It’s hard to imagine exactly how much more ambitious Pixar Studios can be. From mouth-watering love letters to fine dining, wordless dystopian love stories and beautifully inspiring reminders to always live life as an adventure, it would appear the animation juggernaut has done it all. But, then they make Inside Out; a funny, heartwarming, honest and refreshingly different take on what exactly it is that goes on inside our heads. Adventurous, creative and visually stunning, Inside Out is not only Pixar’s best offering to date, but also one of the best movies you and your family will see all year.
Inside Out is the story of 11-year-old girl Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) as she makes the move from the Midwest comfort of Minnesota to San Francisco when her Dad gets a new job. Helping her navigate the change are her emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). Under Joy’s leadership, the five emotions work together to run Headquarters, the central control booth in Riley’s mind affecting her likes, dislikes, attitudes and moods to take care of her core memories, which in turn shape her personality.
On paper, the idea seems risky, but in execution it is flawless. No stranger to a good story, writer/director Pete Docter (whose previous film credits include Up and Monsters Inc.) is no better in delivering that unique Pixar blend of heart and hilarity than he is here. From a story written by Docter himself along with Ronnie del Carmen, screenwriters Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley cleverly craft a moving and funny screenplay that grounds a highly intellectual premise with a beautiful emotional resonance. Inspired in part by Docter’s own experience with a sudden emotional change in his pre-teen daughter, it is clear that Docter and his writing team have spent an extensive amount of time in bringing Inside Out to life.
At its core, there is a clear psychology influence to Inside Out, which brings strong intellectual depth to its story and, in particular, its final heartening point. In a movie full of many clear, important and beautiful messages about the importance of growing up, letting go and moving on, it is in its final moments that Inside Out truly proves its worth as a great film. Offering a profound message to kids, but more plainly and importantly for their parents, about the importance of understanding and appreciating all your emotions, Inside Out is as personal as it is relatable, reminding audiences that Riley’s rollercoaster (or in this case train ride) of emotions is something that we all can and will experience.
Helping drive this message home is the superbly cast voice acting from Riley’s five emotions. Assuming the pseudo-lead role in the buddy-adventure of Joy and Sadness, Amy Poehler’s Joy is simply effervescent. Bringing the sense of determination and never faltering optimism that made Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope so loveable, Poehler’s unflappable sense of positivity gives Joy an equally endearing and frustrating peppiness that forms a key part of the movie. Every bit her equal, Phyllis Smith’s Eeyore-like Sadness is Joy’s perfect counterpart, offering a surprisingly hilarious and touching foil to the cheerful Joy. In a supporting effort, Black, Hader and Kaling also inject each of their emotions (Anger, Fear and Disgust respectively) with a unique personality to make each of them feel like an integral part of the team.
Of course, no Pixar movie is complete without some stunning visuals and wonderful animation. Unsurprisingly, Inside Out is awash with them. The mental landscape inside Riley’s head, which forms the main backdrop of the movie, ranks among some of Pixar’s best visual work. Full of vivid colour, striking lighting choices and unique texture decisions, such as the pulsing mass of glowing particles that are used for the Emotions skin texture; this is Pixar at its cutting-edge best. There is a unique interplay of retro and visual experimentation at play here, leaving nothing short of spectacular things for children and adults alike to feast their eyes on as Inside Out rolls along.
Ultimately though, the real treasure in Inside Out comes from its merciful avoidance of cheesy clichés. Instead of falling into those maddening, self-serving statements about always seeing the good in everything, Inside Out is a multi-layered, thoughtful and profound reminder that it is okay to feel. In doing so, Inside Out is truly unique and remarkable, equipping kids and parents alike with a powerful and beautiful message, reminding us all once again of the magic and imagination that is Pixar’s defining characteristic.
A rare cinematic gem, Inside Out is an absolute delight. Bringing together deep, multilayered, intellectual and skilful storytelling with envelope-pushing animation and visuals, Inside Out is a rare movie-defining moment. For every one of its 102 minutes, Inside Out is simply flawless. As colourful and creative as Up, as masterfully drawn, warm and fuzzy as Wall-E, and as personal and familiar as the Toy Story movies, Inside Out is an absolute must see for kids and adults alike. More than a feeling and much more than a kid’s movie, Inside Out is a beautifully bittersweet reminder that life is all about the feels.
THE REEL SCORE: 10/10