If there’s one thing Pixar has proven, it’s that they don’t waste the time necessary to put together an animated feature. Even if you don’t love every movie they put out, you’ve got to respect their ability to show off the 3-5 years (or more) they spend with their films. The special features on other titles let you inside a world in which any three-minute segment may have dozens of versions, and whole chunks of the film might get scrapped after having been worked on for months. They are a whole company based on things being just so.
You don’t need a special feature to see the time and love invested in Inside Out, because every moment is executed in a way that highlights the effort. It isn’t that each moment is perfect. As the movie suggests in its own roundabout way, perfection is wrong, but they are filled with the emotions of youth in a way that is hard to believe. After that, little else matters.
Our story opens with Riley’s birth (Kaitlyn Dias), but we’re following her from inside her mind, in a story largely told by and through Joy (Amy Poehler). In the world of a child’s mind, even Anger (Lewis Black) is a pretty fun guy, and our crew is rounded out with: Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). We get an entertaining theory of how these emotions turn into Riley’s thoughts and actions, but soon Riley, who is 11, faces one of childhood’s more traumatic possibilities, her family moves across the country.
In Riley’s mind, the days of her emotions are spent creating and collecting memories, which manifest as little, glass balls. Each one is colored according to the emotion associated with it, and as long as most of them are yellow, for Joy, we feel like Riley had a pretty good day.
As if moving weren’t enough for our emotions to deal with, something weird is going on with Sadness. She suddenly has the power to turn memories sad by touching them, and doesn’t seem completely in control of herself. When Riley has to speak in front of her class on the first day at her new school, things go particularly sad, and when Joy and Sadness are arguing over what to do about a new memory, they are accidentally sucked out of the control room and into long-term memory.
This leaves them quite a struggle to get back, and with Joy out of Riley’s… mind?, life is not going smoothly. Hilarity does not ensue, and the structure of Riley’s identity seems to be falling apart, and none of her emotions know how to deal with what’s going on.
The fact that it’s hard to describe the film without sounding like the chapter list of some “What’s Going on with Your Emotions for Adolescents?” book is both confusing and amazing. The film is fun, and kids will love it, but it’s fun in that Up/Toy Story sense that means we’re going to also deal with some pretty serious stuff.
Inside Out takes things up a few notches in the idea behind the effort, and this is ultimately a movie that no one would have ever made if not for the track record Pixar had already laid down. It’s just crazy. There’s no pitch that works to convince anyone to get behind this, unless you can point to the string of other movies that don’t boil down well either.
While you can give a fair synopsis that runs through plot steps like stopping in Imagination Land, and Riley’s Anger “convincing” her to run away from home, the film is actually about growing up in a way that is not only unique, but is actually difficult to describe. It’s about what it’s like to be 11, and it bravely tries to avoid further qualification at all costs. That’s all it wants to be about. But, it means that in a way that includes a thesis on the psychology and philosophy of emotions that leaves it in a world by itself.
At a certain point (at many of them actually), you have to come to terms with watching yourself die. The important things in your life, the ones that make you who you are, resemble each other over time so little that it’s hard to argue that “that you,” and “this you,” have any connection at all beyond that of clay and pot. You even have to figure out the connection you’re going to have to emotions, and how they are going to color every experience you have. How it all works is a stack of boring books kids don’t get the benefit of having anyway.
Inside Out is as much a tether as it is a film, and like some magical science project, gives kids a chance to have an Aha moment about themselves, and does it without the slightest indication that it thinks kids are anything other than the smartest people on the planet.
If you watch it without crying, I don’t want to know you.
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DirectionPete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
WritingPete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
CastAmy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Mindy Kaling
SynopsisGrowing up can be a bumpy road, and it's no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley's main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.