Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out is a return to form for the studio in the sense that adults will likely appreciate it just as much, if not more, than the children who will see it with them. It comes from Pete Docter, the man responsible for 2009’s Up, which I believe to be Pixar’s finest hour. Inside Out shares many of the same traits in that it focuses on human emotions in a mature manner that you don’t often find in this genre.
And when I say it focuses on emotions, I really mean it. The pic tells the life of Riley, an 11 year old girl who’s about to make a big move with her family from Minnesota (where the hockey loving tyke has settled into a comfortable and happy existence) to San Francisco. We witness the trials and tribulations of this uprooting quite literally from Riley’s head, where characters representing her emotions live. There’s Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), who prides herself on the fact that most of Riley’s memories are positive ones. There’s Sadness (Phyllis Smith), who Joy doesn’t want to have too much of a role in their girl’s day to day happenings. And we have Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black in an expert casting move), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).
The big move to San Fran really upsets the apple cart in Riley’s conscious mind and it forces both Joy and Sadness on a journey to save her soul. If this sounds like heady stuff (forgive the pun), well it kind of is in the same way Up was. That’s a major compliment. While the film is dealing with very real issues, it does so with the character of Joy at the helm and the feeling of joy in its heart.
Along the way, we meet Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s forgotten imaginary friend who is a strange elephant and possibly cat hybrid who cries candy. Bing Bong is a relic of her past and there are also moments set in the Memory Dump, where no longer necessary recollections are discarded.
Inside Out is a triumph of voice over work with Poehler’s always looking on the sunny side and Smith’s polar opposite approach providing many of the highlights. This is a truly innovative concept at work here and we also get occasional glimpses of the emotion characters at work in other people’s heads like Riley’s parents, voiced by Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane. The animation, as we’ve certainly come to expect from this studio, is gloriously impeccable.
This may not quite measure up to the best of Docter’s Up, in which that picture’s segment about its central character’s romance with his wife and her eventual death is possibly the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a Pixar effort. Still, Inside Out proves that Docter may be the studio’s most impressive auteur and he expertly is able to entertain kids while rewarding adults on a different level. You’ll feel a significant amount of joy here and you also may find some candy welling up in your eyes at other times.
***1/2 (out of four)