There is something about the way that Pixar makes films that gets past the superficiality that most animated features subscribe to. It’s a recipe they have perfected, that caters to both young and old, and often hits that emotional sweet-spot that doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house. The first ten minutes of Up made nearly everyone an emotional wreck, and don’t get me started on the trauma I felt during Toy Story 3. However Pixar hasn’t been firing on all cylinders lately, with some sub-par sequels in the form of Cars 2 and Monsters Inc., so Inside Out was on shaky ground. I shouldn’t have worried. Cue the waterworks.
With one of the more ambitious storylines to date, Inside Out focuses on a teenage girl called Riley, and her five emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). These emotions live in Riley’s Mind at HeadQuarters, a command centre type setup, where each of them take turns controlling Riley’s feelings, with each feeling being stored in memory orbs coloured with their corresponding emotion. We see Riley growing up from a baby to a teen and most of her memories are glowing yellow orbs filled with Joy, but as the family move from their home in Minnesota to San Francisco, and Riley’s dad spends less time with her due to work, we see more and more of her memories tinged with the blue of Sadness, the red of Anger or the purple of Fear. It’s during this tumultuous time that an accident leads to Joy and Sadness being sucked out of HeadQuarters and stranded in Riley’s long-term memory, leaving only Fear, Anger and Disgust at the helm. This of course this makes Riley start acting like a typical cranky teenage girl.
The wonderful thing about Inside Out is how imaginative the world inside Riley’s head is. You can tell that the creators spent a lot of time thinking about the nuances of how everything would work and link together. From the orbs that make up Riley’s memories, to the Train of Thought that transports Riley’s memories back and forth, to Dream Productions where her dreams are setup like a daily production on a TV set, each part connects to one another in a brilliantly cohesive manner that makes the whole conceit believable.
There is so much detail to see in this world that it’s hard to take in at once. The designs of the emotions are simplistic and cartoony, and yet instantly convey the feelings they are associated with. The different sections of Riley’s mind are bright and vibrant and clearly distinctive from one another. They are so well-designed that I could easily see a movie based on each of these individual areas.
But all the great animation aside, it’s the emotional hooks that Pixar laid down that really makes the movie stand out. Any parent will be able to sympathise with the realisation that their children are growing up, and with that the inevitability of joy having to be tempered with sadness coming into their child’s life. This is further emphasised in the movie, when Joy and Sadness come across a long lost imaginary friend in the depths of Riley’s memory. The character, Bing Bong, is a crowd-pleaser from the moment he shows up (he cries candy for crying out loud) but he also hammers home that as we grow up, some parts of our childhood have to be left behind. In fact this is probably one of the more emotionally heavy stories that Pixar has made, and yet done in a manner that doesn’t totally overwhelm you.
That being said, there is quite a bit of humour peppered throughout the script and the emotions themselves interplay with each other quite well. Joy is a part that is a perfect fit for Amy Pohler, full of excitement and exuberance but without being annoying. Phyllis Smith plays Sadness as a bit of a depressed klutz, and yet still manages to make her endearing and the perfect foil for Joy’s unending energy. Lewis Black’s Anger is quick to blow his top as you would imagine and brings a lot of laughs to the scenes he’s in, and Hader’s Fear easily captures the irrational insecurities and worries that we have even when we should know better. And lastly Kaling as Disgust is that one cool girl at every school who knows everybody and thinks she’s better than everyone else.
As all of these characters and their antics unfold on screen, they are supported quite admirably by Michael Giacchino’s score. It’s a hard task to come up with memorable themes time and time again, but within the first few minutes of the film, Giacchino manages with just a few notes to create a musical hook that perfectly captures everything the movie is about and also creates an ear-worm in the process that will be stuck in your head long after the movie is over.
I am glad that this movie shows Pixar’s return to form and is managing the rare feat of getting stellar reviews from both critics and audiences alike. This is definitely a movie that worth watching more than once, and is great for adults and children.
I give Inside Out and 8.5 out of 10, and now you must excuse me, I think I have something in my eye.