I knew that Inside Out was going to be a special film all the way back when it first announced, but I wasn’t at all prepared for what I saw when I finally got to the theater to see the finished product. The promotion for the film, including trailers, was deliberately vague on plot and focused til the very end on selling the concept, which is admittedly, well, not weird, but definitely unusual, especially for a children’s movie. It was a little bit of a frustrating tactic for me since I kind of love having as much info as possible before I see a movie, but in the end I was very happy that there were so many surprises in store for me–because they were all wonderful.
The framing of the film is simple: Riley moves with her parents from Minnesota to San Francisco, and she’s got feelings about it. The real story, of course, is inside Riley’s head, where Joy has been in charge for almost twelve years and doesn’t know how to handle things when Riley’s other emotions–Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness–start to overpower her. Early on, we learn that most of what Joy does is try and manage Sadness, whose purpose she doesn’t really understand. Joy and Sadness are sucked out of Headquarters (get it?!) together, and the bulk of the movie is their journey back.
And it’s a pretty epic journey, when it’s presented the way Pixar has done here.
Visually, Inside Out is stunning, which is to be expected in any Pixar movie, but the attention to detail and the sheer amount of love and care poured into the work here is incredible. To create the mind of a child as a landscape is a task that could easily have turned hokey, but they’ve really nailed it here, building a place in Riley’s head that is both fanciful and grounded deeply in reality. I know that there are all kinds of experts praising the movie for its accurate portrayal of the interplay between Riley’s emotions, but I think the real achievement is in a depiction of a child’s inner life that feels intuitively correct and relatable for the average viewer. It’s not that things in Inside Out are real, but they feel like they might be, or maybe like they ought to be, from the islands of Riley’s personality to the enormous complex of memory shelves that wind around in a way that, when viewed from above, is vaguely reminiscent of actual brain matter.
The character design is excellent. The emotions are, in my opinion, perfectly realized, and I love how none of them are really quite solid. Rather, they seem to be made of millions of tiny, shifting dots mixed with glitter, granting them all a sort of ethereal presence. The characters that Joy and Sadness encounter on their journey are similarly well-drawn, and the use of textures is just amazing in general. The wide array of people that Riley interacts with seems purposefully intended to reflect the diversity of San Francisco in the real world, which is also nice.
All of the voice actors are well-suited to their roles. Amy Poehler (Joy) and Phyllis Smith (Sadness) are lovely together as these sort of polar opposite characters. I can’t imagine anyone but Lewis Black in the role of Anger, and Mindy Kaling and Bill Hader were wisely cast as Disgust and Fear. However, Richard Kind steals the whole show as Riley’s imaginary friend, who helps Joy and Sadness along their way.
Inside Out is one of those rare films that I really think everyone ought to see. It’s so much more than just a children’s movie; in fact, I would say that its prime audience will be ages ten and up. While little ones may enjoy the colors and the funny voices, the majority of Inside Out‘s ideas will go right over their heads. It’s a movie about growing up, laser-focused on looking at the particular moments in which we transition from being children to being adolescents, which makes it useful and informative for anyone going through that change right now and heart-wrenching for those of us who remember going through it.
Personally, I was crying within the first five minutes of the movie, and I’m not sure I quite stopped until the credits rolled. If you see only one movie this summer, make it Inside Out. If you have a tween-aged kid in your life, be sure to take them with you. Then, be sure to talk about it afterwards.