In the pantheon of great Pixar films, Inside Out, the studio’s latest, ranks right up there alongside its best with the Toy Story movies, Wall-E, and Up. It’s also easily the most audacious. From putting a lonely waste-disposal robot at the centre of a surprisingly humane love story, to killing off a lovable heroine 15 minutes into a film, the brave folks at Pixar haven’t shied away from taking bold risks. But the new film goes where few have gone before – it takes place almost entirely inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl.
That girl is Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), whose perfect little world is turned upside down when she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco with her parents. Understandably she’s struggling to adjust; there’s a new school to go to, new friends to be made, and nervous parents watching over. The real drama, however, goes on in Riley’s head, a control room of activity, where we meet the five emotions that run the show: Joy (a terrific Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). This motley group, led by Joy, is responsible for Riley’s mood, occasionally fighting amongst themselves for dominance, but mostly working together to take care of her core memories, which in turn shape her personality.
It’s a gorgeously realized world – the inside of Riley’s head – where memories are little glowing orbs that show up to be sorted and stored away. There’s a train of thought that puffs along every now and then, imaginary friends from Riley’s past, a theme park called Imagination Land, and the Dream Factory where dreams are manufactured. These are big, cerebral ideas – particularly for the film’s younger core audience – and co-writer/director Pete Docter niftily makes invisible concepts visible to demonstrate the workings of the brain. When Joy and Sadness go missing accidentally, it’s left to the other three more negative emotions to take charge, thereby turning Riley quieter, sullen, and – pardon the pun – plain joyless.
It takes a special kind of talent to bring such depth and heart to this kind of an intellectual premise. Inside Out is bright and vibrant and richly animated; it’s also honest, emotional, and incredibly funny in places. The filmmakers employ a bittersweet tone to address key themes like the loss of innocence, and the importance of sadness in order to have a wholesome childhood experience.
While there is no question at all that you will laugh out loud several times, be prepared to tear up occasionally. Don’t say I didn’t tell you – adults will likely enjoy this film much more than kids. I’m going with four out of five. It’s a bold leap in storytelling.