Inside Out is far and away one of the very best movies Pixar has ever made. A story of a girl experiencing conflicting emotions and an ever-growing shyness after her parents move her from Minnesota to San Francisco, it is bound to have you experiencing a wealth of emotions from happiness to sadness. Honestly, these animated characters feel more human and real than others you find in the typical Hollywood summer blockbuster. If you say that you came out of this movie unmoved, you are nothing but a flat out liar and I will call you on that. Yes, Inside Out is that good.
We are introduced to Riley right out of the womb as she is born to two very loving parents. At the same time we are also introduced to the emotions which occupy her mind: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). All of them take their turns at the controls of Riley’s mind, but Joy has the most influence as she is determined to keep Riley as happy no matter what. In the end, who wants to be unhappy, you know?
But then things change dramatically for Riley when her family moves from one side of the country to the other and to a place that ruins pizza (watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean). While she tries to put on a brave face as the new girl in town, she finds her heart quickly breaking as she misses her old life and friends. This leads to her having an embarrassing moment in class and a hard time making friends, As a result, Joy feels increasingly threatened as the more negative emotions begin to have more influence over this pre-teen girl who has yet to discover the horrors of turning 13. Yes, this movie takes place before she hits puberty. Imagine what the sequel will be like!
Inside Out affected me deeply as I completed related to what Riley went through. When I was her age my family moved me and from a town I felt the most settled in to one that made me feel like an alien from another world. Being the new kid was no fun at all, and Riley’s emotional state should be completely understandable to those who have been through the exact same thing. In some ways she is lucky because she lives in the age of social media where she can talk with her friends via computer or Skype. I would have loved to have had that when I was her age.
This movie was directed by Pete Docter who helmed two of my favorite Pixar movies, Monsters Inc. and Up, and it was influenced by two things in his life; when his family moved to Denmark where he had trouble adapting to his new surroundings, and of the shyness that his daughter began experiencing as she got older. For an animated movie, the characters like Riley and her parents feel wonderfully complex in a way you don’t necessarily expect. This isn’t the first Pixar movie to give us characters like that, but it is worth noting here.
I also liked how Riley is not portrayed as your stereotypical pre-teen girl. She is big into hockey in a way girls are more than we ever bother to realize, and she doesn’t obsess over the usual things we have been conditioned to believe girls obsess over like dresses and potential boyfriends. Docter has us see her as being like any other individual to where her gender is more or less beside the point. The feelings Riley experiences are universal to the audience, and they will quickly remind audience members of the ones they experienced when they were her tender age.
Now while I may be making Inside Out sound like an animated remake of Pump up the Volume, I assure you that it is also very, very funny. This is in large part thanks to the cast which was perfectly chosen. Amy Poehler has always been one of my favorite SNL stars, and it’s hard to think of another actress who could have voiced Joy better than she does. Her gleeful and spirited banter infects the character fully, and she also humanizes Joy to where this emotion realizes why Riley can’t be happy all the time.
Phyllis Smith turns Sadness into a wonderfully funny character regardless of her infinitely depressed disposition, Bill Hader is absolutely priceless as Fear, Mindy Kaling makes Disgust more fun than that emotion has any right to be, and who else could have done a better voicing Anger than that combustible comedian Lewis Black? Black steals every scene he has here as Anger, understandably, has some difficulty keeping his cool. And let’s not forget Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane who voice Riley’s father and mother and make them into the most loving parents Riley could ever hope to have.
As Inside Out probes the memory banks and emotional centers of young Riley’s mind, it proves to be absolutely boundless in its imagination and visual effects. I keep waiting to see what surprises Docter had in store for us as we keep getting introduced to new characters like Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind is fabulous) and other memory centers that are illustrated as if they were giant theme parks.
The filmmakers clearly did a lot of research on the human mind and it shows. This leads to many unforgettable moments like when certain parts of Riley’s mind like Imagination Land crumbles and falls into the Memory Dump where memories are forever forgotten. On one hand it is an amazing piece of animation, but on the other it is a reminder of the things we lose in our own lives as we get older. We may want to get some of these things back, but a lot of times we cannot.
But perhaps the most important thing we can get out of watching Inside Out is not the fact that we can’t be happy all the time, but that Joy and Sadness need to coexist with one another. You can’t have pleasure without having pain, and that is made abundantly clear in one of the movie’s closing scenes which is both beautiful and will have at least one tear trickling down your cheek.
Many have said that Pixar has lost its footing in the past few years with an overreliance on sequels, but I have yet to see a movie of theirs which I have not liked. Inside Out, however, reminds you of how amazing they can be when they focus on giving you a great story more than anything else. It’s a movie for anybody and everybody, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.