Movie Review: Inside Out

 This post contains mild spoilers about Pixar’s latest dream ballet, Inside Out.

I’ve been waiting for Inside Out for quite some time now – as we all have, since this movie was five years in the making – and when I settled in to my seat at the East Coast premiere during Vulturefest, I figured I should prepare myself. I should be prepared to ugly-sob, I should be prepared to laugh through my tears, and I should be prepared to leave that theater feeling like this movie had some kind of real impact on me. I wasn’t even a little bit disappointed.

What strikes me as particularly brilliant about Inside Out – you know, aside from the strong direction, smart script, ridiculously perfect casting and stunning animation – is that even though the film focuses on one 11 year old girl, Riley, and her particular struggle of moving to a new and unfamiliar city, the entirety of the film still felt so universal. I didn’t move to a new city as a child, or struggle to find a new hockey team, but everything that Riley goes through – the struggle to reconcile your feelings working and fighting with and against each other – is one of the most essential human experiences, and watching it play out in such an imaginative, fantastical way is at once astounding and mind-blowing.

Director Pete Docter, the third animator that Pixar ever hired and the director of Up,has helmed a carefully crafted and painstakingly thought-out film, inspired by his own daughter’s transition into young adulthood, where he watched her 100% joyful existence start to become a little more complicated and, well, a lot moodier. At the screening I saw, which included a panel with Docter and producer Jonas Rivera, the two told us that this particular concept went through about a thousand different stages and even included work with behavioral psychologists and neurologists – not because they wanted to be too literal, but because they wanted to try their best to understand how to show this world to us. Docter, who also wrote the script alongside Josh Cooley and Meg LaFauve, produced a screenplay that’s not just deep and insightful, but beautifully worded and, well, funny. This movie will definitely make you cry, but when the jokes land, they REALLY land.

And why is it going to make you cry, you may ask? Well, because it’s Pixar, and they like to destroy us – but also because this movie is seriously profound. Without spoiling too much, let’s get into a brief overview – the basic conceit of this world is that, within every living being’s head (and yes, I do mean every living being – there’s an excellent button during the credits about cats and dogs), there’s a control panel with five emotions running the show, and which emotion is in charge is entirely dependent on who that person is. For Riley, Joy has been taking the helm for most of her life. Her parents love her dearly, she loves her friends and her hockey team, and overall, life has been pretty amazing. But when her parents decide to move from Minnesota to San Francisco for her dad’s new job – which hits its own snags – Riley’s world suddenly falls apart. While Riley is in the middle of this huge change, Joy and Sadness find themselves lost in the deep recesses of her mind and far away from Emotions HQ, meaning that Anger, Disgust, and Fear are stuck taking care of Riley… which goes exactly as well as you might think.

I don’t know that I NEED to join the chorus about how well-cast this movie is, but THIS MOVIE IS SO WELL-CAST. Amy Poehler as Joy, Phyllis Smith as Sadness, Lewis Black as Anger, Bill Hader as Fear and Mindy Kaling as Disgust all so perfectly embody their emotional avatars that I honestly can’t even choose who I thought was best. (Sadness ends up being the most pivotal, and Smith is beyond excellent, but that’s really the most I can say.) Besides that, there aren’t very many other important roles in the movie, except for one pivotal character, Bing Bong – Riley’s forgotten imaginary friend, played by the incomparable Richard Kind. Watch out for him – he will break your goddamn heart.

The animation in this movie is also incredible – some of the most ambitious and best-looking work Pixar has done to date, and I’m particularly talking about (for anyone who has seen the movie) about the abstract thought portion which absolutely blew me away. Beyond that, the visual world of this movie is so exquisitely imagined. From the islands of personality to the look of the core memories to the emotions’ home base, every detail is considered, and it shows

I feel like this is totally obvious, but I beyond loved Inside Out. Like most of Pixar’s films, it stands out as a film that children will love and adults will cherish, because though it’s about feelings and how to handle them, it refuses to talk down to anybody. It’s incredible to me that a huge kid’s movie can come out that’s, essentially, about how you need sadness to balance out joy – I mean, can you think of a better message for everyone to hear?

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