Pixar has always mined unusual story themes for its animated films, right from the beginning with its hopping lamp. Children’s toys, fish in the sea, futuristic robots, and cars have all been at the base of its anthropomorphic stories. Even when the movies deal with humans, it explores places where animated films have rarely gone, like the loss of a spouse. Pixar is also exceedingly good at these stories; with all the romantic movies that have been made over the past hundred-plus years of film history, easily one of the top ten is the first seven or so minutes of Up. Now Pixar has merged the anthropomorphic and the human to basically give a children’s primer on Jungian psychology with Inside Out.
Writer/Director Peter Docter has had a hand in many of Pixar’s successes, including the Toy Story series, Up, and Wall-E. He’s also dealt with our emotions before – specifically fear – in Monsters, Inc. With Inside Out he explores the emotions of Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) from her first conscious thought. That brought Joy (Amy Poehler) into her life, to be followed by Fear (Bill Hadler), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). They’re at the control panel of Riley’s brain as she makes memories and establishes the power islands in her mind based on core memories – the thoughts that make Riley who she is.
Riley’s life is turned upside down when her father (Kyle MacLachlan) moves the family from Minnesota to San Francisco. Her mom (Diane Lane) asks Riley to be supportive, but it’s an emotionally unstable time for her, especially when a conflict leads to Joy and Sadness being sucked out of the control center and dumped in long-term memory, along with Riley’s core memories.
The visuals of the film are wonderful: there’s an actual train of thought, the subconscious is down a pit below the memory, and long-term memory is a maze that’s hard to navigate. Joy and Sadness end up passing through Irrational Thought, Imagination Land, and Dream Productions. They also meet Riley’s imaginary friend from her childhood, Bing Bong (Richard Kind) who seeks to help them in their quest to return to the control center. But while they’re seeking to return, Riley’s emotions are seriously out of balance and her core-memory worlds begin to crumble.
octer collaborated on the story with first-time co-director Ronnie Del Carmen along with two others for the script, and both Amy Poehler and Bill Hadler receive credit for additional dialogue they provided. The movie sparkles with wit, such as when Anger discovers the local pizza place only serves pies topped with broccoli: “Congratulations, San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza. First the Hawaiians, and now you!” In a scene at the dinner table, we also get a quick trip into the control centers of Mom and Dad, to which any parent will relate. Yet the script also deals with deeper emotions and like most Pixar films you’ll want to make sure to have a tissue or two – or a dozen – close at hand.
Each actor does stellar work with the voices. Docter and Del Carmen do a wonderful job keeping everything in balance and the story moving along for its brisk 94 minute running time. (I’ll single out Richard Kind’s work as Bing Bong, but for spoiler’s sake I won’t say why.)
It’s true that in the political realm, a cartoonist is often able to cut through hyperbole and state hard truths. The same goes for animated films. While children and parents will be entranced by the visuals and the wit of the script, Inside Out can be a devastating movie for those who have regrets, both as children and as parents. Yet it also holds out the hope of reconciliation and restoration. That’s a good lesson for children to learn, be they eight years old or eighty.