We’ve come to expect nothing less than brilliance from Pixar (“Toy Story” etc); and its new production, “Inside Out” delivers in spades.
Written (mostly) and directed by Peter Docter (“Up”, “Monsters Inc” and as writer, “Wall.E” and “Toy Story 2”) this is a hugely inventive movie. It manages to offer a simple enough idea: “sadness is OK” via a journey through the complex issues of identity, personality, memory and angst, all wrapped up in a charming, funny, thoroughly engaging action adventure.
The movie presents a world from inside the heads of its key character, an eleven-year old girl, Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias). Were introduced to her as a tiny newborn with two characters banging around in her head: joy and sadness. Joy (Amy Poelhr) is a chirpy Tinker Bell-like creature that trails happiness in her wake; sadness (Phyllis Smith from “the Office”) is, naturally, blue and is a worried, bespectacled, shoulder-slumped, librarian type soul. At a tiny Star Trek-type console, they shape little Riley’s moods and memories.
Things change as Riley begins to grow up. Her life evolves from the simple toddler’s world to the more complex one of the young pre-teen, with its growing conflicts and worries. In story terms, her world shifts (symbolically) from the bright carefree open skies of Minnesota to the darker, more threatening, more claustrophobic world of inner city living (San Francisco). Dad, once the center of her life, becomes more distant because of his needs to travel. And so, to Joy and Sadness and the mental worlds they created of Family, Honesty, Friendship, Hockey and Goofball Fun comes Anger (a towering Lewis Black who you may remember from “John Stewart”), Fear (“Bill Hader from “Trainwreck) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling)
The happy toddler, saddened by her loss of the old neighborhood, grows into a lonely, moody, angry little girl. At the outside level, that’s because she’s overwhelmed by all the changes in her life. But really it’s because Joy and Sadness have been zapped through a suction tube, into the dark world of long term memory. Riley’s moods are now in the hands only of Anger, Fear and Disgust. She snaps at her parents, storms out of her hockey matches and needs to escape back to the innocence of Minnesota. Those core elements of her personality (Family, Honesty etc) begin to crumble.
Joy and Sadness must combine forces along with a half remembered imaginary friend and engage on an epic journey through the Stygian swamp of long-term memory, via the subconscious, past creatures such as The Forgetters, who dump memories they deem unimportant (they’re very active in my head) and across the dehumanizing plains of abstract thought. The only way back to master control is by hitching a ride on the Train of Thought (which of course powers down once Riley is asleep) through Imagination Land…
And on and on.
And this is a child’s movie? The kids there ‘got it’ all, and had a ball (even as the adults in the cinema next door were grappling with the more intellectually challenging worlds of “Ant-Man” and “Jurassic World”)
Once again, Pixar: 1; the rest of Summer Blockbusters: 0