Inside Out (2015)

Posted by Joel Copling on June 18, 2015

"Inside Out" represents a enormously progressive move forward for Pixar Studios as the animation house transitions into its twentieth year. They have recently hit a bit of a creative slump, relying thus far in the 2010s upon only a single original idea (2012's still-underwhelming "Brave") sandwiched between two sequels and a prequel. Two years since their last movie has given the studio some time to re-evaluate themselves, and the result is a movie of enormous heart, intelligence, and daring. Wet eyes are likely an inevitability in a movie that begins with the formation of joy and sadness (manifesting onscreen as metaphysical beings that closely represent their function and named after it) and ends somewhere gratifyingly in between the two states.

That's the key here--the place in between at which the movie's true central character, 11-year-old Riley Anderson (voice of Kaitlyn Dias), finds herself. She begins as we all begin--as an infant, whose slate is clean upon first we meet her. Her brain is just a room of white, until a yellow figure with a shock of blue hair walks into frame and immediately smiles widely. This is Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), who feels the stuff on the first sight of Riley's parents (voices of Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane). This leads to the first creation of a core memory. It's a beautiful sequence, and it segues to one of the best uses of montage I've witnessed.

Simply put, Riley grows up, and the montage of it coincides with the introduction of the other emotions (or would that be Emotions?). There is Anger (voice of Lewis Black, because of course, that's why), who is red and occasionally fiery, such as when Dad tries to feed baby Riley broccoli. There is Disgust (voice of Mindy Kaling), who is green and whose nose is permanently turned upward toward whatever grosses her the heck out, such as the smell of the broccoli. There is Fear (voice of Bill Hader), who is thin and purple and forever reproachful toward possible attempts to poison Riley, because that's what the broccoli could be for all he knows. And there is Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith, who is the MVP of the cast), blue as her function and, of course, far more important to Riley's emotional growth than anyone would like to accept.

The plot is a simple but deceptive one: Riley and her parents have suddenly moved from Minnesota to San Fransisco for Dad's job, and the transition just happens to take place at an important crossroads. During this transition is when Sadness accidentally corrupts a happy memory, turning it into a tragic one that makes her think only of its negative impact. Other core memories are lost in the rest of the brain after a mishap, and Joy and Sadness are lost along with it, landing in Riley's long-term memory and desperate for a way back to brain headquarters, where the other three are forced, with potentially disastrous results, to improvise on their behalf.

The A-to-B narrative is, on the face of it, pretty thin stuff, taking place within the timeframe of about a week and focusing entirely upon the ramifications of a sudden, immediate displacement of location for Riley and her parents (whose own emotions, in a highly amusing scene, are given their own screen-time). It adds up--again, on the face of it--to a fairly simple mission for Joy and Sadness, who are soon joined by Bing Bong (voice of Richard Kind), the cotton-candy elephant dolphin cat who was once a young Riley's imaginary friend. The trio's attempt to get back is threatened by devices that seem manufactured by the screenplay (written by director Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley), until a realization hits via a particularly canny editorial decision.

That decision, clearly and smartly made by Docter, co-director Ronaldo Del Carmen, and editor Kevin Nolting, is to weave in and out between the business with the Emotions and with Riley herself, clearly documenting a tangible cause-and-effect process (A control board operated by all five Emotions controls Riley's reaction to things at the push of a button or the toggling of a lever). The overall impact is a huge one when one realizes that the standard-seeming narrative "journey" taken by Joy, Sadness, and Bing Bong (through the perilous zone of abstract thought, followed by the ingeniously garish Imagination Land and the Hollywood-studio-esque Dream Productions) is merely a stand-in for much more serious concerns.

Those more serious concerns arrive at the end, by which point Riley is at the emotional, social, physical, and psychological crossroads of the threshold of puberty. Each of the Emotions' actions holds a greater significance than merely a generic journey can belie, and this is never more obvious than in the conception and construction of a series of conscious "islands" on which the Emotions depend for Riley's usual personality (her love of hockey, for instance, or the goofball tendencies of her first few years of existence) and which are at risk during the middle segment of the film of falling into a giant pit, wherein memories are lost forever. They corrode for entirely organic, human reasons throughout, and the stakes in "Inside Out" are suddenly far greater than just a couple of colorful characters losing a few important objects: The casualty might just be Riley's emotional maturity. This is a modern masterpiece, animation or otherwise.

Film Information

Featuring the voices of Amy Poehler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Richard Kind (Bing Bong), Bill Hader (Fear), Lewis Black (Anger), Mindy Kaling (Disgust), Kaitlyn Dias (Riley), Diane Lane (Mom), and Kyle MacLachlan (Dad).

Directed by Peter Docter, co-directed by Ronaldo Del Carmen, and written by Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley.

Rated PG (mild thematic elements, action).

94 minutes.

Released on June 19, 2015.