Review: Inside Out
The following review is from our Cinemacon 2015 coverage
Pixar has had a bumpy road of late with some arguably unnecessary (albeit financially successful) sequels (MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, CARS 2) and a ho-hum original entry (BRAVE), which put the animation giant in the rearview when compared to Disney’s own animated flicks like FROZEN, WRECK-IT RALPH, and BIG HERO 6. Thankfully, Pixar has put their faith once again in writer/director Pete Docter (MONSTERS INC., UP) for their latest entry, INSIDE OUT, which is the best film the studio has made since TOY STORY 3 and may well be their most heartfelt film to date.
Docter and co. have found a way to bring a physical manifestation of our primary emotional states (and overall mind) to life that makes for a truly imaginative journey that taps into the good, the bad, and the ugly of our collective childhoods, while never going too deep or too dark to take you out of the realm of a kid’s movie. However, I’d argue that this film works on two different levels; as an animated kid’s adventure and as a bittersweet reflection of childhood for adults.
The film stars a pitch perfect voice cast as the various emotions, including Amy Poehler as Joy, Mindy Kaling as Disgust, Bill Hader as Fear, Lewis Black as Anger, and Phyllis Smith as Sadness, with the “human” cast rounded out in Diane Lane as Mom, Kyle MacLachlan as Dad, and Kaitlyn Dias as Riley, the young girl at the center of the film’s “emotions.” The cast couldn’t be more fitting and it makes the journey that much easier to settle into, which is helpful as the film goes deeper and deeper into young Riley’s emotional states, sometimes into some dark territory.
Memories are stored in spherical orbs that glow different colors depending on the emotion felt when experienced and things start to go awry when Riley and her family move to a new city and she begins to go through the ups and downs of being uprooted and forced to start over at a new school. Making new friends, adjusting to a new environment, and, most importantly, growing up, causes Riley’s core memories (the most important of her memories) to suddenly be affected when Sadness creeps in, changing them from happy memories to sad ones. This is the catalyst that sends Joy (Poehler) and Sadness (Smith) on a journey through Riley’s mind in order to salvage the core memories she has and ultimately to keep her stable.
INSIDE OUT creates an entire universe out of Riley’s mind (and we get peeks into Mom and Dad’s as well), making for a much larger film than you might suspect from the trailers. It breaks down the very essence of what Riley values as a child and all the idiosyncrasies and details that goes into building who she is. There are “islands” that represent the things she loves most (family, friends, hockey, etc.), which are fueled by the memories she makes (and stores), with a vast labyrinth of nooks and crannies that can go to some fun, imaginative, and even dark places (think imaginary friends and scary clowns). The race to save her core memories and the journey through her mind to do so is where INSIDE OUT really shines, with a ton of clever representations of our mind (abstract thought, dreams, etc.). The darker scenes may be too much for some kids, but it's never outright morbid and it's handled in a way that's more playful than anything.
The stakes get higher as we jump back into Riley's "real" world and see her struggling to come to grips with the new challenges she faces and the deep sense of loss and sadness she feels in dealing with them. What's nice about these scenes is that they balance out the world in her mind exceptionally well and each event Riley faces has an effect on the "characters" (i.e. emotions) inside, which makes their journey even more harrowing. It's a deftly balanced affair and makes you feel the juxtaposition of both worlds in a way that connects them completely. There is never a time that you feel like either journey exists on its own, as they exist as a cohesive whole.
It’s all presented in a way that leaves no margin for confusion and looks absolutely stunning, making for one of the most colorful, vibrant, and beautifully rendered Pixar films ever made. In journeying through Riley’s mind you can’t help but relate it to your own, as this is a film that speaks to all of us. Likely, it will trigger your own childhood memories and stir up the emotions attached to them. If you have kids of your own, I’d dare say that the film becomes an even more bittersweet and heartfelt film, as you not only attach the journey to yourself, but also to your own children. This is a film that not only speaks about the beauty of childhood, but of the loss that comes when you grow up. It’s a film that really does get inside your head and leaves a lingering reflection of who we are and who we leave behind. Moving, imaginative, and beautiful, INSIDE OUT is one of Pixar’s finest works.
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