Pixar has been a weird studio. First, they revolutionized computer animation, then spent a decade and a half churning out thought provoking films marketed towards children but eaten up by adults. Then they turned in sub par experiences for the past four years…so does their new film, Inside Out, bring them out of their rut? From a certain point of view, that may be the case…
We start with the development of a girl named Riley and the personification of her five primary emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. The emotions regulate everything about Riley and try to steer her into positive memories that develop important aspects of her personality. But the emotions go through some trying times when her parents move the family from Minnesota to San Francisco. Joy (Amy Poehler) tries to keep Riley in a positive mood, but she feels her efforts of keeping Riley happy are hampered by Sadness (Phyllis Smith) who is somehow turning Riley’s happy memories into sad ones.
If this all sounds complicated, rest assured that on film everything I just described “works.” You understand what exactly is happening to these personified emotions as Joy and Sadness are forced to go on a journey through Riley’s long term memory to get back to Riley’s “head”quarters. The most curious part of this film is how the movie chooses to turn psychological concepts such as abstraction of thought, imagination, repression, depression and yes, even a mental breakdown, into various set pieces of an adventure film representing various stages of emotional development.
To put it in lay man’s terms: this film is about someone getting their “shit” together after being thrown into a complex situation outside of their control. As an adult, I could recognize what some of these abstract concepts were, and was surprised to find several think pieces on the Internet from psychologists explaining how good of a job the film does in explaining more difficult mental concepts like “faking emotions” or even losing the ability to “feel” anything.
If you’re worried that this sounds too deep for your kids, trust me when I say that kids in my theater were loving the hell out of this movie. It’s vibrant and imaginative, with a very touching score to connect moments of comedy and light drama. And even harder drama involving one character that I’m not going to reveal, I think you need to see the film for yourself to see what I mean.
As far as the cast is concern, Lewis Black is the perfect personification of Anger while Mindy Kaling is especially charming as Disgust. And Bill Hader certainly has fun as Fear. Richard Kind plays a character named Bing Bong and…again I’ll leave you to watch the film yourself to see what makes his character so special.
Finally, Amy Poelher and Phyllis Smith have a great series of banter throughout this film. This mostly in part that the central concept of the film is Joy learning the importance of Sadness. See Joy is the chief emotion in Riley at the start and thinks she knows what’s best for Riley, with Anger, Fear, and Disgust to keep Riley physically and socially safe. But Joy has always struggled with what to do with Sadness.
And this is the film’s master stroke: the film explains the necessity of Sadness not only in Riley’s life, but in ours. If you ever wondered aloud, why are people sad or why do we HAVE to be sad, this film manages to provide a somewhat simplistic answer that is no less poignant.
This is definitely Pixar’s strongest output since Toy Story 3, showing that the studio has plenty of mileage in it. I’m not completely in love with the film as there were certain scenes that were practically begging me to cry, but I sadly didn’t. Nothing personal, I don’t think it connected with me the way Up and Wall-E did, but no doubt other people will have a different emotional experience. That being said, I think you should definitely check this one out, so I’m giving this a solid….