Pixar is no longer in a slump. While we hold the animators to nearly unattainable high standards, we only do so because of their impressive legacy. Starting with Toy Story, followed by Monsters Inc., and solidified by Up, Pixar set an exceptionally high bar for itself. Their recent offerings were solid (Monsters University, Brave, Cars 2) but failed to reach audiences in the way they expected to be reached. Inside Out is a brilliant and touching film that shows Pixar has not lost its touch.
The film, true to its title, takes place primarily inside of a young girl. It is not specified if they physically reside in her brain or in her less literal soul, but we see the personifications of each of her emotions taking residence in her person, seeing the world through her eyes. Just as Riley is born, we meet her first emotion: Joy (Amy Poehler). Through Joy and several other emotions, we watch Riley have a story-book childhood right up through age 11. She has sad times and some strife, like any typical child would, but overall we see her as a happy kid living a happy life.
What Inside Out intelligently does is have a tangible, visible system for showing us Riley’s life so far. All of the emotions are workers inside of Riley. They have a work station and each take turns guiding Riley to react appropriately to the world around her. When something bad happens, Anger (Lewis Black) reacts. When something is gross, both Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader) are able to have their turn steering Riley’s responses to her world. Each event in her life turns into a memory. These memories are big marbles that are color-coded to correspond to the matching emotion. Nightly the memories that have collected throughout the day empty out of the emotions offices into Riley’s giant chamber of long-term storage. To see the visual representation of memory and emotions is as effective as it is inventive.
In the film, major events in Riley’s life are paralleled by major events for her emotions. With little warning Riley’s parents move from Minnesota to San Francisco. She must leave behind all of her friends and her home. At the same time, Sadness (Phyllis Smith) disturbs Riley’s core memories ultimately causing Sadness and Joy to get whisked away to long-term memory to try to save them. Riley must then deal with adjusting to the move without all of her emotions available.
The film’s marriage of emotion and memory is what we all hope to see in a Pixar film. As an adult watching the film it was so easy for me to become awash in the rosy nostalgia of youth. Seeing Riley bond with her parents over hockey games, both lost and won, makes you want to be able to be a kid again. A subplot with Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind) was one of the most heartbreaking and hilarious tracks in the film because it perfectly illustrated how important it is to dream like a child and how inevitable it is to lose that dream.
The film’s casting is downright flawless. Poehler is unsurprisingly the personification of Joy on screen (through her voice). She can bring her aggressively chipper demeanor to the performance without being annoying. Kind is also a wonderful representation of a goofy childhood friend who is unclear of what the future holds for him. Even with these stellar talents, Smith’s performance as Sadness was the one that gripped me the most. Balancing child-friendly with being sorrow-incarnate is a difficult role to have, and Smith absolutely nails it.
Inside Out will work for both children and adults on two different levels. Children will love the goofy and colorful emotions on screen, each acting exactly like their namesakes unfailingly. But adults will relate to the story of making memories, and learning to work with your emotions as you age. I’m sorry to report that Inside Out did not make me cry, but I was a part of the small handful of dry-eyed theatergoers. This film will get people right in the feels, just like Pixar should.
Director: Pete Docter
Film Length: 106 min
Release Date: June 19, 2015
Distributor: Walt Disney