Title: Inside Out
Genre: Disney-Pixar Animation, Soul-Crushing Feels, Psychological Action-Adventure
Director: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Personal Rating: 7.5/10
The Inside Story
Within each person’s consciousness, stationed in a Headquarters (cause it’s in your head; get it? haha! such pun.) with the niftiest of control panels, five emotions guide the reactions and interactions of daily life. Joy, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, and Anger work together to keep their human safe and emotionally healthy. For 11-year-old Riley, things are going pretty well in Headquarters until her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. The emotional upheaval only worsens when a mishap sends Joy, Sadness, and the core memories powering Riley’s personality hurtling away from Headquarters and into the labyrinth of long-term memory. With Anger, Disgust, and Fear helming the console, Riley’s relationships rapidly devolve into crisis. Joy and Sadness must find their way back to Headquarters, core memories intact, before the damage to her family, friends, and emotional well-being becomes permanent.
The Voices in Your Head
Amy Poehler (Parks and Rec) dances through the limelight as the effervescent Joy, leading the emotions through each day and taking pride in her ability to put a positive spin on situations and keep Riley happy. Her single-minded, overbearing determination and optimism are highly reminiscent of Poehler’s portrayal of Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation. Her character arc is crucially important from the standpoint of emotional maturity and development, yet absolutely devastating to watch as a viewer.
Phyllis Smith (The Office) co-stars as Sadness, Joy’s mopey antithesis who is quite literally pushed into a corner to prevent her from impacting Riley. After the move to San Francisco, Sadness discovers that touching a memory tints it a melancholic blue that can’t be changed back, kickstarting some drama among the emotions. Smith brings impressive depth to a character who maintains a perpetually depressed tone of voice, showcasing the value of empathy and shepherding the character through some serious self-esteem issues.
Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling feature as Fear, Anger, and Disgust, respectively. These three are left trying to keep Riley stable until Joy returns, but when the only emotions you can display are the snarky, sassy ones (and fear), things aren’t likely to turn out well. Unfortunately, while the trio fills an important role in the plot, not much can be said about them as characters. Kaling, Hader, and Black each do a superb job with the combination of Serious Business and Comic Relief that they portray, but it would have been nice to allow them more growth.
Special mentions go out to Kaitlyn Dias’ Riley for mirroring the emotions in her head with the proper levels of prepubescent angst, Diane Lane for portraying the most empathetic and understanding mom ever, and Kyle MacLachlan for being a lovable mess of a dad. Also to Richard Kind’s Bing Bong, a cotton candy-elephant-weasel-fox thing that used to be Riley’s imaginary friend and deserves all sorts of hugs.
My Thoughts on the Matter
Inside Out is an eclectic mix of tones, emotions, and imagery. It’s visually clever, witty, and snaps from one mood to the next so fast that your ability to process what’s happening with your own emotions is severely compromised. The film carries a powerful, profound message about emotional maturity and growth, about accepting sadness and loss in a healthy way, rather than trying to deny it and put up a facade of Joy. It shows the importance of being open and fully experiencing our emotions while subtly suggesting that Joy doesn’t have to be the driving force in our lives. Meanwhile, for parents, Inside Out demonstrates how crucial it is to empathize and connect with children, especially during periods of transition and change. And through it all, the film remains relatable to anyone who has ever felt like an outcast, felt afraid of starting a new life, struggled with finding their place, or been confused by their emotions. It’s a powerful film addressing key parts of humanity and the human experience in an approachable medium, and it certainly deserves applause for what it accomplishes.
But on the downside, Inside Out at times gets too wrapped up in its bright colors and flash, detracting from the message in favor of action sequences and visual humor that, admittedly, is probably great fun for the target audience, but nonetheless leaves scenes feeling hollow. The strong opening, soulcrushing climax, and heartwarming resolution are the keystones where the majority of plot and character focus are gathered. The content between comes across as fluff, taking Joy and Sadness on a surprisingly repetitious journey through the center of Riley’s mind. (“We’ll get across on that island!” *island falls apart* “Or not. Let’s try that one!” *lather, rinse, repeat*.) With the exception of key moments, the quest and adventure is visual rather than thematic. The audience is given a tour of long-term memory (a fairly boring, run-of-the-mill labyrinth), a foray into abstract thought (a scene with a great bit of visual comedy and sense of danger – it reminded me of the jellyfish canyon scene in Finding Nemo – but struck me as unnecessary), and a survey of Imagination Land (a visually engaging display of bizarre ideas and angsty Canadian boyfriends), but they’re just places you move through to get to the next plot point. Perhaps this was intentional to more sharply contrast the serious scenes showing Riley’s “real-world” life with the bright visuals and make Joy’s loss of optimism punch that much harder, or maybe they just really wanted to show off the world they created. Regardless, this focus on visual flash and, as mentioned previously, the relative sidelining of three lead characters weakened the film for me.
Flipping sides again, in their defense, the visuals were no less gorgeous for their hollowness, and the animation was the high quality we’ve come to expect from Disney and Pixar. Some scenes, two in particular, were animated with a finesse that reminded me of pre-movie shorts like Paperman and left me awed. First, near the film’s opening, when Headquarters first lights up, is a simple, delightful use of imagery, light, and color. The second instance is near the end, when Joy dances in tandem with a memory of a young Riley ice skating. The scene is elegant, poignant, and personal, each motion showing the deep sense of love and care that Joy has toward Riley. It is a moment of quiet reflection, and even loss, that mirrors what both characters have had to come to terms with: it is alright to be sad; sadness and joy flow into each other, and it’s possible for a memory to contain both.