Inside Out

Too bad the kid isn’t an ADHD brat so we could get the frantic Tony Scott/Michael Bay version. Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling and Lewis Black lend their vocal talents to Pixar’s Inside Out.

Inside OutCast of Characters:
Joy – voiced by Amy Poehler
Sadness – voiced by Phyllis Smith
Fear – voiced by Bill Hader
Anger – voiced by Lewis Black
Disgust – voiced by Mindy Kaling
Riley Anderson – voiced by Kaitlyn Dias
Riley’s Mother – voiced by Diane Lane
Riley’s Father – voiced by Kyle MacLachlan
Bing-Bong – voiced by Richard Kind

Director – Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen
Screenplay – Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve & Josh Cooley
Producer – Jonas Rivera
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action

From the time Riley Anderson (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) was born, five personified emotions have been running the show inside her head: Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith), Fear (voiced by Bill Hader), Anger (voiced by Lewis Black) and Disgust (voiced by Mindy Kaling). Together, they’re tasked with reacting to Riley’s circumstances and forming memories that are housed in different colored spheres. The most important ones, “core memories”, power her five personality “islands”: Family, Friendship, Hockey, Honesty and Goofball.

At the age of 11, Riley and her family move to San Francisco after her father (voiced by Kyle MacLachlan) gets a new job. Despite Joy’s efforts in making the experience as pleasant as she can, Sadness – who always feels she serves no purpose and is often ignored – accidentally causes a malfunction with the core memories that lead to both her and Joy being ejected from the Headquarters.

With Riley now in an uncommunicative, emotional funk, Joy and Sadness must venture from the far reaches of her subconscious back to Headquarters before it’s too late.

I keep hearing the phrase “return to form” being used in reference to this film. Let’s get one thing straight: Pixar is in no need for a return to form. One mediocre and needless sequel, Cars 2, doesn’t qualify as a need for a return to form. No, Monsters University isn’t quite as good as Monsters, Inc., but it’s still a charming and funny prequel. Brave seems to get an unfair amount of crap for beating out Wreck-It Ralph for Best Animated Feature. Though Wreck-It Ralph deserved the win, Pixar’s effort was still a wonderful fairy tale fantasy that had the studio eschewing their trademark quirky inventiveness for their own rendition of the hallmark Disney princess formula. Not every film they do has to be Toy Story or The Incredibles.

Blame the Oscar voters, not the film.

Return to form or not, though, Inside Out is above and beyond just Pixar doing what they’ve always done best; it’s the best of the best they’ve done in years. We’re talking Pixar Mount Rushmore good, and forget winning Best Animated Feature at next year’s Oscars, which it’ll clearly run away with (then again, I said the same about The Lego Movie last year); this deserves a Best Picture nomination.

Co-directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up) and Ronaldo Del Carmen and co-written by Docter (the story was inspired by his own shy social anxieties as a preteen, as well as his own daughter Elie’s similar traits when she was around the same age) Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley, Inside Out is a brilliantly written, gorgeously animated adventure that has all the bright colors and eccentric characters to thrill the kids, and the complex, deeply layered emotional resonance to move adults to tears.

Do you expect anything less from Pixar?

Like Toy Story, this too features two of its primary characters being plucked away from the confines of their home, and now facing a near-impossible trek back to Headquarters. That trek has Joy and Sadness journeying through Riley’s mind which includes the production studio that produces all of her dreams, a Train of Thought that’s exactly what you’d think it’d be, a fake boyfriend generator (they’d “die!!!!” for Riley), an abstract memory shortcut that looks like a Salvador Dali/Picasso nightmare, and running into Bing-Bong (a funny and sweet voice performance from Richard Kind), Riley’s long-lost, but still fiercely loyal imaginary friend who once operated a song-powered wagon and cries candy instead of tears (every time a viewer does not get choked up with his story arc, God casts a baby angel into Hell). Even Headquarters on its own, which is run like an inventory crew by the five emotions, all of whom serve a purpose and work together for the betterment of Riley, is just as meticulously crafted as the memory world that exists outside of it. It’s certainly one of the most creatively conceived worlds you’ll see in all film, both animation and live-action, this year and even this past decade.

Bringing the five emotions to life is a terrifically cast group featuring two alums each from SNL (Amy Poehler, Bill Hader) and The Office (Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling). Poehler is fantastic as Joy, the always cheery and optimistic one of the bunch. After years of being one of the second-tier members of The Office, it’s nice to see Smith get a big opportunity here as Sadness, the Debbie Downer of the five, and she nearly steals the show. Kaling gives Disgust a perfectly narcissistic fashion diva touch. The always entertaining Hader is great fun as the extremely cautious Fear, and Lewis Black is almost too perfectly cast as Anger.

Pixar is no stranger to ambitious, emotionally deep concepts. They’ve been working with them since the aforementioned Toy Story. Kids loved it then and kids continue to love it today ’cause the spirit and liveliness of toys coming to life is exhilarating to them. Kids from back when it was first released, like me, who are now grown up I contend love it even more ’cause the exuberance of the animation is now accompanied with the deeper themes and layers of how much our own toys growing up were at one time our own little world.

Once again, the studio outdoes itself in that department. Inside Out will surely strike an emotional cord in adult viewers (one that most live-action films this year haven’t even come close to matching) that remember how simple our emotions were as toddlers before turning into a raging Cat-5 hurricane of complexity once on the cusp of adolescence, not to mention all the beloved comfort zones and joys we held onto as children before letting go of them as we grow older. Kudos to Pixar for once again not feeling the need to dumb things down for kids, and treating the entire audience intelligently. Granted, there are certain elements kids might not understand or relate to as much as adults, but it’s nothing that’ll leave them dumbfounded. I couldn’t help but hear one kid in front of me respond to his mom that a scene involving Bing-Bong was “sad”, so even if at a base level, there’s enough that kids will understand with the story even if it doesn’t hit them as hard as it might with older audiences.

Of course, in about ten years, that boy will re-watch this and the “sad” scene will resonate with him 10x more. You can find out why for yourself.

Imaginative, witty, universally appealing and profoundly heartfelt, Inside Out is a Pixar trifecta of incredibly beautiful animation, strong writing and a perfectly cast ensemble of voice talent led by the infectiously bright and lively Amy Poehler. Amongst the many other stellar Pixar films, this stands tall beside Toy Story, Up, The Incredibles and Wall-E as one of the very best the studio has to offer, and is no doubt a shoo-in for one of the best films of 2015.

I give Inside Out an A+ (★★★★).


6/22/15        What the Hell Were They Thinking?!
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6/27/15        Ted 2

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