Directors: Pete Docter & Ronnie del Carmen
Writers: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Composer: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Bobby Moynihan, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Paula Poundstone, Phyllis Smith, Rashida Jones, Richard Kind, Paula Pell.
I didn’t think it was possible, never in my mind could I envision a scenario in which I was watching an animated movie and began to tear up. Until I watched Inside Out. I had basically written off Pixar as a studio that started off having incredible ideas, but because its intended audience is children they appeared to be overall incapable of developing an idea to its full potential because it had to be fun and sometimes lose what made it appealing in the first place. Most people disagree with me, but I thought that (like everyone else) that the first 15 minutes of Up were mesmerizing, only to be completely ruined by the mess that followed: talking dogs, an annoying boy scout, an incongruous caper in the Andes which for me shattered the promise provided in those meaningful opening scenes. WALL-E‘s Kubrick-esque introduction was once again great, but the awkward love story was completely unnecessary, in my opinion. Brave had the most potential, but it overall felt derivative (if you had seen The Secret of Kells) and too generic to truly stand out. Given these thoughts of mine, you would assume I just couldn’t be satisfied when watching a movie geared towards children, especially if made by Pixar. I thought so too. I was wrong.
Inside Out is a beautiful tale about what happens in the mind of an eleven year old girl named Riley. From the moment she is born her emotions are personified in her brain by five main feelings: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. These manifestations each govern Riley’s reactions from her first laugh (Joy) to the presence of broccoli on her plate (Disgust). Obviously for a little girl growing up in idyllic conditions with a fantastic family Joy reigns supreme as the emotion that controls all the others. The happy emotion is voiced by Amy Poehler who does a great job at infecting Joy’s voice with a seemingly boundless amount of pep and glee. A lot of mastery goes into voice acting when it’s done well, because it takes a good actor to be able to tap into and access feelings without being seen (the reason why Scarlett Johansson’s work in Her was so mesmerizing), and Poehler proves to be a great casting choice for the role. Less memorable are Anger (Lewis Black doing his regular schtick), Fear (Bill Hader, but it could be anyone), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling, who is not provided with more than a handful of lines). The other star of the film is Sadness, voiced by Phyllis Smith (of The Office fame), who manages to imbibe every single line of dialogue with endless amounts of melancholy and pain – never have a voice actor and their animated character better complemented each other.
All goes well in Riley’s world until the family, due to adult issues such as financial issues and unemployment, must move to a big city and away from all friends and activities that Riley loves and cherishes. Add more stress, strife, and unpredictable let downs and suddenly Joy’s monopoly on Riley’s emotions seems to be in a precarious spot. Sadness begins to go rogue and doesn’t do as she’s told – leading to catastrophe: some of Riley’s core memories go missing and it is up to Joy and Sadness to retrieve them through the maze that is Riley’s mind. The fact that the whole movie takes place in the brain allows the animators and writers to have a ball depicting the different locales that we use to describe our mind: the subconscious, a train of thought, long-term memory, etc. Truly entertaining and beautiful work. Along for the quest comes Bing-Bong, Riley’s former imaginary friend, who helps the two emotions in their journey and mission.
Although the film is yet another Pixar adventure movie, this one is different. First of all, for the first time, the stakes actually make sense and feel genuine (perhaps also due to the choice of location, where imagination is endless and allows for a level of disbelief the audience is all too willing to suspend). The overall message is stronger and so powerful that it was a sucker-punch to my emotions and, apparently, also my tear ducts: most memories and life events are an amalgamation of emotions that are not so easily reduced to one feeling, and that in order to truly feel joy, then also sadness must be experienced. Life is overall hard, we know this to be true all too well, but because of it being so hard when there are moments of pure joy and happiness they stand out and we remember them for a long time because they mean the world to us.