After a steady run of releases, Pixar Animation Studios took a brief vacation after 2013’s Monsters University. The company comes roaring back with Inside Out, a superbly sophisticated, yet endearingly madcap romp around the complex realm of emotions. Directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen, Inside Out returns to the adventurous side of Pixar, taking great risks with content and execution while softening the blow with a tremendous sense of humor.
Photo courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios
Inside Out is an astonishingly accurate
summation of psychological development,
sold with a bittersweet curveball.
Inside 12-year-old Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) is a team of emotions guiding the young girl through her daily life. At the helm is Joy (Amy Poehler), who tries to maintain control at headquarters, managing glowing marble-like orbs that represent Riley’s memories.
Messing with her concentration are Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), who compulsively compete for airtime in Riley’s brain.
Relocating from Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley is wrecked by her uprooted life, with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) doing their best to help acclimate their daughter to her new surroundings.
When an accident sends Joy and Sadness to the labyrinthine expanse of Long Term Memory, it leaves Fear, Anger, and Disgust in charge. Setting out to navigate the realms of Riley’s mind, Joy is determined to put the emotions back in order, only to find Sadness’ influence creeping into the pre-teen’s consciousness.
There are few things as complicated as the adolescent mind, providing quite a test of creative skill for the production. Play it too cutesy, and the movie becomes the old Cranium Command attraction at Epcot. Too severe, and younger audiences are lost. Inside Out does an amazing job of tonal balance, populated with dimensional characters who react broadly, but feel completely.
The animated element is exceptional. Joy is a bubbly, bright creature, zipping around the command center on a quest to manage memories, each color coded to the emotion in play. She’s a domineering but necessary leader, helping to keep the other, more volatile feelings in line.
Inside Out grows rather complicated when detailing Riley’s memory and its many components, but Docter (helmer of the masterful Up and Monsters, Inc.) and Del Carmen are patient with the exposition, moving one step at a time to cleanly define Joy’s job, Sadness’s influential touch (turning gold orbs blue), and their quest together when they’re accidentally removed from power.
Inside Out is concentrated on Joy and her brain-based adventure, but time is spent with Riley, who’s forced to move away from her secure life of outdoor fun, hockey, and friendships, to live in an urban world with a distracted father. The human element is vividly presented, allowing Riley to be a real kid with fears and confusion.
The emotions have a more magical kingdom to explore, Joy and Sadness get lost in the halls of Long Term Memory, meeting cleaners who dispose of needless trivia, but make sure to keep a gum commercial theme in heavy rotation. They team up with Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind) to catch the Train of Thought back to headquarters, and explore previously unknown areas of the mind, including a Hollywood-style movie studio where dreams and nightmares are produced.
Hilarity remains with the rest of the emotions, who aren’t used to being in charge of a 12-year-old without access to happiness. While the movie sticks to formula for the grand finale, it does so with immense grace, launching a surprise attack of startling understanding as the production strives to communicate the complexity of life for a pre-pubescent girl, where sadness has a natural place and child-like wonder is replaced by maturation.
It’s an astonishingly accurate summation of psychological development, sold with a bittersweet Pixar curveball that pushes laughter through the tears. It’s this type of compassion that makes Inside Out absolutely lovely when it isn’t completely entertaining.