Cast: (voiced by) Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
Director: Pete Docter
Writers: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Pixar has a black belt in emotional storytelling and has an uncanny ability to make films that appeal to every generation in the audience. At its best Pixar can weave a captivating and moving narrative with just the right balance of humour, drama, action and heart in a way that both children and adults can enjoy. Although their films are mainly targeted at children, Pixar is never afraid to challenge them with complex themes and mature ideas. Pixar never talks down to its audience and their films are never patronising or condescending. Their stories are refreshingly original, their characters are wonderfully enjoyable and their films are thoroughly exciting, funny and profound. Pixar’s ability to move its audience is impeccable; from the bittersweet nostalgia of Toy Story to the heartbreaking opening of Up to the wondrous charm of WALL-E, it is clear that Pixar is in touch with its emotional core. It is little wonder then that their newest film, which delves into the themes of emotion and human nature, should prove to be one of their most emotional films. I cannot think of any other film that better demonstrates why Pixar is so good at what it does than Inside Out.
Inside Out takes place in the mind of Riley, an 11-year-old girl going through a big change in her life. Her actions and decisions are determined by her emotions, here personified by Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. The five of them together guide Riley from the control centre inside her mind through her everyday life. When Riley’s life is uprooted from her familiar and comforting home in Minnesota to the strange and unsettling city of San Francisco, her emotions struggle to cope with the change. The conflict and chaos that ensues has a distressing effect on Riley as her new life proves difficult and upsetting for her. Joy, Riley’s chief emotion, tries to keep her mind as happy and as optimistic as possible while keeping her negative emotions at bay. Through this story the film demonstrates how complex and interchangeable human emotions can be. As Riley’s emotions learn more about how her mind works and develop a greater understanding of themselves and the ways in which their actions can affect her, Riley grows more as a human being.
Not unlike how The Beatles had a singular ability for writing incredible yet astonishingly simple songs, Pixar has a knack for tackling complex and challenging themes and presenting them in an easy and accessible way that looks almost effortless on their part. Nevertheless it is plainly clear that a lot of thought and work goes into these films and Inside Out is no exception. This film explores the substantial subject of human emotion in a way that is both easy to understand and enjoyable to watch. The film is able to simplify what it needs to and to provide as much explanation and exposition as it needs to without disrupting or slowing down the narrative in any way. Half of the time the visuals do such a strong job of speaking for themselves that no explanations are even necessary. The mechanics of Riley’s mind are more than I can possibly explain in a brief summary and no descriptions I can provide could possibly do justice to the skilful way in which the film presents its world. It really is better to let the film speak for itself in this case.
What I can talk about is the characters. The five emotions who inhabit Riley’s mind are all brilliant and enjoyable in their own ways and complement each other perfectly. Joy stands as their leader and so it is her job to guide the other emotions whilst also keeping them in check so as to allow Riley the happiest life possible. This becomes more difficult as Riley grows older and her other emotions, particularly Sadness, become more powerful and potent. Watching the emotions interact with each other and then witnessing the effects their actions have on Riley is both fascinating and entertaining. Their reactions to the happenings of Riley’s life are often hilarious and yet they also provide stark reflections of how our own emotions work, especially at that age. The purity of the emotions makes them very identifiable which is why I think many in the audience will find Riley’s emotions entirely relatable if not the character herself. The emotions can be absolute, irrational, unstable and inexorable, much like our own emotions. Another character worth highlighting is the endearingly delightful Bing Bong who provides the film with some of its funniest and most moving moments.
I could praise Pixar and this film until the end of days. Inside Out is everything a Pixar film should be. The story is both clever and accessible, the characters are memorable and identifiable and the universe that this film creates is creative and absorbing. The film delivers on the humour, the adventure and, above all, the emotion. It also delivers a profoundly mature message about human emotions and how truly essential they are. As much as we might like to be happy all of the time, the film shows that sometimes we need to allow ourselves to be angry, to be afraid, to be disgusted, and even to be sad. The film shows us how difficult and how unbearable life can sometimes get but maintains that the only thing worse than allowing ourselves to feel bad is not allowing ourselves to feel anything at all. It is a powerful message and it takes a powerful film to deliver it. The emotional maturity of this film might be a bit much for younger children in the audience more interested in laughs and thrills, but I don’t think that line of criticism should diminish what Pixar has done with this film. Inside Out is a wonderfully entertaining, smart and insightful film that I think ranks amongst Pixar’s finest.