Director: Pete Docter
Writers: Pete Docter, Michael Arndt, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Inside Out is Pixar at its best: quirky, imaginative, moving, and as relevant to adults as it is to children. The movie takes viewers on a journey through the mind of eleven-year-old Riley, where five emotions—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—help make Riley, well, Riley. Despite their differences, these emotions know how to work as a team to keep Riley safe, happy, and whole. So even though Joy is ostensibly the protagonist here, the real lesson is that Riley wouldn’t the same without all of her emotions.
The movie is pretty strongly character driven, with Joy and Sadness at the helm, but a lot of wonder can also be found in the world-building. The writers imagine Riley’s mind as a place of whimsy, color, and the occasional darkness. After leaving Headquarters to save some of Riley’s “core memories,” the ones that really have an impact on her personality, Joy and Sadness go on a breathtaking adventure through the rest of Riley’s brain, going everywhere from Imagination Land to Long-term Memory to the Subconscious. Viewers will marvel at the attention to detail and just how fitting everything is. Prime example: when Joy accidentally mixes up the contents of some boxes of facts and opinions. No worries, she is told, it happens all the time.
The audience at my showing were very vocal with their reactions, gasping, laughing, and occasionally crying. Like all good Pixar movies, there are moments in Inside Out that are necessary, but really quite sad. And there are moments when it is possible to believe, children’s movie or no, that people are truly in danger here, and everyone might not turn out to have a happily ever after. Suspense and poignancy play as strong roles here as do amusement and joy.
The movie’s one downside may be Riley herself. Though obviously the idea is that Riley’s emotions, and thoughts, and memories all make her who she is—make us all who we are—there is something uncomfortable about the idea that “other” people are controlling Riley’s thoughts and experiences of the world. Despite the fact that Pixar is shining a brilliant light on the inner workings of Riley’s personality, it can be tempting to view her as having no personality at all. The movie follows her and her parents as they move from Minnesota to San Francisco, exploring the stages of adjustment, but their value as characters undeniably pales in comparison to Riley’s emotions.
The movie also gives occasional glimpses into other characters’ minds—and these scenes were audience favorites. Interestingly, everyone else’s emotions seem a bit more uniform than Riley’s, and I wonder whether this has something to do with having hit puberty, or whether the creators just wanted everyone’s minds to seem distinct in the brief peeks that viewers get. Either way, most of them were both fitting and funny, and it’s worth noting there are few extra of these scenes at the beginning of the credits.
Inside Out is inventive, but also very real. Like Toy Story 3, which bore a special nostalgia for viewers who grew up with Toy Story, I think Inside Out will undoubtedly appeal to children, but it will also speak to adults who want or need to remember what it was like to be a child, when emotions and imagination both ran wild.