Inside Out Review: You’ve Got Me Feeling Emotions

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Pixar’s latest effort is a dazzlingly original, cheerfully adventurous, and admirably sincere film that will—of course—tug at your heartstrings.

The majesty of Pixar movies is their innate ability to hone in on emotional truths while simultaneously taking you on a journey through a wildly imaginative new universe. The world of our childhood toys, the secret society of monsters under our beds, an underwater sea colony, a superhero-filled city, and an outer space voyage helmed by robots have each proven to be captivating settings for meditations on loss, love, aging, and the importance of family.

These films, with their psychedelic colors and eye-popping animation, are mostly geared towards young children, but—as recent entries such as UpWall-E, and Toy Story 3 have proven—they display a high level of emotional intelligence that’s appealing to adults as well.

The interesting thing about Inside Out is that it cuts out the middleman and gets right to the heart, or, rather, the mind, of the issue. The story revolves around 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) as she adjusts to moving from Minnesota to San Francisco for her father’s new company. The real story, however, is occurring inside Riley’s head as her emotions navigate this new stage in her life. These feelings come to life in the form of bubbly and glowing Joy (Amy Poehler), red, temperamental Anger (Lewis Black), purple, jittering Fear (Bill Hader), green, brassy Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and blue, meek Sadness (Phyllis Smith).

As Riley struggles with moving to a new town and leaving her old life behind, the emotions find their jobs to become increasingly stressful. Joy has always been the leader of the bunch, but Sadness can’t seem to stop spreading her depressive state over many of Riley’s memories. After struggling to retain the happy innocence of one of the core memories, Joy and Sadness get sucked into a tube and out into the wilds of Riley’s mind. An exhilarating adventure ensues and, as a result, Riley’s psyche is thrown into chaos.

The film comes from Pixar veteran Pete Doctor, who, as he did with Monsters Inc., offers a masterclass in inventive world-building. The emotions work in Headquarters, a sleek control pod with a viewing screen into Riley’s life. The rest of her mind is even more exciting. There are physical Islands of Personality, a literal train of thought, and a long-term memory bank that stretches on in an endless maze.

One of the film’s many delights is its sense of humor, which may often go over the heads of younger viewers. One scene features garbagemen dumping out information deemed useless in Riley’s long-term memory, such as the names of the US Presidents and old phone numbers. Riley’s dreams are envisioned as a movie studio called Dream Productions, and a sequence dealing with abstract thought is not to be missed.

Really, though, the film’s greatness lies within its effortless resonance. The sprawling world of Riley’s mind is fascinating, but it wouldn’t be half as effective if it weren’t grounded in a poignant story of growing up and accepting change. Joy is the film’s heroine, and her relationship with Sadness is what drives the story forward. Being cut off from the rest of the emotions has a profound effect on the both of them, the results of which are universally heartwarming.

Performance-wise, the voice cast could not have been better selected. Poehler brings her usual energetic charisma to Joy, but is expertly able to reveal subtle uneasiness just below the surface. Smith is excellent as Sadness, infusing the perfect mix of melancholy and compassion. Hader is hilariously anxious as Fear, and Kaling brings her signature snark to Disgust. Black as Anger might be the world’s best use of typecasting, and his delivery does not disappoint.

Not all Pixar films are equal in quality—looking at you, Cars 2—but the ones that meet the studio’s usual gold standard have a habit of becoming cultural touchstones for generations to come. It’s a heavy burden to bear, but Inside Out is more than up to the challenge. This might be the studio’s most literal film about growing up yet, but it’s also one of its most authentic. Grade: A


By Mike Papirmeister

One Response to Inside Out Review: You’ve Got Me Feeling Emotions

  1. Romola says:

    Inside Out is amazing. The amount of emotion, insight and catharsis on offer in this animation puts most serious adult films to shame.

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