Every girl and every boy
Has Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Joy
(Disgust as well) within their minds
To guide them through their days.
They form and file memories,
And inside Riley, all of these
Are touched by Joy, who always finds
The silver lining’s rays.
Though Joy insists on keeping her
As happy as they always were,
A touch of Sadness now in spots
May not be such a shame.
When Riley moves against her will,
And Sadness starts her off downhill,
The world of Riley’s inner thoughts
Will never be the same.
While other people have been eagerly awaiting adult fare like Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Batman vs. Superman, I’ve been looking forward to Inside Out, hoping that it would be a return to the Pixar excellence to which moviegoers had become accustomed. I’m happy to say, it is. I’m trying to not let other critics’ positive reviews color my opinion, but I really am thrilled that Pixar has bounced back from the good-not-great status of Brave and the disappointment of Cars 2.
A movie about personified emotions in the control center of the mind—as original as it sounds, there have been similar concepts before, like the nearly forgotten ‘90s sitcom Herman’s Head, but whereas such ideas are usually reserved for comedy, Inside Out delves deeper, putting the emotion in emotional. Within the head of 12-year-old Riley Anderson, all her emotions work together most of the time—Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader, in full Flint Lockwood mode)—and everyone but Sadness has a clearly defined role to play in guiding Riley’s actions. While this cast could have been one-note, epitomizing singular, often negative feelings, they all contribute to Riley’s personality and work well as characters due to their concern for her overall well-being (despite some poor decisions), not to mention the wisely chosen voice cast (many of which hail from Saturday Night Live or The Office).
While Riley’s external world involves a tempestuous move from Minnesota to San Francisco, her inner world endures even more distressing changes, worsened by the separation of leader Joy and downer Sadness from their psychological Headquarters. Having included too many spoilers in my past reviews, I want to tread lightly with this one and leave the film’s full impact for the fresh viewer. Suffice to say, Inside Out is a journey through the psyche that casual viewers can enjoy on the surface and analysts can pick apart to find ever more engaging layers of nuance and symbolism underneath.
When I first heard the film’s concept, I was a bit perplexed by the choice of five emotions because not every experience or feeling is so clear-cut. Yet children’s emotions are far simpler and more distinct than those of adults; the filmmakers know this well and use this very fact as the driving conflict in the film (there is no villain), since Riley is in the formative years of young adulthood. What is the cause of children suddenly needing “alone time” or deriving more frustration than enjoyment from past pleasures? How would mood swings, depression, dreams, or sarcasm be visualized in this uniquely Pixar mindscape? The film’s explanations for questions like these are eye-opening, as is the role of multiple emotions in shaping our deepest memories and impressions, yet much of it is metaphorical, implicit, and never heavy-handed in its interpretation. Here’s an example of one of the many questions prompted by the film’s themes: While certain crises seem cataclysmic at the time, perhaps these tragedies are merely an inevitable step toward maturity, though they’re no less regrettable. You’ll understand when you see it.
Compared with Pixar’s other classics, Inside Out can hold its ground with favorites like Ratatouille, Up, and Monsters, Inc. (the latter two also directed by Pete Docter), and even if the film doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Incredibles or Finding Nemo, it has the potential to grow in stature with further viewing. I already love it more now than right after I saw it. The animation is a modern marvel, such as the energy-infused substance of the emotions’ bodies and the orb-filled labyrinth of Long-Term Memory. One random danger in particular seemed like an excuse for the animators to indulge in some visual fun, despite the fact that no kid will understand its cerebral implications. (I’m not sure I do.) Inside Out may not be Pixar’s funniest adventure, but there are still quite a few laugh-out-loud moments and imaginative silliness, such as a few unexpected movie references and the way that seemingly random gags come together ingeniously during the climax. It’s a stunning balance of humor, head, and heart.
As many critics have stated, there’s also a good deal of poignancy, particularly for parents recalling their children’s childhoods. While I don’t fit that category, I admire the presence of a close nuclear family and was still touched deeply by a certain selfless act toward the end. I have a long and storied history of crying at animated movies, from Tarzan to Brother Bear, but few films can extract a tear from me anymore. Inside Out did, and that made it a special experience for me. After watching the film, I was left with the pensive, bittersweet glow of a film worth seeing many more times. My Joy and Sadness must have been holding hands. Thank you, Pixar. It’s good to have you back in force.
Best line: (Fear) “We didn’t die today; I call that an unqualified success!”
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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