Directed by: Pete Docter.
Written by: Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen and Meg LeFauve & Josh Cooley.
Starring: Amy Poehler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Bill Hader (Fear), Lewis Black (Anger), Mindy Kaling (Disgust), Kaitlyn Dias (Riley), Diane Lane (Mom), Kyle MacLachlan (Dad), Richard Kind (Bing Bong), Paula Poundstone (Forgetter Paula), Bobby Moynihan (Forgetter Bobby), Paula Pell (Dream Director / Mom's Anger), Dave Goelz (Subconscious Guard Frank), Frank Oz (Subconscious Guard Dave), Josh Cooley (Jangles), Flea (Mind Worker Cop Jake), John Ratzenberger (Fritz).
Between 1999’s Toy Story 2 and 2010’s Toy Story 3, Pixar went on one of the greatest runs any mainstream studio had ever gone on in movie history – during that time, I referred to Pixar as the most consistent force in mainstream cinema entertainment. You could pretty much set your watch to Pixar – every summer (once in a while, in November), you would see one of the best films of the year – an animated film that worked on one level for adults, another for children, and was as brilliantly animated as it was wonderfully written. During this 12 year run, Pixar made 9 films, and I would argue only 2006’s Cars wasn’t a great film - merely a good one. But all great things most come to an end, and so it was with Pixar – who have stumbled for the first time in their existence in the past few years. They’ve made three films in the past 4 years – and none are among their best (although Brave looks as great as anything Pixar has ever done, and Monster’s University is a hell of a lot of fun and Cars 2 – well, Cars 2 sucks). But you can only keep a creative force like Pixar down for so long before the rebound – and with Inside Out, Pixar rebounds in a huge way. Not only is it a return to form for Pixar – it rivals the very best films Pixar has ever made. Which of course means one thing – the film completely broke me, leaving me an emotional wreck for days. And I mean that as a good thing.
The film centers inside the head of Riley – an 11-year old girl, whose parents pack her up and move her from Minnesota to San Francisco – leaving her friends, her hockey team, and everything she has ever known behind. This can be a traumatic experience for any kid – and it certainly is for Riley. But Riley isn’t the main character in Inside Out – her emotions are. Five primary emotions live inside her head, and wrestle for the controls for how she is going to feel at any one time. Her “primary” emotion is Joy (Amy Poehler – perfectly cast), who leads the others. She gets along well with Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black) – and does her best to keep Sadness (Phyllis Smith) far away from the controls. But as Riley heads off to school, and it starts to sink in that things will never be the same – that becomes harder and harder. Then, through a series of events I’ll leave for you to discover, Joy and Sadness get sucked into Riley’s long-term memory – basically endless rows of shelves – and have to find their way to the control room – heading through Riley’s subconscious, Imagination land and other areas of her mind.
This is a rather daring concept for a kids’ movie – that is much more complex than most others would even attempt to do. I have a feeling that much of the movie will fly over children’s heads – my almost four year old had fun with the movie, which either means she didn’t get it, or is a heartless psychopath, which is the only other explanation I can think of for how someone could watch this movie and not cry. For kids, the movie offers a lot – a colorful environment, chase sequences, jokes that will hit them a lot differently then they will adults (none more so than Anger’s comment about seeing a Bear in San Francisco). In short, kids will see Inside Out as a fun animated adventure – and really, that is what they want to see it as.
For adults however – especially for parents – be prepared. Pixar has not shied away from strong emotions before – like the “When She Loved Me” number in Toy Story 2, Boo’s joy when she says “Kitty” at the end of Monsters Inc., the climax of Wall-E, the opening of Up or the threat of the toys going into the fire in Toy Story 3 (all of which choke me up just thinking about them) – but I do not think they have ever gone after them quite as much as they do in Inside Out. I don’t want to say too much about it – but if Bing Bong doesn’t sear himself into your memory in a powerful way, and make you cry just thinking about him, then I don’t know what that says about you – but it ain’t good.
What’s amazing about Inside Out though is that it is able to do that, and not feel like it’s being overly manipulative or sentimental. I may have cried at Marley & Me – but I didn’t feel good about myself afterwards, and rather resented the movie as well. That’s not the case with Inside Out – which earns the tears it generates. It does that by being a very intelligent movie – one that doesn’t talk down to the audience – either the children or the adults – and by having a deeper understanding of psychology than just about any movie aimed at adults does. The message of Inside Out isn’t as simplistic as its okay to feel sad – although that is part of it – but more than that, that sadness and joy are necessary, and often co-exist – something sad turning into something happy, and vice versa. Pixar has often faced criticisms – valid ones at that – that all of their protaganists are men, except for Brave, where they made her another Princess. With Inside Out, they have made a movie about a little girl at its core, and she becomes the most complex protagonist Pixar has ever had. Sure, you could argue its cheating, since she is really made up of 5 characters, but it works. And the more I think about Inside Out – the deeper than damn movie gets. There are layers here that I cannot wait to delve back into.
And, of course, the movie is stunningly animated – among the best things Pixar has ever done visually, with the different emotions all distinctive cartoon-like characters, which are perfectly suited to their emotions. I always knew Pixar would rebound after a few off movies – but I still wasn’t prepared for Inside Out – which is the best movie of 2015 so far. Easily.