Director: Pete Docter
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black (voices only)
Running time: 94 minutes
Ah Pixar, what a fun relationship we have had. After the relative decline of Disney’s hand-drawn animation and the amazing work of Toy Story and Finding Nemo, it has been the home of good animation. I must admit I was worried when the studio started churning out weak or cynical cash-grab films (like Brave, Cars 2, and Monsters University). However, their latest offering put all my concerns to rest; I consider it the finest Pixar film possibly since Finding Nemo. In fact, if you have not seen it, I’d recommend that you stop reading this review, watch the movie, and then come back, as I really do not want to spoil the surprises contained within this fantastic film.
The plot is relatively straightforward, the protagonist is a girl called Riley who has emotions living inside her head: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. These emotions keep her body running, but, after she moves to San Francisco, the change of scenery takes its toll. Joy and Sadness are accidentally sucked into her long-term memory and have to find a way back into her mind, as she begins to lose control over her life. Within the long-term memory, they run into different aspects of Riley’s mind, as well as having to deal with the destruction their absence is causing to her life and mind.
This movie is one of the most inventive films that I have seen, as it demonstrates the effects of a massive change on a young person by literally showing what is going on in her mind as it is happening. The fact that her emotions are shown to be controlling how she thinks and how they all have their places in ensuring that Riley is able to keep it together was really nice to see. Additionally, the dream productions, the subconscious prison, and the imagination land were all fantastic representations of what goes on in most of our minds. Visualising concepts like the ‘train of thought’ and showing that getting derailed as her mental state collapsed was truly remarkable, as was the abstract thought process. As someone who has had depression, it often does feel like a part of you is missing and you cannot feel a certain emotion at any time. Therefore, this representation hit home and did what all good Pixar films do; create a good show for children while having something that grown-ups can relate to.
That is not to say it was all quirky introspection, the film was frankly hilarious in some places and certainly knew how to keep things funny as well as serious. The Triple-Dent gum section was fantastic, as well as showing a representation of something that can literally be stuck in your head and it alleviated the tension every now and then. The casting was also spot on. Anger was hilariously played by the excellent Lewis Black, with the over-the-top reactions that he does so well. I also particularly liked the glimpses we got into other people’s heads, especially Riley’s parents and how their emotions were working for them, (the end credits were particularly funny when highlighting this point). Humour is important for a Pixar film, and I often felt that Up sometimes missed the mark (whereas this film gets the balance perfectly right).
Overall, I think what is the best about this film is how complex it is. The great thing about Pixar films is that you can watch them again and get a completely different meaning from them. This film is essentially telling us that emotions like sadness are integral parts of the human psyche and you cannot live without them, and as one grows, those emotions are going to play a bigger role, which is a fantastic lesson for children. Inside Out does not shy away from communicating a message to children, rather than just being funny. In some ways, it reminds me of Spirited Away because it presents itself in a medium that all who watch it can understand and does not hurt the message for any of the age groups.