You would be hard pressed to find a more consistent movie production studio than Pixar Animation. Since Toy Story in 1995 they have been capturing the hearts and minds of children and adults alike. So when a new Pixar movie has people claiming it to be one of the studio’s best, you can’t help but sit up and pay attention. That movie is Inside Out. Directed by Peter Docter, who has been involved in many of the big animated features over the past two decades, and a great cast of voice actors, Inside Out tackles the voices inside our head and how our mind works. The critics have sung its praises, but it takes a lot to sit alongside the best of Pixar.
Inside Out tells the story of eleven year old Riley and the five primary emotions that control her thoughts: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. Her life is shaken up when her family move from her home in Minnesota to San Francisco, and after an accident in the headquarters of Riley’s mind, Joy and Sadness are thrown out into the reaches of her head, taking her character defining memories with them. The two stray emotions are forced to try to find their way back as Riley struggles to cope with her new life.
The story concept is genius. Much like how Christopher Nolan’s Inception took an everyday part of our lives in dreams and built a whole functioning world around the concept, Pixar do the same in Inside Out. Not only is the battle of emotions wonderfully portrayed, but the broader world of one’s subconscious is fleshed out and designed. Through their journey Joy and Sadness find themselves in areas like the long term memory department, the dream factory and riding along the train of thought. It is evident a lot of thought and imagination went into crafting how the mind would function in this world, and it is hard not imagining what your own mind would look like in such a scenario. Some of the funnier moments in the movie come from little jokes made at the day to day operation of the mind. The adventure portion of this film felt similar to The Lego Movie as they bounced across different worlds, each looking unique and bringing with it new challenges.
Anybody familiar with Amy Poehler will know she is perfectly cast for the role of Joy. Her Parks and Recreation character Lesley Knope feels transposed into an animated film at times here, wonderfully representing a relentlessly perky optimist. The entire spectrum of emotions represent spot on castings, sounding exactly as you’d expect each emotion to sound, and despite representing a singular emotion they are better fleshed out than you might expect. Meanwhile, Riley and her family are easy to like, and while they aren’t overly imaginative feel incredibly natural and realistic.
The animation of Inside Out is as crisp as we have come to expect from Pixar. While the emotions and the world of Riley’s mind is vibrant, the movie works at its best in the subtle displays of emotion from the characters. While there is a lot of emotional weight to the story, it is the faces that sell the impact. There is a key scene for Riley where your heart breaks for her as her eyes redden and tears are falling down her cheeks that is incredibly powerful because of how well executed the animation is. It doesn’t really stand out above any of its contemporaries outside of this area however, which is not so much a complaint but an observation.
Inside Out may be an animated children’s film, but while there is plenty for kids here it is the kind of movie that might end up impacting the parents more. This is an intensely emotional film, reflecting on personal battles and insecurities we have all faced in our lives. Anyone who has felt lost or alone will identify with Riley and sympathise with her. It’s not just Riley’s story that tugs at the heartstrings either. The story is as much about the experiences of Joy, Sadness and the rest of the emotions as it is Riley’s, and their growth reflects those of the girl they’re inside. This is a story that can educate and aid a child in their emotional growth, but through its design it may be more impactful on a slightly older crowd than Pixar movies like Cars or Ratatouille. That is not to say younger children won’t enjoy it, the adventure Joy and Sadness embark on ticks a lot of boxes to keep the kids happy, but the deeper story will speak more to an older audience.
Up and Toy Story 3 have stood at the top of the tear-jerking tower for Pixar over the few years now, but Inside Out might have claimed the crown. It is relentless in that respect. It doesn’t hit you with one or two scenes but a constant barrage of an increasingly dire scenario. But beyond that, it is also at the upper echelon of animated movies in general. The rumblings are true, this is an utterly fantastic film in every respect. While it lacks the constant barrage of humour that some of the other Pixar movies throw at you, it still manages to make you laugh, all while it establishes a fun world built around a mesmerising concept. The world and concept draws you in, and the journey keeps you hooked with its characterisation and impact. This is a must see for anyone who remotely enjoys animated films. One thing though, if you don’t like to be seen crying, maybe watch this on your own. It can get pretty rough, especially if you’re susceptible to a tear-jerker. Don’t be surprised if this wins Best Animated Feature at next year’s Academy Awards.