Inside Out (2015)

Meet the little voices inside your head.

Understanding the emotions of children is no easy feat, however, in their newest film Inside Out, the creative team at Pixar have raised the bar as they attempt to explore and investigate the mindscape and inner workings of a single eleven-year-old girl. Following a string of cash-in sequels — Cars 2 (2011) and Monsters University (2013) anyone? — and the mediocre Brave (2012), it seemed as though the once-infallible studio had hit an artistic roadblock. Nevertheless, 2015 sees Pixar back at the height of their creativity with Inside Out, their most mature and unconventional picture since 2007’s Ratatouille, setting a new benchmark for the animation house in terms of ingenuity, personality and heart. Like most great Pixar films, Inside Out operates on two different wavelengths — one for the kids and the other for the adults — as it simultaneously weaves in and out of two separate, but interlocking stories, taking us into the home and mind of Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), a care-free, hockey loving eleven-year-old girl living in Minnesota, USA.

'Stop messin' around ... we've got a lava work to do!'
‘Stop messin’ around … we’ve got a lava work to do!’

Inside Riley’s head are the five emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), who occupy Headquarters, the control center inside her mind; a smooth operating workspace where pneumatic tubes store sphere-shaped memories, and big ideas ride in on a literal train of thought — an all-terrain choo-choo that delivers daydreams and other such thoughts to Headquarters via a self-generating track. Led by the glowing optimist, Joy — whose sole mission is to make sure that Riley stays happy — the emotions are entrusted with the task of guiding Riley through her everyday life, looking after her well-being. Alas, the emotions are tested when Riley and her folks (Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane) sell their picturesque Minnesota home and relocate to the metro bustle of San Francisco, leaving Riley’s friends, school and old life behind. As Riley struggles to adjust to her new surroundings, turmoil ensues in Headquarters when Joy and Sadness are accidentally sucked into the far reaches of Riley’s mind, taking with them, some of her core memories and triggering something of an emotional breakdown for both Riley and her anthropomorphic feelings. ‘Think about that,’ says executive producer John Lasseter, ‘an eleven-year-old is left without Joy and Sadness — only Anger, Fear and Disgust. Does that sound like any eleven-year-olds you know?’ Now as the proverbial clock ticks, Joy and Sadness must navigate the vast landscape of their host’s personality and venture through unfamiliar locations — Long Term Memory, Imagination Land, Abstract Thought and Dream Productions — in a desperate attempt to get back to Headquarters, and Riley, before it’s too late.

It’s been reported that, writer-director Pete Docter, Up (2009), co-director Ronaldo Del Carmen and their trusty screenwriters, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley, spent about three-and-a-half years researching and fine tuning the story of Inside Out until they believed it was ‘just right’ … and it really shows. From the moment the picture opens, it effortlessly sets Riley’s internal world up, introducing the different emotions — who appear to have a felt-like texture — and their distinct roles and personalities to viewers; from the energetic Joy — Riley’s first emotion — to the downer Sadness — who Joy can’t find a job for, despite the fact that the misunderstood emotion has existed in Riley’s mind for nearly as long as Joy has — every character is unique and distinctive in shape, size and design. This cleverness extends further, particularly when explaining the flick’s more intangible concepts such as making and storing memories along with Riley’s Islands of Personality, diverse ‘lands’ powered by core memories of extremely significant moments in her life. Then there’s the vast wasteland of forgotten, faded memories, the Memory Dump — it’s pure genius. The film delights in its surreal visuals, with Imagination Land, where Riley’s dreams are produced in a zany TV studio, and Abstract Thought, which turns ideas, and our heroes, into two-dimensional shapes and lines, being just a few examples of the inventive, psychologically clever moments on offer throughout the picture.

Mind Games!
Mind Games!

Journeying through this imagined geography, audiences become acquainted with the array of weird and wonderful creatures living in Riley’s head; the Mind Workers or ‘Forgetters’ — the Jelly-Bean-looking blobs in charge of sorting through Riley’s memories — generate a handful of solid laughs while Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a part-cat, part-elephant amalgamation of cotton candy, who’s searching for a way to make Riley remember him — sort of like an out-of-work actor who’s desperately trying to make a comeback — will surely break viewer’s hearts.

Synonymous with most other Pixar titles, Inside Out sports an eager, enthusiastic cast, who bring these crazy critters to life; Amy Poehler, from television’s Parks and Recreation (2009), turns in the best performance of her career as Joy, the bouncy emotion who constantly scrambles around, making sure that everyone’s at ease — kind of working as a motor for the film — whereas Richard Kind, A Serious Man (2009), redefines the term ‘character actor’ with his expose of the eccentric imaginary friend Bing Bong. Elsewhere, Lewis Black, The Aristocrats (2005), who’s known as the king of the rant, is sizzling as the fiery-spirited Anger, a well-meaning emotion who tends to explode — literally — when things don’t go according to plan; Mindy Kaling, Wreck-It Ralph (2012), is fun as the highly opinionated and awfully honest Disgust, whose main concern is preventing Riley from getting ‘poisoned,’ physically and mentally — keeping a watchful eye on things such as broccoli or outdated fashion. Last but not least, comedian Bill Hader, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009), adds a slapstick touch to the ensemble as the extremely jittery Fear, who’s constantly on the lookout for the next potential disaster to evade. In short, every performance in the film is a knockout, heck, even Sadness’ dour cynicism is adorable!

With a number of crafty narrative twists, character reveals and point-on comic gags, all of which service the story, Inside Out is a rare gem that resonates on multiple levels even though it’s predominantly marketed towards kids. In some ways, Inside Out is really an adult film in disguise, as it validates the fact that the joy we experience in our first few years of childhood cannot be sustained whilst highlighting the importance of sadness in one’s life, with a depth, beauty and honesty that children will recognize and grownups understand all too well. It’s also a complex think piece about a child trying to uncover who she is, which as a result, ends up speaking to parents who are struggling to understand their kids. Through the film, viewers learn that every emotion must work in conjunction with the others in order to make Riley a complete person, and this is clearly laid out in a simplicity that speaks to any age group. While this may sound a little sad, Inside Out is so much more; it’s intelligent, funny, scary and hilarious all at the same time — the phrase ‘emotional rollercoaster’ comes to mind — as the picture recaptures that indefinable Pixar magic that has been missing for oh so long.

Exploding with Anger!
Exploding with Anger!

Simply put, Inside Out is one of the most fascinating pictures of the year ranking up there alongside Pixar’s very best. An astoundingly accurate summation of one’s early development, Docter has crafted a real mind-opener as the flick recognizes the concept of growing up and tenderly illustrates that who we once were, isn’t necessarily who we are today. Deeply moving, wildly inventive, gorgeously animated and laugh-out-loud funny — with little details playing out like zealous stand-up — this superlative work of inspired imagination is the most conceptually daring movie the studio has ever produced. Be sure to stick around for the brilliant credit sequence, where Docter and his team jump into the minds of some unsuspecting characters with side-splitting results. At the end of the day, the arrival of Inside Out has made choosing my favorite Pixar film all the more difficult.

5 / 5 – Don’t Miss!

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Inside Out is released through Disney Australia