There are five emotions inside all of us; Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness, and just like all of us they exist inside the mind of young Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). Joy (wonderfully played by Amy Poehler) runs the show inside Riley’s mind, keeping her happy, making sure her “personality islands” keep afloat and that all her core memories are pleasant ones. Things start to become complicated when Riley’s family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco and Sadness (the brilliantly cast Phyllis Smith) inadvertently starts changing her memories that once were happy to sad. During an effort to placate this emotional shift inside Riley a mishap occurs leaving Joy and Sadness outside of the control station and lost somewhere inside the recesses of Riley’s mind. Having to work together, the two mismatched emotions must find their way back before the other emotions inept control over Riley leads to disastrous results.
All hail the animation gods as Pixar Studios is back to what made them great. Gone are the needless sequels we’ve seen as of late as “Inside Out” marks a return to the heartfelt characters with true emotional journeys that have been missing from the majority of the studios more recent releases. By returning to the old guard that helped establish the studio in their hey day and giving control to writer/director Pete Docter (the filmmaker behind both “Monster’s, Inc.” & “Up”) Pixar has not only seen a return to their classic style of emotion centric filmmaking but have also created their best piece of work since “Toy Story 3”.
While the film does have a similar narrative format to “Finding Nemo” (two mismatched characters working together on a quest) it never becomes tedious or boring or feels like we’re rehashing old material. This is due in large part to the emotion of the piece. It’s understandable that a film that’s central characters are emotions would have a few tender moments but here the emotion is the glue that truly holds the film together. The film knows exactly when to be sweet, when to be sad and most importantly when to show constraint, always letting the emotion be in service of the narrative and not the primary force that drives it.
With the narrative they weave the filmmakers have essentially given themselves an opportunity to explore two stories at the same time, both inside and out of Riley, both working equally effective and powerfully. They manage to explore all facets of human emotion, teetering on the line of the darker possibilities of this while managing to never cross over it. This is due in large part to the characterization. Joy and Sadness, expertly performed by Poehler and Smith, work as perfect counters for each other in scenes, both injecting the right amount of fun and pathos while leaving the majority of the laughs for the supporting characters (Lewis Black, Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling are all perfect and hilarious as Anger, Fear and Disgust respectively). However, it’s the moments between Riley and her parents (played by Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) where the film truly shines, allowing the audiences to see that above all the fun, quirkiness that is happening inside the mind there is a very real human element being affected and influenced by what is going on.
While “Inside Out” never quite reaches the pinnacles of the most notable Pixar work (the storytelling of “Finding Nemo”, the commentary of “Wall-E” or the emotion of the first ten minutes of “Up” and the last ten minutes of “Toy Story 3”) it is a welcome return to what made them such a force to be reckoned with in the world of animation, believable characters and real emotion. It tells a complex and nuanced story with ease, never bombarding the audience with tedious exposition or letting scenes out stay their welcome. Pixar has once again created an interesting, original classic that will no doubt be one of the most loved films of the year.
9 out of 10.
Reviewed by Chris Swan.