Release: Friday, June 19, 2015
Written by: Pete Docter; Meg LeFauve; Josh Cooley
Directed by: Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Spoiler alert: Inside Out is an emotional rollercoaster.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s another kicker: it’s being extremely well-received. But you probably already know that. Pixar’s latest can’t escape comparisons to the studio’s paragons of the late ’90s and early 2000s, and why should it even try? The likes of Toy Story and Up may have the nostalgia factor working for them but it’s hard to recall a(n animated) film that embraces such an abstract concept like trying to personify emotions while ostensibly marketing it to a young audience — an audience, mind you, who unfortunately may not fully appreciate the value thereof. Inside Out could very well be that rare experience where the attendant adult viewer gets more out of the film than their children.
Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias) is 11 years old and her father has just taken a new job, relocating the family from the comforts of their Minnesota home, where she learned to play hockey, to the unfamiliar urban sprawl of San Francisco. The transitional period is ripe for displaying the emotional development of a child trying to come to terms with what’s happening to and around them.
For as long as Riley can remember, Joy (Amy Poehler) has defined who she is. But there are other feelings now coming into play: there’s Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (a perfectly cast Lewis Black). Inside Out jumps into the recesses of Riley’s mind to create an endearing, if not simplified, model for how emotions dictate our responses to certain situations. In crucial moments, it refocuses attention on Riley’s exterior as the emotions manifest themselves in her facial expressions.
Having been a part of Riley from a very early age, Joy likes to run things in ‘Headquarters.’ It’s never a good thing when Sadness happens to touch a memory, each of which are wrapped up in color-coded, spherical orbs that roll down a track and are stored on a kind of library shelf. The other emotions wittily banter amongst themselves, determined to find their roles. At headquarters they have at their disposal Riley’s core memories (look, but don’t touch!), and they oversee a landscape that includes five different personality ‘islands’ as well as Imagination Land, Abstract Thought and a revolving door of indefinable (at least to those without a degree in psychology) characters and features responsible for shaping Riley’s mental state. Perhaps the easiest one to embrace is the Train of Thought.
Inside Out balances out ambition with a focused, decidedly simplistic conflict. Once again Pete Docter proves that with profoundly touching, universal themes comes Pixar’s responsibility to present them with narrative clarity and an obligation to avoid convolution. Or boring the viewer with cliches and lazy execution. The internal struggle (literally and figuratively speaking) occurs when Joy and Sadness are ejected from Headquarters after Sadness touches one of Riley’s core memories, tinting it blue accordingly. In an effort to prevent further damage at the hands of Fear, Anger and Disgust who remain at the control center, the unlikely pair must journey across this whacky landscape and restore balance. In the process, Joy realizes that she’s not the only emotion with a crucial role to play in the shaping of Riley’s future; every emotion is necessary. Even Sadness.
Laden with gorgeous animation and sparky personality — Black may be the best suited to his character given his generally blustery personality — Inside Out manages to strike rare emotional depths with its portrayal of a young child torn between feeling hopeless and hopeful. San Francisco, particularly her first day at her new school, throws her a curveball she’s not ready to swing at. And yet, thanks to the film’s unique perspective, we see she’s ultimately equipped with the tools to overcome. This is the stuff that perhaps those who have already endured the turbulence of childhood will identify with easier. But let’s get one thing straight: moving, at any phase in one’s life, is a challenge. And before you believe the film has covered all the bases, it hints at the next major stepping stone: adolescence.
Of course, younger viewers come to see animated films for more than the bright, shiny colors and goofy characters. They come to entertain their imagination, to laugh and feel all kinds of feely things, physical manifestations they can’t exactly explain for themselves. Kids understand well enough that Andy moving on from Buzz and Woody and all of his toys doesn’t create the best feeling in the world; they feel melancholic and maybe even pure sadness.
Inside Out boldly tackles that very phenomenon, breaking new ground by defining and giving character to core emotions that will eventually (and hopefully) transform generally happy children into well-adjusted adults. The ambition is probably too much for a lot of younger viewers to grasp, and I don’t mean to imply that they aren’t smart enough to get it. It’s just too natural to think that the average 11 year old won’t appreciate that Inside Out is an uncommonly perceptive production. They won’t realize how lucky they are to have a film like this at their disposal, at least not until they’ve grown up a bit more.
Recommendation: An emotional masterpiece, Inside Out gives some of the studio’s finest a run for their money in terms of conceptual complexity and character depth. Give this one a few years and making comparisons among Pixar’s classics will become an even more interesting conversation. Take your kids to see it of course, but be prepared for a quality and moving experience yourself. This is a film loaded with surprises. One of my favorites of the year.
Running Time: 94 mins.
Quoted: “All right, make a show of force. I don’t want to have to put the foot down . . .” / “No, not the foot!”
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