INSIDE OUT (2015) review
written by: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley
produced by: Jonas Rivera
directed by: Pete Doctor and Ronaldo Del Carmen
rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and some action )
runtime: 94 min.
U.S. release date: June 19, 2015
Remember that Rosie Greer song “It’s alright to cry” from Marlo Thomas’ musical “Free to Be You and Me” aimed at kids? No? Here. That’s what I was humming to myself as I left the theater. That was my big take away from “Inside Out” too. It’s alright to cry. To take in sad thoughts rather than repress them and let grief do what it must to find its way to the other side of traumatic experiences and situations. Yes, I was reminded of that valuable lesson, just as much as I was blown away and entertained, while watching the latest offering from Pixar Animation Studios. To think, there are still moviegoers who see these movies as “cartoons” and think “I won’t see that in the theater”. No really. People still think that. Their loss.
Usually when I come out of a film with mixed emotions, it’s an indication that the movie failed in some way or that I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it. Well, I may continue to examine the many ways I feel about “Inside Out”, but one thing is for certain – this is a movie that wins on many levels – maybe every level. I was completely content with the mixed emotions I had after this wonderful movie and I feel like are many insights into the human mind to be gleaned from this imaginative and visually stunning feature.
The protagonist (and antagonist) of “Inside Out” is Riley Anderson, (Kaitlyn Dias) an 11-year-old girl whose world is disrupted when her Mom (Diane Lane) and Dad (Kyle MacLachlan), relocate the family from the wide-open spaces of Minnesota to the crowded urban life of San Francisco for her father’s work. She tries to remain positive, but the stress of moving and the loss of her friends cause an internal upheaval in Riley that personifies itself externally in concerning ways.
Her internal activity is managed by a group of five personified emotions, normally led by the optimistic Joy (Amy Poehler), who tries to maintain order in the command center of Riley’s mind. Because of the changes Riley is experiencing, Joy is having a hard time keeping Sadness (Phyllis Smith) in check, especially when Sadness begins to taint the five core memory orbs from Riley’s past which are all joyful. When these core memory orbs – which power floating islands that represent specific aspects of who Riley is: Family, Friendship, Hockey, Honesty and Goofball – are disrupted during a fight between Joy and Sadness, the two characters get sucked out into the recesses of Riley’s Long Term Memory. This leaves Riley’s behavior at the mercy of Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), none of whom have ever been at the helm of Riley’s responses and reactions. Despite this setback, Joy is determined to make her way back to headquarters to bring stability and balance back into Riley’s life, even if she has to drag Sadness along the way.
That sounds like a typical buddy adventure that we’ve seen Pixar navigate in previous movies, but it’s much more than that. We connect to these different emotions immediately because they are so familiar to us, we can relate to all of them and easily find it fascinating how they inhabit this colorful and complicated adolescent mind. What’s most impressive in “Inside Out” is how Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc” and “Up”), co-directed Ronaldo del Carmen and their team of visual artists are able to provide the film with a carefully toned balance of tone, ranging from light comedy to heavy drama. Nothing comes across as too cutesy or manipulative, which is crucial for a movie focusing on emotions.
The highlight of “Inside Out” though is the impressive award-worthy screenplay by Docter, newcomer Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley. It’s a clever, well thought-out tale that considers the intricacies of child psychology and the especially the varied caverns of Riley’s mind – her abstract thought offers one of the most unique and creative animated sequences from Pixar and we can all connect with the potential eeriness of her subconscious. There’s also the Train of Thought, a vehicle which connects the realms of Riley’s mind, carrying workers (such as cleaners who discard memories that aren’t being used like piano playing and presidents other than Lincoln and Washington) to different locations for maintenance and management.
The other memorable character is Bing Bong (wonderfully embodied by Richard Kind) a forgotten imaginary friend from Riley’s past that Joy and Sadness meet during their cranial journey. He’s the kind of creation you’d expect from a child’s wild imagination – an elephant/dolphin mashup with a cotton candy body. He offers Joy and Sadness his assistance in getting back to headquarters and provides when of the most impacting moments during a pivotal scene.
The combined imagination from the “Inside Out” writers and concept artists never ceased to impress and entertain me. I got a kick out of the appropriately colored five emotions as well as their assigned sex – Joy is a spritely lemon, Disgust is a sickly green and Sadness is colored with a typical blue hue and then there’s the fellas, Anger the red-hot shorty and Fear the neurotic purple beanpole. Of course, these characters, which take up the majority of the film’s narrative, are perfectly cast (listen close enough and you’ll hear the likes of Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Bobby Moynihan, Paula Poundstone and, of course, John Ratzenberger), but the standout turns out to be Sadness who is who is so perfectly personified by Phyllis Smith. Her lines tend to trail off, as if completely deflated which matches the slumped body language of Smith’s character. Sadness is a joy to watch. The best part of these characters is how they aren’t just one-note personifications. Joy can be scared, Sadness can get a little delighted and even Anger can root for a good outcome, because they have Riley’s best intentions in mind, despite Anger outbursts and panic attacks from Fear.
It’s inevitable for viewers to identify with at least a couple of the emotions in “Inside Out” and maybe even identify which of these five emotions govern their own decisions and behavior. I definitely found myself relating more with Sadness and Anger than the other three. To that extent, this movie actually helped me recognize that. Not that it’s something I want to completely change, but maybe something to be more mindful of.
In “Inside Out” and in real life, Joy may try to counter the other emotions as a method of self-preservation, but this movie emphasizes how all these emotions are necessary, especially Sadness. This goes against our instincts though, especially when someone we care for is weighed down by sadness. Our first desire is to prevent them from hurting, to get them to laugh or be happy. Docter teaches us that sadness is needed to register the unpredictable events in life. This is probably the most reassuring and appealing aspect of “Inside Out”.
To keep the comedy present amid the challenges that plague the impulsive Riley outside her head, Docter takes us inside the minds of her parents as well. He hits some very funny stereotypical marriage notes, but it’s interesting to see how age and experience has shaped their emotions as opposed to Riley’s, who are still kind of figuring things out.
Pixar took last year off after delivering sequels (not all of them were worthy entries, ahem, “Cars 2”) and fairy tale fare (I like “Brave” just fine, but that’s what it is), catering to merchandising and feeling more like Disney than the uniqueness of that Bay area studio. I laughed and cried while watching “Inside Out” because of the story, but also because it resonates so naturally. It’s great to have such a complex female-centric movie in Pixar’s canon. They have the troubled “Good Dinosaur” coming out in the fall and other sequels down the line, but “Inside Out” will be remembered as a truly original piece, a masterpiece, in fact.
NOTE: Like all Pixar films, there is an animated short preceding the feature and they usually range from good to wonderful. Sometimes, I’m even bummed when they end, they’re so good. Not “Lava”, the musical by James Ford Murphy about a lonely volcanic island who sings a Polynesian ditty searching for his true love. Sure, the animation is great, but it’s narrative is so thin, I lost interest quickly. It would’ve been fine for a film festival, but not to whet the appetite for a great feature.