(Note: The film is preceded by Lava, the latest wonderful animated short film from Pixar. It’s a musical tale of a lonely volcano who is in search of love. Of course, it’s a wonderful treat)
As movie fans, we hold Pixar Studios to unfairly high expectations, and it’s been no secret that they’re winning streak has stalled in recent years. Since Toy Story 3’s release in 2010, the studio has struggled to regain it’s unstoppable old form. From the lackluster Cars 2 , to the decent enough Brave, and the mostly enjoyable Monsters University, Pixar has been searching for it’s next great film. Last year, the studio didn’t release a film for the first time since 2005, and it looks like the refresher paid off, as their latest release, Inside Out, captures that magical feeling that we haven’t seen from the studio this side of the decade.
Up and Monsters Inc. director Pete Docter returns to the directors chair for Inside Out, along with credited co-director Ronaldo Del Carmen, together crafting a totally imaginative and touching picture that astonishes from start to finish. Not only is it one of Pixar’s funniest films ever, but it’s an emotional wallop that ends up being a more poignant journey than I ever could have expected.
“Do you ever look at someone and wonder what is going on inside their head?” That is the question asked by Joy (Amy Poehler, in full Leslie Knope mode) at the very beginning of the story. This question serves to introduce us to the team of emotions that make up of an 11-year-old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). Joy, along with a team of other emotions that include Sadness (Phyllis Smith, of The Office), Anger (a perfect Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). They work to help navigate Riley through her emotional landscape, ultimately managing her daily memories that are eventually sent off to become long-term memories which influence her personality island blocks (such as family, friends, goofball, and hockey) that help shape who she is.
As a child, most of Riley’s life has been filled with the happiness that only youth can bring. But things get complicated when her parents (voiced by Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) are forced to move from Minnessota to San Francisco, taking away Riley’s old comforts of familiar friends and hockey. It’s a brave move to make a movie about the creative innerworkings of a child’s mind, but Pixar are always up for an innovative challenge, and boy, do they hit it out of the park here.
After a mishap at Riley’s headquarters, Joy and Sadness are accidentally sent off to the long-term memory area, where they are isolated from the rest of the emotions at the headquarters. With only Anger, Fear, and Disgust at the helm, Riley becomes emotionally unstable during trying times in a new scary environment. It’s up to Joy and Sadness, totally opposites in duty and spirit, to work together to save Riley before her memories start to disappear, in a time where she needs them the most.
It’s when Joy and Sadness are forced to explore the previously uncharted territories of Riley’s mind where Docter, along with the writing team of Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley, are able to let their creative juices flow. What results is a film so creative and clever, that it will require more than one proper viewing to catch all the details and gags that they leave for us to pick up and process. They use the deepest parts of their imagination to bring us to little worlds within Riley’s brain, such as her dream production, the train of thought, her subconscious, and Imagination Land, where they have to survive a spell of abstract thought. From start to finish, it never fails to surprise.
Strong world building is key, but an animated film is only as strong as its voice cast. As Joy, Amy Poehler provides her usual spark of energy, providing a stark contrast in flavor from Phyllis Smith, who provides an helpless monotone voice to Sadness. Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling provide plenty of hilarious bits as Fear and Disgust, but it’s Lewis Black as Anger who is the most fitting and perfect casting, stealing every scene in thunderous fashion. Then there’s the delicate and beautiful sweeping score from composer Michael Giacchino, whose score is an emotional character in its own right. Giacchino previously won an Oscar for his score for Up and his score this time around is not only good enough to land him another nomination, but it just may get him another victory.
While it’s an outstandingly funny film (the innerworkings of the parents minds being a particular highlight), Inside Out carries some of the heaviest and most adult themes seen in a Pixar film (probably since the devastating opening scene of Up). The idea that sadness is a crucial part of your emotional makeup isn’t an easy theme to process, but it’s handled gracefully as ever by the Pixar team, who find many truths about the enduring times both good and bad, equally importing in shaping who we are, and who we will become. Sometimes embracing a bit of sadness is just as much of a necessity as life’s more joyous occasions. These are all steps towards growing up, as hard as it may be, it’s a necessity.
Pixar have a film that we will look back just as fondly as we continue to grow. Children may not truly grasp the more mature themes (and humor) that Doctor and co have sprinkled throughout it’s ever so delightful 102-minute runtime, but one day when they revisit the film with a more mature set of lenses, they will see things from a completely different point of view, just like many aspects of life. There’s so much truthfulness captured within the story, it’s amazing that they made it as a humorous and delightful of an adventure as it is.
Get ready to laugh, get ready to cry. Inside Out is a bonafide instant classic, a film that we won’t be letting go of anytime soon.