Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Starring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
1 hr., 34 min.
What to make of this latest Pixar offering? Animation, yes, but so unique in its themes (it’s about the brain’s memory system!) that I wasn’t sure if either kids or adults could track with it. It turns out just about everyone can, and that’s good news for Pixar, which took a huge risk and many years to finish it.
Why is Inside Out enjoyable? Because directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen have successfully distilled the basic human emotional structure down to its bare essentials: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). These five emotions are with us almost from birth and become better defined as we grow up. So whether you’re young or old, if you have a sense of your own self and how you feel, you’ll get this film, even if it takes you a while to warm up to its complexity.
Essentially, Inside Out is two stories in one, each connected to the other by the thoughts and feelings of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), an 11-year-old girl living a happy life with her parents in Minnesota. She loves her family, her friends, and most of all, she loves playing hockey.
But when her father (Kyle MacLachlan) and mother (Diane Lane) decide to move to San Francisco to pursue a business venture, the well-ordered emotional hierarchy, with Joy running the “inside” office, starts to show signs of strain.
Things really fall apart when Sadness starts to tamper with what are known as Riley’s “core emotions,” changing them from their happy gold color to a cool, sad blue. Then Joy and Sadness get sucked up a tube and are thrown into the wild labyrinth of “long term memory.” Here, with the help of Riley’s former imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind), they try to find their way back via the five emotional islands: Family, Friendship, Goofball, Hockey and Honesty.
Meanwhile, Anger, Disgust, and Fear are left to keep the five islands working smoothly. Minus their leader, however, things go a bit haywire for everyone, including Riley. As you may be able to tell, trying to describe this story on paper is like trying to explain the art of Picasso without seeing the pictures. But while the story may sound perplexing and does take a little getting used to, eventually it starts to make visual and emotional sense.
I credit that to Docter and Del Carmen, who directed and wrote the film. Yes, they’re taking on complex ideas, but they haven’t forgotten how to make it all look and sound very entertaining. For instance, the poke they take at abstract thought and modernist art (particularly Picasso).
The most important thing to know, however, is that Inside Out is fun — lots of laughs and some sad parts, too. Poehler, Smith, and Kind use their voices well, and Black as Anger is a stitch just being Black. His joke about San Francisco and broccoli pizza is one of the funniest lines in the film.
No doubt, if you have young children, you’ll ask the question whether or not they’ll get this film. I would say that kids five and older will probably be delighted, especially since the characters are built around a sense of slapstick comedy that really appeals to children.
But don’t discount yourself as an adult. This is one film that is built for both worlds. The brain is an army of emotions that are constantly talking. After you see this film, you’ll realize it’s in your head, too. No, you’re not crazy. They’re really there. Only in this film, you get a chance to see the world from their perspective. According to Docter and Del Carmen, it’s a big job keeping you happy. So, when you walk out of the theater, don’t forget to thank your brain.