Pixar Does It Again: Inside Out Is A Wholly Original, Unabashedly Emotional Treat.
Director: Pete Doctor.
Writers: Pete Doctor, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley.
Actors: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Mandy Kaling, Lewis Black, Diane Lane and Kaitlyn Dias.
Growing up is hard. Actually, it kind of sucks — especially that tumultuous time between being a kid and becoming a teenager. That period can, and normally does, shape who we become as adults.
We all know that.
And yet, despite this universality, describing this change is a tall order. But doing so via a film geared toward families? C’mon, that’s near impossible. Right?
Perhaps not. After releasing a rash of sequels for its earlier successes, Pixar’s putting this task its sights with Inside Out, an original concept specifically focused on pre-adolescence.
The premise here is that every human has five emotions — Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness — that, from the beginning, attempt to work together to help get their human through day-to-day life. In Inside Out, our human is Riley, a vivacious, active and mostly happy 11-year-old girl. Her dominant emotion is Joy (Amy Poehler channeling Parks and Recreation‘s Leslie Knope once again), and Joy makes it her mission to make sure that Riley stays happy through this next chapter in her life, as Riley’s family moves from her childhood home of Minnesota to the stranger climes of San Francisco. It’s a clear hurdle for Riley: A big move like this is always a turning point for kids; they either adapt or shut down.
Not helping matters is the fact that Sadness (The Office‘s Phyllis Smith) keeps meddling with Riley’s core memories, the cornerstones of Riley’s personality, by making them sad instead of joyful. In turn, Joy and Sadness get in a scuffle, which leads them to be accidentally thrown from headquarters. And, as a result, Riley can no longer feel the emotions associated with these two — not until they return, at least — and is instead left alone with only Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Anger (Lewis Black in fantastic form) running things on their own. It’s a testy combination of emotions — and a lack thereof — for any 11-year-old to deal with, and the film shows this well as if anyone out there doubted that.
But, more than that, this premise provides a fine playground for Pixar: As Joy and Sadness make their way back to headquarters, we get to see the amazing world-building that makes Pixar films stand out from the rest of the animation pack. Through animation and mindful plotting, the filmmakers attempt, with great success, to describe the inner workings of the mind and the memories kept therein. Abstract thought, how memories change, the subconscious, where memories are dumped, how we get annoying songs stuck in our heads — it’s all tackled and explained here.
What really makes this film so fantastic, though, is how director Pete Doctor just gets it. The complex emotions of adolescence and growing up, the way one emotion can be in charge in one moment and then another just barges in and takes over — it’s all expertly conveyed here, and it’s scarily accurate. Emotions can change in the blink of an eye, and Inside Out captures these shifts masterfully: We literally see Riley’s emotions fighting with each other; we even see how they cross her face when she’s speaking with her parents or making a difficult decision.
It’s a fascinating watch in this regard. In our gut, we all want Joy to be the emotion that drives Riley, even if, throughout the film, we come to realize that all the emotions are important, that it’s OK to feel anger, disgust, fear and sadness, too. Just like Joy, those other emotions can also help us in certain situations, like when empathizing with someone who is sad or knowing that broccoli is disgusting and not to be eaten.
It’s pretty amazing, actually, how this film dives deeper into the mind and the ways that emotions drives us. It explains this better than most any science film ever screened in a school. And it does so with tact, too: If seeing the emotions of an 11-year-old girl seems a frightening prospect, don’t fret; the film takes us inside various other humans’ minds, too, to show us how emotions develop as we age.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt either that, per Pixar norm, the film looks amazing, full of bright colors and detail.
Also amazing? How great the parents are in this script. These are normal, loving parents, who are also having a difficult time with the move and who don’t want to push their daughter off to the side. They care about their daughter, and you can tell. Just as this is a loving film, it features a loving family. In this era of reboots, sequels and existing properties, an original film with this kind of heart — a film that literally everyone can enjoy — is a marvelous thing to behold.
It’s massively impressive, too, that Inside Out accomplishes this without dumbing its content down or playing to a lowest common denominator. This is one of Pixar’s most complex films to date, but its complexities are handled intelligently and without letting an oversaturation of details to bog down the greater plot. This film, above all else, is hugely relatable.
No, growing up isn’t easy. But Pixar somehow continues to age gracefully.