1 hours 42 min
When I first heard the concept of “Inside Out,” this week’s fabulous new Pixar animated film, I thought, “well, that sounds interesting, but I’m not sure how they’re going to carry it through for an entire movie.” After watching the movie and seeing how masterfully the writers, directors and animators were indeed able to carry the concept through, I realized that I’ve had this same worry about Pixar films time and again. “Toy Story” – “Sounds cute, but for an hour and a half?” “Cars” – “Talking cars? That’s going to get old.” “Up” – “Once the old man flies away in his house, the story’s pretty much over, right?” I’m beginning to think that’s a big part of Pixar’s genius. They take simple concepts – imagery, almost – and spin them into a fully realized, detailed tapestry of rounded characters, resonant themes, and completely entertaining plots. I obviously need to have faith because, with the exception of “Cars 2,” they haven’t let me down yet.
Riley is eleven years old, and despite the usual bumps in the road, her life has been pretty great so far. And though she doesn’t know it, she’s had a crew of emotions with her, hard at work, for the entire trip. Inside Riley’s mind, her core personality traits are personified into Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. The group creates, collects, and stores Riley’s memories, dividing them between the regular memories which go to long-term storage and the exceedingly rare core memories. Each member of the team has a specific job to do. Joy buoys Riley in good times and bad. Anger defends her, Disgust keeps her from getting poisoned, and Fear protects her from harm. Sadness’ usefulness is a little more elusive, but then, that’s really what the story is all about. When her parents are forced to abruptly move from comfortable, familiar Minnesota to the strange new world of San Francisco, Riley is thrown into a tailspin. Joy, in the drivers’ seat, as it were, is only mildly flustered by this new turn of events, but rapidly bounces back to finding new things for Riley to be happy about. As the memories are created, they are color coated based on which emotion initiated them – Yellow for Joy, Blue for Sadness, Red for Anger, Green for Disgust, and Purple for Fear. Needless to say, most of Riley’s memories are yellow, but now an inordinate number of them are coming out blue. Sadness, it seems, has accidentally contaminated some of the memories, her touch turning the bright yellow orbs to a teary blue without her understanding why. A ruckus ensues and without warning Joy, Sadness, and all of Riley’s core memories, the pillars of her personality, are sucked out of the control room and deposited far away in long-term memory. Anger, Disgust and Fear, never having been left in charge before, are understandably alarmed. Joy and Sadness must now traverse Riley’s mind, from her dreams to her subconscious, trying to find a way back to the control room before Riley is forever damaged.
“Inside Out,” despite having clever gags, funny situations, and brightly colored characters actually feels like the least “kiddie” of the Pixar films. The story is a brilliant exploration of what the mind of a developing child is like. Riley shows us both how fragile and resilient, at the same time, the emotional well-being of a child can be. There’s no big bad here, no dastardly villain for Riley and her mind-squad to vanquish. Instead our hero is battling change, and struggling with a burgeoning maturity. Moving across the country is hard – being the new kid in school is tough and Riley, through her emotional surrogates, faces a difficult challenge.
The movie, though, also takes us through a time of life I hadn’t really considered. It chronicles the change in our personalities from a time when our own happiness (Joy) is all that matters, to a time when we realize that selfishness no longer serves us and that all our emotions have a validity. Fear, Anger, Disgust, and especially Sadness, counter-intuitive as it may sound, play a large part in making us well-rounded, functioning and contributing members of society. They give us a realistic picture of the world, of our place in it, and of our relationship to others. This is the creation of empathy.
That all sounds pretty heavy for a kid’s movie, and as a parent, it was very heavy. I made the mistake of thinking about my own little girl several times and it was enough to get the tears flowing. But don’t imagine that “Inside Out” is some Ingmar Bergman examination of pathos and the human condition. The movie is sweet and very funny, thanks in large part to it’s very talented voice cast. As Fear and Disgust, Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling both virtually disappear, but they are still very funny and play their parts to a tee. Comedian Lewis Black is very good as Anger, but the two stand-outs are definitely Amy Poehler as Joy and Phyllis Smith as Sadness. Poehler has proved herself to be a genius comedienne time and again, from Saturday Night Live to Parks and Recreation, and her performance in “Inside Out” is no different. A bigger surprise, however, is Smith, who played Phyllis on “The Office,” and handles the role of Sadness with sweetness and grace. Despite her long-running TV series, Smith has been seen fairly little on-screen, but here’s hoping “Inside Out” can open a few doors. Her comic timing is something you don’t necessarily see coming and she absolutely owns this role.
I really, really liked “Inside Out.” No, it isn’t as funny as some of the Pixar films, but there is enough wacky stuff to keep the little ones’ attentions, and just like any great director, Pete Doctor, who also brought us “Up,” saves the funniest stuff for the last few minutes of the movie. The montage of inside-the-mind shots of the ancillary characters as the credits roll is brilliant and hilarious. Always leave ‘em wanting more, as they say, and Pixar has, once again, done just that. Grade: A
“Inside Out” is rated PG for mild thematic elements, which is a cheesy way to say that some of the characters yell occasionally. This should have been a G.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.