If you’ve ever wondered what’s going on inside someone’s head, Pixar have created a wonderfully inventive answer in Inside Out. Back at the absolute top of their game, Pixar’s latest is fresh, funny and positively bursting with emotions from joy to sadness.
Aptly enough, these two emotions are also the lead characters in Inside Out, living inside the headquarters of eleven year old girl Riley’s mind. Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyliss Smith) work alongside the other anthropomorphised emotions; Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and constantly vie for control over the little girl’s head. Joy is comfortably doing most of the button pushing in happy Riley’s brain, but then her parents decide to move from Minnesota to San Francisco, leaving all that she knows behind.
While starting at a new school is scary enough, things get even more complicated for Riley when her father starts becoming distracted by work, and then Joy and Sadness get sucked out of headquarters and into the massive maze that is Riley’s long term memory. Back in headquarters, Fear, Anger and Disgust must take the reigns as Joy and Sadness struggle to get back, before Riley’s personality is forever altered.
Inside Out might just feature Inside Out’s mostly fully realised world yet. While Toy Story and Monster’s Inc both have their incredible ideas, it is Inside Out that gets closest to genius in taking its premise and milking its themes for all that they are worth. The world of the film is mostly Riley’s mind and though the idea of anthropomorphised emotions sounds cringe worthy, it is the sheer invention on display around them that propels Inside Out. Headquarters is where these emotions look out onto the outside world, seeing what Riley sees and fighting for control in order to react accordingly. Her memories are constantly being sent to the memory banks and personality islands are being formed around her interests.
The journey of Joy and Sadness around Riley’s mind offers nothing new in terms of story structure, and Pixar fall back on the old odd couple partnership that has produced such memorable results in the past. But what Inside Out lacks in narrative originality, it more than makes up for with creative ideas. Every scene is packed with invention, imagination and hilarious gags. We get to visit Riley’s subconscious, meet her imaginary friend that wanders around in her long term memory, and in one impressively surreal sequence, see where her abstract thoughts are created.
In some of Inside Out’s funniest sequences, directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen also offer glimpses inside the minds of those who surround Riley. Inside the brains of her Mum, her Dad, and in the film’s most laugh out loud moment, the boy who she bumps into, are a whole bunch of other emotion characters just begging to be explored in their own spin off films. But by focussing on the 11 year old Riley, Inside Out manages to be Pixar’s most emotional film yet.
Forget that opening four minutes of Up for a moment, and consider one of Inside Out’s central ideas. The idea that life will be full of Joy is a fantasy, and as Sadness taints every memory she touches, Inside Out meaningfully explores what it is to grow up. Joy and Sadness must learn to co-exist, even as Sadness starts to creep into everyone of the joyous memories that Riley has made in the past. It’s an incredibly mature idea, and one that gives Inside Out huge emotional heft.
While Amy Poehler is the voice star, investing Joy with her boundless enthusiasm and optimism, it is the perfectly cast Phyllis Smith who steals scenes as Sadness. All of the voice cast are excellent and the slapstick energy of their bickering characters will keep younger viewers amused. But really, this is a film where much of the brilliance, the nuance and the melancholy will be lost on small children. Pixar have made another film that will appeal easily as much to adults as it does to the so-called target audience.
With Riley on the cusp of puberty, Inside Out is poised for sequels, ready to become a Pixar series to rival the popularity of the Toy Story trilogy. Crammed full of ingenuity, it’s a film that has been sprung from the very best minds of Pixar. With its perfect blend of high concept idea with intimate themes, Inside Out is a new peak for Pixar.
About the Author
Peter Turner Senior Reporter & Critic for Tastic Film Magazine.