After a two year hiatus, Pixar is back in a big way with the first of two original features in 2015. In a sort of Herman’s Head meets Osmosis Jones, Inside Out takes place almost entirely inside the head of eleven year old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias).
Everything in Riley’s life has been smooth sailing up to this point. She has a loving family, a goofy fun loving personality, a passion for hockey, good friends, and an honest attitude. Responsible for her outlook on life are her emotions. Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust share in the duties of safekeeping Riley’s well being, taking turns at the console in central command. Voiced, respectively, by Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling, her emotions don’t always get along together and sometimes have different ideas on what is best for their girl.
When a difficult move from Minnesota to San Francisco shakes the foundations of everything the crew has built, troubled times are ahead. The crisis leaves Joy and Sadness stranded deep in the vast library of Long Term Memory. With only Fear, Anger, and Disgust piloting, young Riley finds herself upset and confused and headed in a downward spiral. It’s up to Joy and Sadness to traverse the wild landscape of a young girl’s mind in order to fix things before it’s too late.
Also featuring the voices of Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Richard Kind, Paula Poundstone, Bobby Moynihan, Frank Oz, Flea, and (of course) John Ratzenberger, among others.
It’s a given, but Pixar continues to up their game in the visuals department. The outside world of San Francisco is rendered in near photo-realistic detail, and they continue to push boundaries, artistically. Inside Riley’s head it is suitably cartoonish, but no less detailed, and enhanced when seen in 3D. The embodied emotions are rendered with particles of virtual energy rather than solid shapes – a concept that’s hard to aptly describe on paper, but works wonderfully on screen. A little bit fuzzy, a little bit fluid, and probably exactly what emotions’ bodies would look like.
The plot quickly takes on a rather simplistic quest structure, reminiscent of Marlin’s search for his son in Finding Nemo. Just because the story is simple, though, doesn’t mean it’s not deep. Director Pete Docter uses the opportunity to explore numerous concepts like abstract though, imagination, and memories in entirely new and unique ways. Pixar has built a reputation (that has somewhat faltered in recent years) on creating stories with many subtle layers, and this is no exception. Blending the emotions’ journey with that of Riley’s in the outside world, I feel certain that there are clever moments I missed – this is the type of film that will surely reward a second viewing.
Deftly and cleverly bringing abstract concepts to life, Inside Out explores thought and emotion in a way I’ve never seen before. It’s simplistic enough for children to enjoy on the most basic of levels, but incredibly complex in it’s exploration of what makes us human. Never sinking to simple brain related puns, nothing is there without a carefully thought out reason. The evolution of the story and how it takes us through so many aspects of the mind feels natural and never forced like we’re just hitting beats necessitating a visit to each section that needs to be checked off the list.
It’s no surprise that a film in which the personifications of joy and sadness are the two main characters will pull on the audiences own emotions. And this is Pixar we’re talking about. Anyone who has children or has any inkling memory of their own childhood will find the corners of their mouths pulled in both directions. You might not expect to get choked up about a cotton candy elephant cat dolphin, but you will. You will.
I can guarantee you that someone is going to slam this film for the way in which it portrays us being controlled by seemingly autonomous emotions. They are going to say that it encourages kids not to take responsibility for their actions – Anger was driving the console right then, it’s not their fault. Sure, someone is going to take this film literally, to a point, and make that sort of argument. It’s not going to be me though.
Yes, I would have liked to see perhaps something that hinted at people not just being a vehicle driven by their emotions, but, in a sense, that’s what we are. Of course we are directly responsible for dealing with those emotions, even if that’s not explicitly on display here, but I don’t think that’s too difficult to understand. In some ways, this film is about what happens when you let your life be controlled by emotion – especially if it’s just one or two, and not having the right ones behind the wheel at the right times. Like I said, there are some incredibly deep and complex issues at play here, in a very attractive candy coated film for children and adults of all ages.
For one reason or another, the film hasn’t stuck with me as vividly as some others by the studio. Perhaps it was the brisk pace or the fact that I’m older than I was when Toy Story 3 came out. Again, it’s the tiniest of nitpicks, and I enjoyed it immensely at the time, and I do believe it warrants a second go round to really pick out all the details. Pixar is back in fine form, with one of their best films yet. It’s an instant classic, and could just change the conversation about what goes on inside your head for generations to come.
Mrs. Hamster was unable to screen this film
My rating: Five out of five hats
Inside Out laughs, cries, yells, shudders, and cowers into 3,800 theaters, including IMAX 3D, June 19