowing anything about it?
The news of this semi-followup to the found-footage monster movie Cloverfield only dropped this past January. Scant and frankly uninformative marketing materials and trailers have done little to paint what 10 Cloverfield Lane truly is as a film, and that’s for a best. This is a movie that relies heavily on how you engage with its story and characters, and that’s much easier when you have no idea what they’re going to do next.
In other words, it’s a fantastic thriller that also happens to be brimming with surprises. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and want to have the same “pure” experience I had, then I strongly suggest you stop reading this review now.
While the original Cloverfield centered on a city-wide disaster, this sequel (if you want to call it that) is mostly contained within a small, underground bunker. After crashing her car, Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is saved by an ex-navy farmer named Howard (John Goodman). He takes her to his shelter just as an attack from “who knows where” renders the air completely toxic. They’re joined by Emmet, the hired hand who helped build the bunker (John Gallagher Jr). Unlike Michelle, he saw the chaos unfold and fought his way in just as Howard was shutting the door for good.
From there, 10 Cloverfield Lane explores the deep tension between three claustrophobic characters. Michelle is convinced something is afoot, despite Emmet’s confidence that the world really has ended. They’re both terrified and somewhat perplexed by Howard’s eccentric behavior, and their dynamic serve as a sort of surreal take on the “suburban” family.
The moving parts of this film are just as diverse. There are ample scares and tense moments, but the movie also contains a good amount of humor carried by Goodman’s mesmerizing performance as the unpredictable conspiracy theorist. And the characters frequently find themselves having genuine breakthroughs with each other emotionally, adding even more weight to the overt symbolism that is their three-person family trapped under unusual circumstances.
Winstead as Michelle is terrific throughout, always thinking on her feet and fighting solutions just as quick as she causes the problems she finds herself in. Lesser films would be content to leave Michelle to a reactionary state, letting luck dictate her development. Instead, she is as quick to action as any other character, further generating the tension for this film’s best scenes, including a chilling board game session.
Right after seeing this film, many will solely talk about the ending, which is both the weakest and strongest aspect of the movie. It’s strong when it comes to ambition and unbridled entertainment, but it ultimately holds the film back from being one cohesive narrative. There’s something to be said of a moment being too surreal to work as an ending, even if it’s done well. And there’s something about the tail end of the final act that doesn’t feel quite right when held up against the rest of what is otherwise a killer experience.
This is a movie that I think a lot of people (including myself) will love in spite of its flaws. It’s just so tightly written and full of big moments that stick with you long after the credits.
This is a fantastic directorial debut for Dan Trachtenberg. Granted, he had a lot of help from J.J. Abrams and it shows, but I’m definitely excited for his sophomore attempt.
There’s a reason John Goodman’s “Howard” is written so well. Damien Chazelle from Whiplash (my favorite movie of 2014) co-wrote the screenplay along with Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken.
Finally, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is getting great roles again. She’s one of the most underutilized talents period. In this film, she goes toe to toe with John Goodman at his best and doesn’t bat an eye.
Speaking of Goodman, I haven’t had this much fun watching him onscreen since his stint on Community. Or even Big Lebowski. At his age, it’s great he’s still delivering superb performances.
The Pixar Theory, or “Grand Unifying Theory of Pixar movies” if you want to be more intense, is a fan theory I wrote in 2013 about how every single feature film made by Pixar Animation Studios is intentionally set in the same universe. Or unintentionally, if you believe in miracles.
I was inspired by an episode of the Web Series, “After Hours,” on Cracked.com. In the episode written by Dan O’Brien, the After Hours crew discusses, at length, how a few of the Pixar movies may secretly be about the apocalypse. They address Toy Story, WALL-E, and Cars before giving up because they can’t find a way to connect the films any further.
So I took that as a challenge.
Over the following year, I developed my own theory on how all the movies connect, and the results have been surprisingly epic. People from all over the world have read the theory, and many of you have been having ongoing discussions in the comments that go way beyond anything I first imagined (trust me, I read all of them).
Now, two years later, it’s time to see where we’re at as we welcome a new Pixar movie to the world: Inside Out.
First, it’s important to point out that the theory itself has changed dramatically over the years. A lot of people have called out flaws and underdeveloped points of the theory that make it fall apart for them. I’ve read the feedback and spent the last two years writing a book that fully fleshes out my original theory. It addresses pretty much every major complaint and issue that “debunkers” have thrown at it. And it does this in about ten chapters.
Every chapter follows a specific movie (some are lumped in together, like the Cars franchise). I talk about the context of the movie as it relates to this theory, where it fits in the grand timeline, and how each movie contributes to the idea that these movies exist in the same narrative. And yes, I go way beyond the easter eggs.
But let’s get back to the main task at hand. Let’s talk about how Inside Out masterfully fits within the idea that all of these Pixar films are connected. What you’re about to read is set up like how I wrote the chapters for my book, so if you like what you read, then that may be a sign that the book is for you. Consider this your sample chapter, if you will.
Obviously, many spoilers are ahead, so read at your own risk. I highly recommend that you watch the movie at least once before reading this, especially since it’s pretty fantastic. You’ve been warned.
THE SET UP.
Inside Out is the story of a young girl struggling to grow up, seen through the eyes of her emotions as literal beings. Yes, Pixar made a movie where feelings have feelings.
The movie opens with the birth of Riley Andersen. The first thing you may notice is that she shares the same last name as Bonnie Anderson from Toy Story 3 and the subsequent shorts based on that movie. That may tempt you into believing that Riley and Bonnie are connected somehow, but that’s definitely not the case since their names aren’t spelled the same way.
For context, Pixar named Bonnie after two people: Bonnie Hunt (a frequent voice actor for the Pixar films) and Darla K. Anderson, the producer of Toy Story 3. Darla actually has easter eggs for her name dating all the way back to A Bug’s Life, where you can catch her first name on a box in “Bug City.”
Anyway, we learn early on that Riley grew up in Minnesota, but her family moves to San Francisco when she’s 11 years old. Now it’s true that Bonnie lives in Tri County, around the corner from Andy, and Tri-County does take place in the Bay Area of California. But that’s really just a coincidence. Riley’s family never mentions that they have relatives around, and they only moved to San Francisco for her dad’s job. For that reason, all signs point to this being a coincidence.
WHEN DOES THE MOVIE TAKE PLACE?
Moving on, we get to know Riley through a montage of her early life. When we get to the point where she’s 11, it appears to be modern day. Much of the technology we see throughout the movie — like a Skype surrogate that closely resembles the one used by Trixie in Toy Story 3 and the presence of smartphones — point to this being a film set in 2015.
That means Riley was born in either 2003 or 2004, depending on her exact birthday. Interestingly, that would mean the movie opens during the same year as Finding Nemo.
We also know that this has to be some time after 2007, which is when Ratatouille takes place. In fact, Inside Out actually confirms that Ratatouille takes place in 2007 instead of 2004, which is a conundrum I ran into while writing the book. It’s all based on the blurry date seen on Gusteau’s will and…eh, don’t worry, it’s not important.
Anyway, the reason we know that this is some time after Ratatouille is because you can see Colette Tatou on the cover of a magazine in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it easter egg. Judging by the prestige of this magazine, Colette has done well for herself during her years learning from Remy and working at La Ratatouille, the bistro she started with him and Linguini.
After all, why would she be on the cover a magazine before her adventures in Ratatouille? Before she met Linguini, she was just a hardworking chef trying to build a career at a failing restaurant. I find it much more plausible that she’s created a name for herself under the tutelage of the best chef in France.
(DONALD GLOVER VOICE) MY EMOTIONS!
So as we get to know Riley in the film’s early montage, we meet her emotions. The film immediately takes us inside her head, where we watch Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger team up to influence Riley’s actions. They work in “Headquarters” (get it?) and use a mysterious console to control Riley’s decisions.
When an emotion manages to elicit a meaningful experience in real life, a memory is generated and sent to Riley’s long term memory. If it’s a specifically powerful experience, then it will create a core memory that will stay in Headquarters.
It’s somewhat confusing, but Pixar does a great job of explaining this better than I can. They use subtle techniques and cleverness to make the inside of Riley’s head immediately unique, while also incredibly believable.
For example, the memories are shaped like “marbles” because without them, Riley would lose her marbles.
This is a fun movie.
The plot of Inside Out focuses on Riley being uprooted to a new home in San Fransisco and how this negatively affects her emotions. She misses her friends, never sees her dad anymore because of his new job, and feels pressured to just “be happy” all the time. This causes her to repress her sadness, which eventually causes even more problems.
CONNECTIONS AND MISFIRES…
There’s another fun cameo during this part of the movie. We see a rat that looks a lot like Remy, which is just a fun reminder that Pixar animation transcends the multiple stories they tell. And we also see memories that feature other Pixar characters. You can see Carl and Ellie’s wedding from Up for example.
A good reason for that could be that Riley saw a tape of this wedding at some point, though that would have to be a very old home movie. It could be a picture, since we see a camera in the first frame of that scene in Up. In that case, Riley could have seen that picture and imagined the wedding herself. This has led a lot of people to think that Riley could somehow be related to Carl and Ellie, which would be quite a stretch.
That’s because Carl and Ellie sadly never had kids, so Riley would have to be a distant relative. If she knows about the wedding, then she’s probably met some of this family, but we know in those early scenes of Inside Out that Riley is visiting California for the first time. She thought the Golden Gate bridge was actually golden, after all.
You could argue that people from this family went to Minnesota to visit her, but I’m not really convinced. Personally, I don’t think we’re able to know just yet, though one theory I have is that she had a teacher or friend’s parent who is somehow connected to Carl and Ellie. A future Pixar movie may shed light on this.
Some people even want to believe that Riley is Boo from Monsters Inc.,or Andy’s mom. Seriously. Look, Riley is Riley. She’s not anyone else, and trying to force these connections is missing the point. For example, the primary reason people think Riley is Boo is because when she’s shown as a toddler, she’s wearing the same hair tie/scrunchy thing that Boo wears in Monsters Inc.
They both even have pig tails. If you’re fixated on them being one in the same, then you miss the cooler reveal, which is that Riley was growing up around the same time as Boo (Monsters Inc., takes place in the early 2000s), so of course that style and those hair ties were popular.
As for Riley being Andy’s mom…I mean that’s way too much of a stretch, even for a limo.
HUMANS ARE BATTERIES…
A main theme of the Pixar Theory is the idea that humans emit this strange energy that we see all throughout the films. In Monsters Inc., we learn that the laughter of a child can be harvested as energy for a society of creatures that mysteriously know how to use it. In The Incredibles, this energy is seen tangibly through the exploits of super-powered humans who can do amazing things.
Part of my Pixar Theory (the updated version) is that humans power the toys in Toy Story because they’re built to collect energy by the machines from The Incredibles. The book goes more into detail, but the basic idea is that the machines know how to use human energy as a battery, which carries on as a strategy all the way to the future, when monsters have to go back in time through doors to access this energy because no humans are left thanks to WALL-E.
But all this time, I’ve wondered why Pixar seems so infatuated with this idea of imagination being a raw power. And Inside Out addresses this pretty head on. The whole premise of the movie is that our emotions (as seen in Monsters Inc.,) are what truly power our actions. And the most powerful emotion for a child is Joy, as seen by Joy being the de facto leader of Riley’s emotions. Most of Riley’s memories are positive, and this is because Joy is inherently a strong emotion for many children.
The monsters of Monsters Inc, use fear, which can be another strong emotion for some kids, to power their society, but they eventually learn that laughter from joy is far more effective. And why is that? Well, Inside Out explains that joy is one of the first emotions we experience. Joy, the character, is a literal light source. She’s fast, tough, and clever. And she’ll do anything to make Riley happy. The other emotions in comparison are much more passive.
A lingering question in Monsters Inc., is why adults are so difficult to scare. Inside Out sort of answers that by showing how the inside of adults’ minds work. They’re more emotionally balanced, for example, so you don’t see one emotion overpowering the others. When we see inside the heads of Riley’s parents, the emotions don’t bicker like they do in Riley’s head. Instead, they all work together to accomplish the same goal.
But that’s not all. No, no, no. There’s something even better hiding in the dark of this movie that serves as the biggest “Aha!” moment I’ve had since I carefully re-watched Brave and Monsters Inc., back to back.
And it has to do with this guy, Bing Bong.
BING BONG! BING BONG!
Bing Bong is Riley’s imaginary friend. Joy and Sadness meet him halfway through the movie, and he helps them navigate Riley’s mind as they try to return to Headquarters. When Riley was three, Bing Bong was her best friend. He’s part cat, part elephant, and part dolphin. He’s made of cotton candy and, naturally, cries candy. He even has a wagon that can fly when powered by songs…
So what’s the big deal? Why is he important?
Simple. Bing Bong is an imaginary friend, yes. But he’s based on a monster. Riley’s monster from when she was three.
At the end of Monsters Inc., Sulley and Mike decide to make kids laugh instead of scream because it generates more energy and is less messed up. We even see Mike go through a door and perform standup comedy for a child.
But wouldn’t this leave a kid feeling traumatized? Imagine a monster coming through your door, making you laugh, and then disappearing forever. This would make no sense unless…children perceive these new monsters as their imaginary friends.
Bing Bong was a monster who went through Riley’s door and made her laugh when she was three. We know that monsters have animal characteristics, explaining his part-cat/part-elephant appearance. And of course Riley thinks he’s made of cotton candy. Why else would he be pink? I’d even argue that he makes dolphin noises to make Riley laugh, causing her to think he’s part dolphin, too.
This all makes perfect sense if we’re to believe that well-adjusted kids in Pixar movies grew up meeting monsters in their rooms late at night. And it’s further helped by the fact that in Riley’s subconscious, she’s afraid of clowns, not monsters.
And think of it this way. Isn’t it pretty easy to picture Bing Bong living in Monstropolis?
There are more easter eggs for the movie listed at the bottom, but that’s the basic rundown of how Inside Out fits into the Pixar Theory. If you think of something interesting to add or have a compelling question to ask, fire away! Just please…don’t ask if Big Hero 6, a Disney movie, should be in the Pixar Theory…
Ready for more?
The conspiring doesn’t end here. Check out my other Pixar Theory posts from infinity to beyond:
The Pixar Theory – the full book available on paperback and ebook via Kindle, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, or just a PDF. This will cover the entire theory and every movie in the Pixar universe, updated from what you just read.
There’s a globe in Riley’s classroom that has been shown in every single Toy Story film.
Some of the cars in San Francisco have bumper stickers from the Pixar movie, Cars.
Bing Bong disturbs a cloud person in Imaginationland, and he looks a lot like the cloud from the Pixar short, “Partly Cloudy.”
Also in Imaginationland, you can see a board game with a picture of Nemo that says “Find Me.”
One of Riley’s classmates wears a camo shirt with Toy Story characters on it. Well, their silhouettes, at least. It even looks like Arlo from The Good Dinosaur is on there as well. There’s even a popular girl at the school with a skull t-shirt in the same fashion as Sid’s from Toy Story, just in a different color. The 90s are making a comeback!
A banner in Riley’s hockey rink showcases a team from Tri-County, which is the setting for Toy Story. I explain this easter egg further in a different article.
Blink and you’ll miss a “For the Birds” cameo during Riley’s road trip to San Francisco in the beginning of the movie. It’s just like their appearance in Cars.
As always, the animators included ample A113 references. I’ve heard there’s more than one, but the only one I saw personally was A113 as the number of Riley’s classroom.
If you look closely at Riley’s Chinese takeout box, you’ll notice it has the same design as the one from A Bug’s Life (pictured below). Those familiar with the theory know that this could be because the same restaurant exists in both movies, so naturally there’d still be remnants of these takeout boxes hundreds of years later during Flik and the gang’s adventures.
Every once in a while, someone manages to create a pretty convincing fan theory about the Pixar movies. Most of the time, these theories are pretty lackluster, but Jonathan Carlin of “SuperCarlinBrothers” has recently come up with a great theory you might believe in.
Now, if you enjoy my theories and speculations on this site, then I have little doubt you’ll enjoy Carlin’s work on YouTube. We’ve shared multiple theories from each other on our own platforms over the years, and he’s certainly one of the most entertaining vloggers out there when it comes to fan theories.
SCB himself points out that in Toy Story 3, we see a young girl who looks like she could be “Boo” (real name is Mary) because they look alike, though it’s not 100% certain. He also makes a connection between a poster we see in Monsters Inc. inside a child’s room and the same poster being on Sid’s wall in Toy Story.
As you can see, though, the posters aren’t situated the same way, and the monster we’re seeing has just been scared by a young girl, not a sadistic kid like Sid. For that reason, I think this is just an easter egg and NOT an indication that this was Sid’s monster.
Next, SCB points out that the movies sort of collide in a comic book series called Monsters Inc: Laugh Factory. Published in 2009, this 4-part series is about what happened after the events of Monsters Inc. Interestingly, a kid who looks like Sid Phillips (minus the skull t-shirt) shows up.
You can actually see several easter eggs in Boo’s room, here. And that’s kind of the point. Laugh Factory is filled with tons of references to other Pixar movies, as this was written by Paul Benjamin, a comic book writer for Marvel (not Pixar).
Keep in mind that Disney bought Marvel in 2009, likely explaining why this comic book series came about. For that reason and several others (including blatant continuity errors), I don’t actually consider these stories canon. They’re very over-the-top and portray situations and overt nods to other Pixar movies that don’t fit the framework of what Pixar has made themselves. Still, it’s a very interesting comic book series you can check out here.
Now on to the crux of SCB’s proposed theory. Could Andy have a monster of his own? Monsters Inc. takes place in 2001, which is 6 years after the events of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 (which takes place the summer following the first movie’s ending Christmas scene).
Monsters have been scaring kids for centuries, as we know from Monsters University revealing that the school was founded in 1313. So if the movies are connected, then it’s reasonable to assume that Andy could be one of the children assigned a monster.
In Monsters Inc., I always found it weird that there are commercials and advertisements for what is essentially a power plant. Why would Waternoose be so concerned about awareness?
Monsters Inc. doesn’t sell anything.
Well, it would seem that Waternoose is concerned with recruiting new scarers. The university trains these monsters to make them the best, but as we saw in Monsters University, Sulley was able to climb the ranks without an education, possibly explaining why Waternoose is interested in hiring recruits anywhere he can find them.
This all leads me to believe that there are lots of children, but not enough scarers. The problem they have is getting enough energy from the kids they scare (because kids are harder to scare these days), but another solution is to hire more scarers to scare even more kids. Scary.
That also explains why kidnapping children was such an appealing solution to Waternoose. If he can’t keep up with demand, then stealing the kids outright can give him enough energy to last years.
Though Roz tells Mike and Sulley that they’ve been onto the kidnappings for quite some time, it’s doubtful that Andy as a kid in 1996 was ever stolen. There’s just no evidence or reason to believe that.
Back to SCB’s theory. He argues that Andy’s closet door looks remarkably similar to a door seen in Monsters University (though he couldn’t find the same door in Monsters Inc.) Specifically, this door from a promo reel on the Monsters University website matches Andy’s door.
The doorknobs even match up because on this side of the closet, the doorknob should be on the right because the one on Andy’s closet door is on the left.
SCB argues that this evidence — in tandem with Randall practicing his camouflage with wallpaper from Andy’s room — proves that Randall is Andy’s monster.
Unfortunately, I don’t agree.
The issue is that Monsters University takes place years before Randall becomes a full-time scarer (he’s just a freshman at the start of the movie). If this is Andy’s door, then that just means Andy had some other monster while Randall was still in school.
That also gives a more logical explanation for the wallpaper thing. Sure, Randall has it as practice, but that doesn’t mean he’s scared a kid with that same wallpaper. It probably just belongs to Monsters Inc. in the same way they have the practice rooms for scaring. Why and how would Randall have this for his own personal use unless he got it from the company?
I think it makes way more sense for the wallpaper to be passed down because it belonged to a kid who moved, giving them an opportunity to collect it and use it for practice. That may even be why the university has this door in the first place. It’s not being used anymore.
Of course, who else would need wallpaper to camouflage themselves against? It’s not like everyone can be stealthy like Randall. Well, I’d say the simple explanation is that Monsters Inc. builds its practice rooms from real rooms, and Randall and his assistant are using wallpaper from these rooms for their specialized training.
Here’s a question that’s bothered me for a while: How much time passes between Monsters University and Monsters Inc.?
This is a question of age, to be sure. In the original movie, Mike and Sulley appear to be grown, well-established adults. From their voice actors, you’d assume they’re in their late 30s or early 40s.
After watching Monsters University, however, you can tell that their voices are basically the same. Mike is in a relationship with Celia not long after he and Sulley get their dream jobs, and neither of them seem settled down romantically. I’d honestly argue they’re really in their mid-20s, which supports the idea that Monsters University occurs during or after Andy’s move in 1995.
SCB also brings up the “Newt Crossing” sticker on Andy’s door in Toy Story 3 as evidence that Andy remembers Randall coming through his closet. But I don’t find that very convincing because why would Andy plaster something that scared him on his closet? I’m more inclined to believe that it really is just a reference to the Newt movie that never came about.
I really enjoy this theory, but I don’t think it’s complete. SCB is certainly on to something, and I definitely want to believe a monster we’ve seen has an old scare card for Andy somewhere. But for now, we can only guess.
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