If the opening sequence to Pixar’s Up made you cry, pack your tissues for Inside Out, the studio’s new film about what happens inside your head when you have a feeling, a daydream, a nightmare, and more.
Inside Out focuses on the emotions—Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling)-inside the mind of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), an eleven year-old girl in the midst of a move from Minnesota to San Francisco. While Mom (Diane Lane) and Dad (Kyle MacLachlan) struggle with their own moving stresses, they ask Riley to keep being their happy girl. The trouble is, Riley’s having mixed emotions of her own about the new city, house, and school. Meanwhile, inside Riley’s head, her emotions do their best to help her process all the changes. Joy keeps close guard of Riley’s memories, especially her core memories, which support the islands of her personality. While trying to keep Sadness from touching Riley’s memories, turning them blue, Joy accidentally gets herself, Sadness, and the core memories sent to Long Term Memory, leaving Riley with only Fear, Anger, and Disgust to help her cope. With the help of Riley’s childhood imaginary friend, Bingbong (Richard Kind), Joy and Sadness race to get back to headquarters so Riley can be herself, and happy, again.
Inside Out might be Pixar’s smartest and most mature film to date. Both my little sister and I were moved to tears, not because of sentimental plot points, but because the film speaks so poignantly to fairly commonplace emotions and brings out the adventure in developing personality, nurturing connections, and growing up. The way that Inside Out conceptualizes emotions is visually and thematically entertaining, but it is the relationship between the emotions that really sells the story. As Joy and Sadness learn to work together as a team, the film clearly, but with a light touch, makes an important point about how we experience and value emotions. For adults, there are plenty of moments that will resonate with memories and life lessons of their own, while for children the film creates a wonderful opportunity to think about and discuss how feelings work in their own minds and relationships. Inside Out manages to do all of this complicated and important work without it ever feeling pedantic or like it is making much of an effort to prove its point. Instead, the metaphor and the plot of the story work beautifully together resulting in a somewhat cathartic ending that feels earned and natural rather than manipulative.
In addition to the skillfully developed ideas in the film, the script is full of snappy dialogue and visual jokes that build upon the fun of being on an adventure in someone’s mind. My favorite of these was a joke about having a chewing gum jingle stuck in your head. As memories of her childhood fade, that gum commercial remains vivid in Riley’s memory and the workers in her brain send it up to headquarters sometimes just for fun. Each time the jingle resurfaced, it got funnier. Although I’m sure my sister is too young to have ever had the Big Red or Doublemint songs stuck in her head, she still got belly laughs out of the gag too.
Finally, the voice acting of the ensemble cast brought each emotion and character to life without relying too heavily on stereotypes about different emotions. They had plenty of chemistry as a team and many moments to shine individually, finding the nuance in their emotions.
Granted, even with all of its wonderful elements, Inside Out does have some puzzling moments. For example, the gendering of the emotions seems a little on-the-nose and is inconsistent between characters. Furthermore, the inclusion of Riley’s imaginary friend, Bingbong borders on a Toy Story-type sentimentality that almost doesn’t fit with the tone of the film. That Bingbong is so weird and so lovable makes me want him to stick around, though.
For its visually stunning style, moving story, and beautiful message I rate Inside Out 5/5 stars.
Inside Out was written by Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, and Pete Docter, who directed with Ronadlo Del Carmen. It runs 94 minutes and is rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action.