Each Pixar film is the answer to a question. What if toys came alive whenever nobody was around? Toy Story. What if humans abandoned Earth? WALL-E. What if cars could talk? Cars. What if the monsters in the closet were real after all? Monsters, Inc.
Inside Out is no different. In fact, its question is the opening line of the film: “Have you ever looked at someone and thought ‘just what is going on inside their head?’”
With the help of five personified emotions inside the mind of a twelve year-old girl, Pixar’s most unique and innovative film comes to colorful life. It’s a welcome return to form for Pixar, especially after the relatively underwhelming showings in Cars 2 and Monsters University.
But what sets Inside Out apart from other animated film fare is in its execution: memorable characters, clever writing, and an attention to detail combine for an experience that feels uniquely, wholly Pixar, and makes the experience a fresh, organic experience. The result is a story that is not only memorable, but relatable. With Pixar magic, Inside Out's imaginative mind universe is almost plausible. We wish it were real.
As the story goes, five anthropomorphized emotions are responsible for guiding the twelve year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) throughout her daily life. They control her every move and manage her memories in Headquarters, where they can see the outside world through her eyes. Joy (Amy Poehler), a sort of yellow-skinned Tinkerbell knock-off, cheerfully leads the group, and has made most of Riley’s memories joyful ones since her birth.
Riley's memories are cleverly represented by translucent orbs that glow in different colors, according to the emotion associated with it. In this instance, Riley’s memories are mostly yellow with joy.
But since Riley and her parents moved away from Minnesota to San Francisco, her emotions have been thrown into flux, resulting in a barrage of red, purple, and green memories coming in – anger, fear, and disgust, respectively. But to make matters worse, Sadness – a bespectacled blueberry-like girl, voiced perfectly by Phyllis Smith – keeps getting her hands on Riley’s old memories, inadvertently turning them blue in the process. The result is Riley feeling sadness while recalling once-joyful memories. These are incredibly clever representations of the inner workings of Riley’s mind, and we easily make our own yellow memories watching the process happen.
But when the threat of sadness-izing Riley’s core memories arises – that is, memories that serve as cornerstones of her personality – Joy and Sadness are inadvertently sucked out of HQ and thrown into Riley’s long-term memory; a vast, towering maze of shelves upon shelves of memory orbs. Now, with only Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) running the Riley show back at HQ, Joy and Sadness need to quickly return before Riley’s key personality traits completely collapse. Their journey back to HQ is clever itinerary of hidden memories, subconscious thought, and every conceivable element of the human mind.
Inside Out seems to have an answer for everything, and taking this mindful journey with Joy and Sadness is wildly entertaining. There is a literal train of thought chugging outside of HQ; an imaginary friend named Bing Bong (Richard Kind) roams the shelves of long-term memory; a deep, black chasm of forgotten memories unsettlingly lies below HQ. While children will certainly be entertained, adults will have the most fun in picking out the movie’s nuanced references. Although certainly, cleverness and ingenuity is par for the course at Pixar.
But where Inside Out truly succeeds is when the film cuts back to the real world, where Riley tries to adjust to a new home, a new city, and a new school. Her difficulties are exacerbated when she loses her passion for ice hockey; a lifestyle in Minnesota. In fact, everything she loves and wants is back in Minnesota. And Riley's difficulties with adjusting with this strange, new world birth some of Inside Out's most emotionally captivating scenes.
But that’s not to say the adventures of Joy and Sadness outside HQ also deliver tear-jerking moments; at times, their namesake emotions even trade places. Don't forget the tissues.
Inside Out is a lovely mix of beautiful animation with compelling and imaginative storytelling, supported by a cast of voice actors that seemed born to play their respective emotions. Put more simply, it's the year's most colorful offering thus far. We would expect no less from the gold standard that is Pixar.
Preceding Inside Out is Lava, a seven-minute love story that spans across hundreds of millions of years. Affectionately narrated by the serenade of a ukulele and two Hawaiian singers, Lava centers on a volcano in the middle of the Pacific who longs for a love companion. Little does he know that another volcano is below the ocean, listening to his singing and wishing to meet him. This heavy dose of Polynesian charm butters you up for an equally emotional opening in the feature presentation. Inside Out alone is reason enough to hit up the theaters twice; with Lava in tow, the experience is twice as nice.
Written by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley. Directed by Pete Docter.
Starring Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, and Phyllis Smith.