Inside Out review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The creative team at Pixar have been playing with our emotions for years the way they have crafted deeply emotional and human stories, which is saying a lot for animated features about toys, monsters, superheroes and robots. Now they’ve personified those emotions within the head of 11-year-old Riley quickly approaching the age of 12. Venturing into the mind of a girl growing up presents a realm of psychological possibilities and Pixar thankfully explores every nook and cranny. They hit upon many unique and touching aspects of one’s thought process and conflicting emotions that one might wonder if this subject matter is perhaps too deep for kids. But kids really deserve more credit than that as they’re clearly more complex as the film reveals. Everyone can relate to how terrible it is to move across the country.
Inside Riley’s head exists a massive database of various mental elements from memories to dreams to beacons of her core personality. At the helm in a control center are her five key emotions controlling her actions with strategic turns at the wheel (or in this case a big button). Joy (Amy Poehler) is a Tinkerbell-esque pixie who plays a heavy role in Riley’s developing life, preserving her cherished memories. Fear (Bill Hader) is the neurotic and safety-obsessed entity that tries to steer Riley away from danger. Disgust (Mindy Kaling) does her best to trigger Riley’s gag reflex for broccoli with Anger (Lewis Black) at the ready for tantrum mode when dad won’t allow dessert if she doesn’t eat her dinner. Joy practically runs the ship while Sadness (Phyllis Smith) is kicked to the corner given how every memory she touches turns to a tearful one.
And everyone needs to be on point for Riley’s big change of moving from Minnesota to California, a massive shifting of worlds given how her favorite memories involve playing hockey on the lake. But when Joy and Sadness are launched out of master control when something goes awry, they’ll need to find their way back through Riley’s mind and restore her core memories before the child ventures down a dark path. With Fear, Disgust and Anger freaking out at the controls, the film could proceed down a goofy route with Riley going out of character. But this is no Osmosis Jones or Innerspace. It’s a very relatable tale of a little girl homesick for the home and life she’s about to leave behind. Without Joy or Sadness to comfort her in the transition, Riley begins to lose all feeling as she becomes emotionally frustrated and contemplates running away back to Minnesota.
While Riley battles school and parents, Joy and Sadness have to venture through Riley’s mental landscape to restore order. On their travels, they stop by the various areas that comprise Riley’s psyche, creatively imagined as only Pixar can craft. Her dreams are located in a movie studio lot where various actors assemble to stage her dreams as movie productions. Her abstract thoughts are represented by a chamber that morphs and mutates any three dimensional characters into 2D illustrations and simple shapes. Every place and character the two emotions journey through is loaded with smart and playfully creative details based on human psychology. The only element that feels a little too simple is Riley’s train of thought which is literally a train.
Thankfully, there are hardly any puns for all these CGI-rendered playgrounds and entities of the brain. There’s no time for such lame jokes when there is so much at stake. In every passing hour without Riley’s core memories and all emotions presents, the islands of her personality begin to crumble. It’s a story that harkens back to Pixar’s method of storytelling for Toy Story, taking such a relatable aspect of childhood and blowing it up not just for humor, but for all the humanity it can exploit. If Riley’s tough decision of wanting to run away from home isn’t enough to jerk some tears, Joy’s discovery of letting Sadness enhance the precious moments of childhood will suck the water out of your sockets like a vacuum.
The inspiration from reality is what makes this Pixar film head over heels their best work of the decade. Director Pete Docter based the scenario off of both his own childhood experience of moving to Denmark as a kid and the changes he noticed in his pre-teen daughter growing up. The result - after much research and story development - is a film that appeals to kids and adults on every level. It touches on all the emotions it aims to personify with charming delivery and clever depictions. Sadness ends up being a key component, as with Docter’s previous Pixar film Up, but Inside Out celebrates such a feeling by letting its audience know that it’s okay to feel sad when going through a tough time. Never before have I seen an animated film of such intelligence that challenges its viewers with a very engaging trip through the mind, yet still manages to be a charming picture for audiences of all ages. This is an entirely new level of animation storytelling that only Pixar could conceive so well.