The direction is too good, the humor works, the emotional moments are suitably emotional, and there are lot of good ideas here that add up to a respectable product, and certainly better than Pixar’s more recent output.
“Inside Out” is no exception. For Riley, the 11-year-old girl whose emotions star in the film, her core memories revolve around family, friends, honesty, hockey and being a goofball. “Inside Out” touches on everything from friendship to independence, self-sacrifice and learning to rely on others. Joy (Amy Poehler) is the first of Riley’s emotions, she’s the heart of the organization which also includes Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).
Like all humans, Riley is guided by her emotions. Most often, the voices serve to represent mental illness: schizophrenia or one of the three dissociative disorders. Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith) isn’t exactly sure what her role is, and frankly, neither is anyone else. Joy (Amy Poehler) has always been the default leader, but over time, she’s had to make room for a host of less desirable roommates.
If this were a simpler animated movie, then there would be a clear villain the Emotions have to conquer in order to save Riley from permanent sadness.
It’s a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress through the self, a heavy-duty allegory that in other hands would be terrible. Everyone knows that no life can be filled with only joy, but that does not stop us hoping for it, especially when parents think about their own children.
It’s not surprising, but it is reassuring to see Pixar knock this concept out of the park. Pixar, which is based in Emeryville, knows San Francisco well, and filmmakers Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen have fun poking fun at the city as seen from an outsider’s point of view.
Like “Wall-E”, “Up” and “Toy Story 3,” it takes the animation form – something that was, in another generation, strictly for children – and uses it for some honest metaphysical inquiry. Inside Out does, at times, risk having too much going on, but it stays on the rails and never becomes overwhelming. It’s attractive, but not quite sublime. And you’ll learn that your childhood imaginary friends might still be running around up there, waiting for you to want to play again.
This is not to say the film is unenjoyable or unimportant.
The candy-colored scheme of Riley’s interior, and the cartoony figures inside her, could easily be creepy or saccharine. Others in the theater were clearly enjoying the adventures of Joy and Sadness, who voyage outside “headquarters”, risk their “lives” and survive even being deconstructed in the film’s cleverest sequence and being hurled into the deepest depths of the “memory dump”. And Sadness sits down next to him and says, “I’m very sorry that you lost something that you love”.
Rated PG, the film has no objectionable content as far as language, sexuality, or violence. All five are located in the control center of Riley’s mind.
What follows contains minor spoilers, unless you’ve watched the trailers for this film. “Inside Out” may happen in two simultaneous worlds, with a combination of both physical characters and personified emotions, but by the end of the film, you’re bound to be in love with them all. The Pixar magic still works, and long may it thrive.