After hitting bull’s-eye after bull’s-eye for almost a decade and a half, there’s been something off about the past few Pixar movies. Brave was descent, but not extraordinary, Monsters University was fun, but not really necessary, and Cars 2… well, the less said, the better. For any other animation studio this string of films would be serviceable, but Pixar is known for being on a boundless pedestal of quality. We expect them to always be nothing short of amazing, which is an impossible standard to live up to. The good news about Inside Out is that it’s not only Pixar’s best film since Toy Story 3, but one of their funniest, saddest, and most imaginative to date.
This wonderful film takes us inside the mind of eleven-year-old Riley. Her head is comprised of five emotions: Joy, an energetic ray of sunshine voiced by Amy Poehler; Sadness, a dumpy, blue downer voiced by Phyllis Smith; Fear, a squirmy, purple worrywart voiced by Bill Hader; Disgust, a grossed out, green smart aleck voiced by Mindy Kaling; and Anger, a red blockhead ready to burst voiced by Lewis Black. With a felt puppet texture, all of these characters have their own distinctive color scheme, body language, and personality of course. You’d think that since each is supposed to represent a solitary facet of Riley’s feelings that they’d be one-dimensional caricatures. Somehow, though, each manages to be a multi-layered being while also remaining true to themselves.
A majority of Inside Out focuses on the contrasting relationship between Joy and Sadness. As Riley is moved away from Minnesota and begins to lose part of her childhood innocence, Joy does everything she can to help her stay positive. Yet, the withdrawn Sadness feels compelled to take control of the motherboard and address Riley’s depressing circumstances. This makes for a fascinating, not to mention touching, story that demonstrates a unique lesson for kids and adults: it’s not only okay to cry, it’s a necessary human function.
If we could control our emotions all the time, chances are we’d only want to feel joy. Parents in particular desire nothing more than for their children to be happy. The fact of the matter is, however, that we can’t completely rid ourselves of the capability to be sad, angry, fearful, or disgusted. They all play a part in shaping our personalities and how we act socially. Although it sounds tempting to eternally think happy thoughts, repressing our problems won’t get us anywhere. Sometimes we need to cry our eyes out to feel better again. Thus, Inside Out is appropriately a rollercoaster of emotion that wisely never tries to turn any person or any feeling into a bad guy.
Every emotion in the film is 100% genuine and earned. On paper, the story of an everyday girl moving to a new city and dealing with change sounds like a pretty basic premise. If we were in Riley’s place, however, our situation would feel anything but basic. We’d probably be devastated, furious, or unsure what to think – especially at that age. The audience feels like they’re truly occupying Riley’s head, as over-the-top and manic as the contents of her mind may be.
Then again, the mind is a playground for infinite creativity and Director Pete Docter of Up takes full advantage of that. The filmmakers explore every incredible idea one could possibly think of, for a setup such as this: touching base on imaginary friends, catchy jingles that randomly pop into your head, and the production process behind making dreams. While the animation is of course phenomenal, it’s the ingenious wit and massive heart of Inside Out that amounts to another perfect Pixar picture.