Editor’s Notes: Inside Out opens in wide theatrical release tomorrow June 19th.
It’s no secret that the last three Pixar films, Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University felt lacking in what normally defined a Pixar movie. They aren’t terrible pictures, but they all lacked that depth of emotion that graced the Toy Story films, Wall*E, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo and Up. Though it’s difficult to say if that trend is reversing based on the strength of one film, the studio’s first since 2013 due to production delays on The Good Dinosaur which is now due out later this year, Inside Out is a huge step back into what has come to define Pixar films and returns the studio to the bar it set for the industry 20 years ago with Toy Story. It not only perfectly interprets the inner workings of the mind and our emotions, it does so with humor, grace and presents it in a way that will make sense to kids and elicit knowing smiles from adults.
Inside Out is a huge step back into what has come to define Pixar films and returns the studio to the bar it set for the industry 20 years ago with Toy Story.
The film is centered on Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), a girl we witness from birth to 11 via her emotions. The first emotion we meet is Joy (Amy Poehler). She is formed very soon after Riley’s birth and is given a one-button console which makes Riley smile and laugh. Joy is soon joined by Anger (the brilliant stand-up Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Sadness (Phillis Smith) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). The console expands to be a complicated array of buttons, switches and leavers predominantly controlled by Joy. Each time a memory is made, a colored glass ball appears that coincides with the color of the emotion that Riley was feeling when that memory occurred. These are stored on the wall until she goes to sleep and they are dumped to Long Term. In the center of the control room is a submerged shelf that contains five Core Memories that define Riley’s personality and interests. They are Family, Friendship, Sillyness, Hockey and Honesty. These Core Memories are represented as off-shoot cities that stem out from central command and light up when that part of Riley is in use.
Things are going well until the family has to move from Minnesota to San Francisco because of Riley’s father (Kyle MacLaughlin)’s work. Riley doesn’t want to leave her friends, but Joy sees to it that Riley keeps a positive attitude. That goes wrong when Sadness accidentally touches one of the core memories and turns it from an opaque white to blue and Joy trying to change it back, leading to all of the Core Memories to fall out of their place. Joy gathers them up, but she and Sadness along with the Core memories are sucked into the tube that leads to Long Term Memory. While they struggle to get back to Central Control, Anger, Disgust and Fear have to do what they can to keep things together and it doesn’t go well.
Doctor’s characters are instantly relatable because they are representatives of our basic emotions.
One of the things that makes Inside Out work so well is the astounding concept of the brain, emotions and memory which easily surpasses what I had considered the best representation of the mind and memory in a film, which was that of an immense library from the otherwise unredeemable Lawrence Kasdan debacle Dreamcatcher (which I have called the worst film of the last decade). The idea of emotion-colored memories is a stroke of genius and the cities representing the core of our personality is just amazing. Another master touch is showing those cities crumble and fall into the pit where all of the forgotten memories go when Riley tries to call upon one of her core memories and it’s not there. These aspects slowly erode her personality, making her into a different person, which becomes more and more tragic as the film progresses (without ever losing its sense of humor). Director and co-writer Pete Doctor (whose last film was the masterful Up) knows how to utilize the emotions in the film to work our own. He doesn’t manipulate his audience, he makes his characters so genuine that the emotions develop naturally and organically. The story is so easy to get invested in that it grabs you in the first frame but you don’t realize it has you until half-way through.
Doctor’s characters are instantly relatable because they are representatives of our basic emotions. One of the best characters is Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s forgotten imaginary friend who helps Joy and Sadness in their quest back to Central Command. Kind and Poehler work off of each other perfectly and the character is just magical thanks to Kind’s wonderful performance.
There are no slouches in the vocal performances. Each emotion is perfectly cast and the time we spend outside of Riley’s head are equally well delivered. This should come as no surprise since every Pixar film is perfectly cast. Each of Pixar’s directors understand that everything is in service to the story and not the marketing. Sure, they recruit A-listers to voice their films, but not because of their status but because of how they fit the characters. How else would Ned Beatty have been cast in Toy Story 3, decades after he’d all but faded from the collective consciousness?
Poehler leads this stellar ensemble cast, and that’s exactly what it is. Poehler may be called the lead, but her performance wouldn’t be as impactful without the rest of the group around her. Each character is as important as the next, much like the Toy Story films. Doctor tries to give as close to equal time to each of his characters to emphasize that there is no emotion more important or better than another and all of his actors step up and give great performances.
The thing about Inside Out is that it takes an extremely complicated subject like emotions and emotional development and maturity and boils it down to basics. Some of the loftier concepts won’t be understood by the youngest viewers, but that doesn’t matter. They will still get invested in the characters (one particularly impactful moment elicited a “No!” from a kid that sounded about 3 or 4 in an otherwise quiet theater) and still get the basic concept. Older kids will be able to relate to Riley and it may even help them to understand the emotional turmoil they are going through and adults will be able to relate not only to the memory of youth but to the brief moments the film jumps into the heads of the mother and father, showing the different arraignments of power and maturing of emotions. Inside Out is not only entertaining but it digs deeper in a successful attempt to show the inner workings of our minds and the evolution of emotions and emotional understanding. Inside Out shows that Pixar may have stumbled in recent years but they can regain their balance and make an amazing, noteworthy and important film that also entertain anyone and everyone who watches it.
Inside Out shows that Pixar may have stumbled in recent years but they can regain their balance and make an amazing, noteworthy and important film that also entertain anyone and everyone who watches it.