In the past few years, Pixar haven’t been as on form as they usually are. They went from producing classic after classic with films like WALL-E, Up, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc and the Toy Story Trilogy to deeply flawed films like Brave and the disaster that was Cars 2. When I heard about Inside Out though, I and most other people, believed it would signal a return to form for Pixar, especially with it being the first Pixar film for Pete Doctor since Up, and I’m pleased to say that this is the case. Even amongst the high standards of Pixar, Inside Out is one of their best.
The plot concerns the emotions of 11 year old Riley, a girl from Minnesota who has had to move to San Francisco because her dad got a job there. Because of the move, the emotions, Joy; Sadness; Anger; Fear and Disgust, go into turmoil because they don’t know how to react, with Joy trying her best to make Riley as happy as possible during the move. However, due to Sadness getting curious with memories, accidentally turning joyful memories sad, creating a core memory after her actions cause Riley to cry in school (one of the most important memories for Riley that forms islands of her personality, all of which had previously been created by Joy) and when Joy tries to stop the memory becoming permanent she and Sadness end up being sent to Riley’s long term memory, leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust in charge, who are struggling to keep Riley happy, which leads to Riley’s personality starting to fall apart. This whole plot, despite being more smaller scale than other Pixar films, nevertheless has some of the greatest stakes in any of their films. It’s not a big end of the world scenario, but due to Joy and Sadness not being in the headquarters for Riley, her entire life begins to fall apart, with Riley becoming more emotionally withdrawn with just Anger, Fear and Disgust in charge. She has problems at school, with her main hobby of hockey and with her friends back in Minnesota. This also corresponds to the main theme of the film, that being the power of sadness and being able to express your emotions. Throughout the film, Joy cannot seem to comprehend the role of Sadness for Riley, especially since all the other emotions provide help to Riley (Fear keeping her safe, Disgust preventing her from being poisoned and anger being good in a fight) whilst there is no obvious role for Sadness, with Joy treating Sadness pretty badly throughout the film, starting the film by keeping her away from the console controlling Riley’s thoughts and having her read the manuals for Riley’s mind instead. In fact, in lieu of an actual villain (which is really refreshing), the character that is the most unlikable is Joy because of how badly she treats Sadness and how her actions are really unhealthy for Riley’s psyche, which contributed to Fear, Disgust and Anger failing so badly when Joy and Sadness aren’t in headquarters. The arc for Joy learning to understand the role of Sadness forms the spine of the film in this way and this helps brilliantly bring across the message of the importance of Sadness to the audience, as Joy understands how Sadness fits into everything, the audience does as well.
The actors meanwhile all match the emotions perfectly. Amy Poehler as Joy and Phyllis Smith as Sadness are the obvious standouts. Poehler brings across this great sense of optimism that really fits the character, but also shows the more negative aspects of the character and the damage that can be done by being overly happy, with Joy lacking a sense of empathy since she doesn’t understand the concept, something Poehler brings across perfectly. Smith meanwhile is great as Sadness, her voice has the right tone for the character, making her both lovable whilst also understanding why Joy would not want to be around her. Smith also shows the curiosity of the character which comes about due to years of being ignored by the other emotions. Bill Hader, Lewis Black and Mindy Kaling as Fear, Anger and Disgust respectively don’t get the same level of development as Joy or Sadness, with their performances being based on the emotion they play, but they are a lot of fun in the parts, Lewis Black in particular having some of the funniest moments in the film. The emotional crux of the story meanwhile also comes into play through a brilliant performance by Richard Kind as Riley’s old imaginary friend Bing Bong (who wasn’t shown in the advertising for the film, something I really respected). At the start of the film, he is in a similar vein to Joy, being highly optimistic and fun-loving, but as the film goes on, the weight of what is happening to Riley gets to him as he understands that the memories Riley has of him are being removed and Riley doesn’t have a place for him, which brings in Smith’s great performance showing the empathy that Sadness has, culminating in a scene that almost sent me into floods of tears when watching the film. As Riley meanwhile, Kaitlyn Dias does a great job showing the conflicting emotions that she is experiencing due to the move, along with showing the emotional damage that is being done to her when Sadness and Joy aren’t in headquarters. Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan are also great as Riley’s parents, brilliantly showing the concern they have for Riley and the difficulties they have with the move themselves, Lane showing a lot of concern for Riley brilliantly and MacLachlan being a great bumbling, supporting dad and between this and his brilliantly bonkers, scene-stealing performance in Agents of SHIELD, I want Kyle MacLachlan to play parents from now on.
All of this is aided by the as-to-be-expected incredible animation from Pixar headed up by Pete Doctor. The designs of the emotions are all perfect, they all perfectly capture the feel of the emotions so you can tell which is which through sight with the animation for each of them being really exaggerated to fit the emotion they represent, such as Joy being more energetic and Sadness being more lethargic. The stakes of the film meanwhile are brilliantly represented through how the different aspects of Riley’s mind react to Joy and Sadness being outside the control room and the core memories no longer being there, with the destruction of the islands of Riley’s personality being particularly well handled. The animation also allows for different aspects of the mind to be represented in a way that hasn’t really been done before, including the animation for Riley comprehending abstract thought, which is one of the animation highlights of the film, and the designs for Riley’s imagination, train of thought and the subconscious fears she has. The film also does a great job visualising some of the aspects of the mind you don’t really think about that much, such as when you get a really catchy tune stuck in your head and it keeps cropping up at the worst times. The film also doesn’t just limit itself to Riley’s head, with key moments of the film letting you see into the minds of her parents, as shown in the trailers, and the credits have some really good gags about the personalities of the different people we see throughout the film, mainly based on which emotion is in control.
Overall, Inside Out is not only a return to form for Pixar but also will stand as one of their masterpieces. The film takes an idea that has been done before in stuff like The Numskulls in The Beano and Osmosis Jones and does something unique with it. This film could have gone the lazy route with tired jokes about bodily functions which were seen in those prior works, but it takes the smart route, using this idea to explore the mindset of a child in one of the most important times for emotional development, creating a smart, funny and emotionally fulfilling cinematic experience.
My Rating: 5/5