Pixar’s Inside Out is a touching, wonderfully inventive film that recalls (even if it doesn’t quite match) the best works of the acclaimed
animation studio’s past.
Inside Out beautifully weaves a fantasy adventure within a very real family drama. The film contrasts the simultaneous happiness and
heartbreak of youth and family; a trademark of the studio. Whereas most youth entertainment follows the easy path of goofy physical humor
and regurgitated jokes, Inside Out is a challenging story filled with metaphor, intelligence and moments of surprising sadness.
Most of the film takes place inside (literally) the head of Riley, a young girl whose family has just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco.
Inside Riley’s subconscious is a vast expanse of various powerful memories (portrayed as color-coded orbs based upon the emotion of the
memory), a series of islands dedicated to her strongest loves and personality traits (Goofiness, hockey, family, etc.) and, at its core, a
control center operated by Riley’s most basic emotions.
With this exploration of mindscapes and the subconscious, one could almost classify Inside Out as Inception for kids. There’s even a clever
sequence involving dreams and the perception of reality within them.
The family’s move causes extreme changes in Riley’s mind, each emotion being represented by a different character. Joy, Sadness, Fear,
Disgust, and Anger all work together inside of her head.
As the shock and sense of loss set in, Sadness begins taking over Riley’s mind, although in a wonderful bit of mature storytelling, this
emotion is never portrayed as a villain.
There is no villain in Inside Out aside from despondency and hopelessness. The story places real value on our ability to feel all emotions,
not just stereotypically positive ones.
The character of Sadness is the outcast of the group, and her being accepted and valued by the other emotions (particularly Joy) is a
powerful bit of symbolism in the film.
There’s something very profound in the way this film weaves psychology so seamlessly into its framework.
The film creates a spectacular, visually-splendid adventure within the most relatable of situations, as the real struggle is the fight to
maintain a sense of purpose within a young girl’s own mind.
Inside Out may never achieve the powerful emotions of Pixar’s best films, but it’s amazing in the ways it does affect us.
As Riley’s depression grows, her islands begin to collapse and fall away. When her sense of goofiness shuts down and collapses into a
void, it makes for a poignant metaphor, with pieces of the girl’s personality literally dying off and fading away.
Inside Out mainly focuses on Joy (A wonderful vocal performance by Amy Poehler) as Riley’s most prevalent emotion.
Joy tries to subvert Sadness at every turn and they both end up getting sucked out of the control center through a pneumatic memory tube.
Their adventures through the mind may come off as occasionally random and disconnected, but all of them are inventive and entertaining.
Aside from those wonderful metaphors, there are also some excellent visuals, including a really fun sequence where Joy and Sadness are
‘abstracted’ and converted to flat 2D models.
Through it all, we feel the weight of Riley’s apathy, and her desperation to return to her home and her friends. She attempts to run away,
and these climactic sequences of Joy desperately trying to save her mind and Riley breaking down and crying in front her parents are
powerful to say the least.
The film’s conclusion is fittingly intelligent and funny, as Inside Out becomes more than just a story of a young girl dealing with a traumatic
change, but about growing up and dealing with the complex, mixed emotions that come with it.
Inside Out is directed by Pete Doctor, who previously helmed the devastatingly emotional Up. He again delivers an outstanding film,
although it falls just short of an instant classic.
Surprisingly, a mild disappointment may be Michael Giacchino’s score. While sufficiently good, it doesn’t have much in the way of
memorable material, generally being content laying low in the background and utilizing the composer’s minimalist sentimental piano chords.
Perhaps he’s hitting a wall after scoring his fourth major film over a span of only 6 months. There were times I wondered if the film would
have benefitted from a deeper, more ethereal score that Thomas Newman provided Pixar in films like Finding Nemo. And as a massive
Giacchino fan, I can’t believe I’m asking that question at all.
That’s nitpicking, however, as I’m singling out a good element in a film that is otherwise close to excellence.
Inside Out is a wonderful, intelligent and heartfelt film. Its inventive storytelling and genuine emotion exemplify not just the finest in
children’s entertainment, but of filmmaking as a whole.
Like Pixar’s best films, Inside Out is fun, heartfelt, bittersweet and surprisingly mature. And like in Riley, these complexities form something
unique and quite wonderful.
* * * ½
(out of four)
Directed by: Pete Doctor
Written by: Meg LaFauve & Josh Cooley and Pete Doctor
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill
Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Released: June 19, 2015; 94 Minutes