Review: Inside Out (2015)

Inside Out

Rating

Director
Pete Docter
Screenplay
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Ronnie del Carmen
Length
94 min.
Starring
Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
MPAA Rating
PG for mild thematic elements and some action

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Soundtrack

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Review
For decades, animated features were the dominion of children’s entertainment, rarely focused on providing adults with some distraction while entertaining their youngsters. With the Disney rebirth in the early 1990’s and the advent of Pixar, animation took a new tack, one that has delighted audiences countless times whether young or old. Inside Out continues that tradition in beautiful and unexpected ways.

Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is an 11-year-old girl who loves hockey, hanging with her best friend and eating pizza. When her father (Kyle McLachlan) must uproot the family from Minnesota to San Francisco, the young girl tries desperately to help her mother (Diane Lane) stay strong for her incredibly stressed dad, a culmination of events threaten to destroy her sunny disposition and send her on a dark path from which she may not be able to return.

All of his is told from the viewpoint of five anthropomorphic emotions running through her head. Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) must successfully navigate the dangerous combination of growing up while moving to a new home.

As Sadness begins trying to insert herself into the memories, causing them to discolor, she and Joy are swept off into Riley’s memory where they must try to find their way home while finding sources of inspiration than can hopefully rescue Riley from her emotional roller coaster and set her on a path back towards happiness.

Pixar has little problem delving into the emotional foundations that make everyone who they are. While the adults in the film have emotions firmly centered in their personalities, at only eleven, Riley doesn’t have a unified force. Each emotion stands apart, having no cohesiveness to ground her. Joy has been the ostensible leader since Riley was born, but is now lost in the endless halls Long Term Memory with Sadness where they must watch Riley’s delicate emotional state fracture and crumble. It thus falls to Anger, Fear and Disgust to guide Riley. Having no experience at leadership, Riley becomes combative, fearful and disturbed by all that goes on around her.

Audiences have been thrilled by the amazing and magical worlds Pixar has created for them over the years, whether it’s the dense underbrush of A Bug’s Life or the futuristic wasteland of WALL-E. They are so well attuned to this creative exuberance that when they began to lose sight of it with the dud Cars 2 and the atypically simplistic Brave, audiences began to wonder if the company would ever get its groove back. Inside Out proves that there is still some inventive, creative energy left in the venerable production house.

Blending into their personalities with ease, the voice cast does a superb job delivering complex characerizations to the story, giving us additional insight into one character’s emotional growth. Dias has the toughest task of all of these having no prior voice work experience. Riley is so vibrant and expressive that the jobs Poehler, Smith, Hader, Black and Kaling have to do are eased immeasurably. These five also give enough heft to the emotional distinctiveness that one girl with five emotions dancing about her head still seems like one clever, impressionable little girl.

Richard Kind, who has worked on several Pixar films in the past, delivers his best performance to date as Riley’s former imaginary friend Bing Bong. Helping Joy and Sadness find their way across the vast Long Term Memory, across the Abstract Thought gauntlet and attempts to get aboard the Train of Thought, Kind’s gentle vocal work creates levity and humor in places where one might otherwise expect Poehler to do all the heavy lifting. This is an impressive bit of teamwork from the cast, given additional support by the impressive story screenplay by Pete Docter, Josh Cooley, Meg LeFauve and Ronnie del Carmen.

Docter is an old hat with Pixar animation. His pen has contributed to the successes of the first two Toy Story films, Monsters, Inc., WALL-E and Up. This could be one of his single greatest achievements, delving into complex emotional thought with vigor and depth. It’s difficult to express the twisting, complicate jumble of emotions that run through our minds, but Docter and company have given that a voice that’s succinct, courageous and engaging.

Inside Out represents a return to form for Pixar and it’s greeted with a sign of relief by those fearful for what could have been Pixar’s fade into mediocrity. However, this film puts them firmly back on track. We can hope they will continue this renewed creative push even if recent evidence suggests that it may be more difficult than we expect.

At least in the meantime, we’ve got a gorgeous, philosophically dense film that is more than just a coming of age story. It’s a coming of age story that challenges the audience’s perception of adolescence and the complex psychological processes that can lead children to develop personalities they’ve never had before. Inside Out helps us understand and sympathize with such struggles and will hopefully provide young viewers with some guidance towards understanding their peers when events lead towards anger and depression even when everything around them seems normal.
Oscar Prospects
Guarantees: Animated Feature (will win easily)
Probables: Original Screenplay
Potentials: Picture, Original Score, Original Song, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing

Review Written

July 9, 2015

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