Review: Inside Out


If originality in animation could be synonymous with a single word, Pixar easily comes to mind. For the past twenty years, the studio has given modern animation one brilliant hit after another, largely due to a remarkable diversity of stories to tell. Take, for instance, two films directed by Pete Docter: Monsters, Inc. and Up. Both are wildly different narratives with highly specific themes, yet they manage to fit under the same umbrella. Docter now has a third story in his repertoire and it may be the most imaginative tale that Pixar has produced to date. Indeed, Inside Out is a high water mark for a studio full of them, an emotionally mature and beautifully inventive look at how our emotions govern our lives.

From the moment of her birth, Riley’s (Kaitlyn Dias) first and most expressed emotion was Joy (Amy Poehler). She has been a pretty happy child growing up in Minnesota for the last eleven years, full of great memories with her family and friends. In the central command of Riley’s mind, Joy is assisted by other important emotions: Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Louis Black). Every day Riley makes new memories which are informed by her emotions. Most of these are moved into long term memory, but a few remain at the vital core. Joy does her best to keep the other emotions at bay, especially Sadness, whose downer disposition threatens to tamper with Riley’s memories. However, when Riley’s family decides to move all the way to San Fransisco, she begins having tumultuous feelings. As a result, Sadness begins affecting Riley’s core memories, which are suddenly whisked away into long term memory along with Sadness and Joy. It’s up to both of them to return back to headquarters and ultimately give Riley peace of mind.

Pixar has always been known for exploring out of the box concepts, but with Inside Out they have gone fully into their own heads to come up with an idea of singular originality. The architecture inside Riley’s mind obviously has no basis in science and is meant to look fantastical. Nevertheless, everything within that structure makes sense logically and emotionally. To go too far in detail would ruin the sense of discovery that the film offers in spades, but if there is one standout element, it’s Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s imaginary friend who helps Joy and Sadness on their mission to return to headquarters. If there is a minor hindrance, its that the narrative of what is happening in Riley’s mind is of greater interest to what is occurring in the human world. The stakes of her real world decisions feel muted in comparison to the perils Joy and Sadness face, but thankfully, the film spends the majority of its time with the emotions.

Each key member of the voice ensemble is ideally cast, from Phyllis Smith adding melancholy and dark humor to Sadness, to Lewis Black’s manic impatience feeding Anger. None of these feelings are simply one note archetypes either. Docter understands that our emotions are multifaceted and inform us in different ways depending on the situation. It fosters our growth as individuals, for as we mature, so do our emotions. Behind all of the visual magic that Pixar effortlessly concocts, that is the core behind the narrative. Inside Out tells us to embrace all of our feelings, no matter how messy, for that emotional truth is what makes us human.


~ by romancinema on June 21, 2015.

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