REVIEW: Inside Out

20 06 2015

Pixar has long reigned as the champion of both intelligent, creative storytelling and emotionally potent filmmaking.  Something about their computer-rendered world always seems to strike a chord with the one we have experienced, mostly because the purest of hearts beat within the lines of their ingeniously designed characters.

Inside Out” may well be the most vivid realization of the animation powerhouse’s strengths.  Writer/director Pete Docter’s film marks their most innovative vision since 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.” and their most heartstring tugging piece since 2009’s “Up.”  Every second of the film captures the complexity of the human experience, inspiring laughter, smiles, and tears.  Often times, I responded with all three reactions simultaneously.

In what may inspire the next generation of psychologists, Docter (along with fellow Pixar brain trust members Ronaldo Del Carmen and Josh Cooley – as well as Meg LaFauve) takes on the ambitious task of visualizing the mind.  And not like the opening credit sequence to “Fight Club” or anything, either.  They map out the logic, rationale, and functionality of just about every cognitive process in the brain, both conscious and subconscious.

Remarkably, the thought of “Inside Out” as some kind of cinematic adaptation of a neuroscience textbook never occurs for a second.  As it enlightens us, the film also entertains.  The premise starts off extremely straightforward: five personified emotions vie for control in the mind of a young girl, 11-year-old Riley.  These distinct characters take on additional vitality and vibrance through expert voice casting that draws on the established strengths of the performers.

Amy Poehler channels Leslie Knope into Joy.  Lewis Black brings his trademark tirades (minus the profanity) to Anger.  Bill Hader lends his motormouth to the ever-adapting whims of Fear.  Mindy Kaling adapts her defensive, often put out television alter ego into Disgust.  And Phyllis Smith selects the sad sack elements from her good-natured but sometimes mopey Phyllis from “The Office” and transfers them into Sadness.

Inside Out

The emotions, as brilliantly calculated as all their maneuvers on screen may be, always feel appropriately situated in the mind of a still-developing youngster.  They react to and play off each other in an expected – but still uproarious – fashion.  Joy does everything in her power to remain at the helm in Riley’s head, driving her to action as well as steering the coding of her memories towards happiness.  The other four emotions, meanwhile, get relegated to a reactionary function, stepping in when a situation necessitates their services.

Of course, because this film is a Pixar creation, the status quo does not stand for long.  As Riley’s parents uproot the family from their humble Minnesota abode to start anew in San Francisco, the established order among the emotions quickly tumbles down.  Joy finds herself helplessly outmatched to adapt to the new surroundings, clashing especially with Sadness.  After one quarrel between the dueling emotions exiles them from the control room, Joy and Sadness are forced to journey through the multitude of compartments in Riley’s mind to return and restore order.

Though their goal may be simple, the journey proves anything but.  The terrain in the brain becomes infinitely more perilous with the incomplete trifecta of Anger, Fear, and Disgust guiding Riley’s decision-making away from a healthy equilibrium.  Joy comes to discover that she must allow a more complex combination of feelings to flourish as Riley faces a more challenging world.  Nostalgia, sympathy, regret, sensitivity, and longing all begin to enter the picture. By embracing situations both past and present that require input from multiple emotions, she opens Riley up to a richer array of sentiments and experiences.

“Inside Out” confirms a painful truth about growing up: moving forward inevitably involves incurring losses of one’s self.  A clear-cut division of emotions cannot sustain beyond childhood because the messiness of life demands a more elaborate array of responses.  Yet amidst this chaos, we can take comfort in knowing that the nuances of these emotions grant us access to a greater depth of feeling than we were privy to before.

And, as Pixar always does so well, it explains and demonstrates these concepts by making us feel them ourselves.  “Inside Out” is, above all, a call for honest expression.  Docter’s film declares it perfectly acceptable to harbor any number of clashing feelings within.  The important thing is just to feel.  A4stars



3 responses

20 06 2015
Dan O.

One of my favorites of the year so far as it signals the good old days of Pixar when they actually put some thought into what they put out, rather than just making sure that they actually had a movie to put out in the first place. Nice review Marshall.

10 08 2015

Very interesting. I missed this one for some reason which I can’t remember. I hope to catch this one, some day on the television 🙂

10 08 2015

Cannot recommend enough. Sprint, don’t run to see this movie.

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