Beautiful inside and out6/24/2015
Pixar does not miss. The animation studio has released 14 films before “Inside Out,” and each one has topped the box office on its opening weekend. That is a streak that “Inside Out” will be unable to extend, thanks to Universal’s dinosaurs, but rest assured, “Inside Out” is the most ambitious Pixar film since “Wall-E.”
The vast majority of the story in “Inside Out” takes place in the head of Riley, an 11-year-old girl, voiced by Kaitlyn Davis. It is inside her still-developing noggin that we meet her emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler, in a role that was more or less written with her in mind from the very beginning), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader) and Anger (Lewis Black). All five emotions take their turns at the control panel that runs Riley’s brain, but, as is typical of any properly loved child, Joy does most of the heavy lifting. But as Riley nears becoming a teenager, her life is upended when her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, tearing her away from her friends, her beloved junior hockey team and her own home, dropping her in a shabby townhouse and new school.
Ages 11 through 13 are weird, confusing times in kids’ lives, full of change and emotional upheaval. Pixar gorgeously illustrates the changes through the ways in which the emotions interact with one another and their environment. As Riley’s family relocates, the emotions notice something new: Sadness seems to be getting stronger. All of Riley’s memories are represented by countless glowing orbs. All of them correspond in color to the emotion that most affected the event that created the memory. Again, since Riley is a happy child, most of her memories are Joy-yellow. But now, whenever Sadness comes too close to one of the orbs, it changes to a deep Sadness-blue.
With this one simple mechanic, Pixar elegantly illustrates how our increasingly complex emotions can mess with our perceptions and points of view as children age into adulthood. And the movie is full of fantastic illustrative constructs like this. From the blatantly obvious “Train of Thought” that chugs along on its own ever-changing path, to the Hollywood backlot-style Dream Creator, where tired tropes are endlessly recycled by nonplussed actors, to the bizarre Dadaist corridor of Abstract Thought, Pixar conjures up its idea of what it looks like in our heads and hits the right chord every time.
But, since it is a Pixar film, it has to give you reason to cry as well. In the case of “Inside Out,” it is by reminding you that the mind only has so much space in it. Old memories are constantly in danger of being “dumped” and forgotten forever, giving Pixar the chance to touch on themes of childhoods left behind, the encroaching cynicism of adulthood and the ultimate discarding of coping devices like Riley’s old imaginary friend, Bing Bong.
Ultimately, “Inside Out” manages to beautifully encapsulate the confusion, frustration and wonder of a child’s preteen years while also making a comment on the complicated relationship that adults have with their own emotions. In one scene, we are shown into the head of Riley’s mom where Sadness is clearly in charge. The scene shifts to her dad, where we see that Anger and Fear are running the show. In a later scene, we see in the head of a city bus driver. Even though all the different emotional colors are represented, it is all just different shades of Anger.
Hilarious for adults, enlightening for children and entertaining for absolutely everyone, “Inside Out” may be about as close to a perfect film as Pixar can get. CV