I’m a huge fan of Pixar and the studio’s latest creation, Inside Out, certainly did not disappoint. For a movie about emotions and how and why we feel things, Inside Out certainly contains, well, lots of emotion. I feel slightly cliche in saying this, but a movie whose main characters embody things like happiness and sadness, it literally made be cry one moment and laugh the next. In this review, I hope to touch on the imaginative world that this film creates, but I mostly wish to emphasize what it says about feelings in general and it’s emotional impact on the audience.
Inside Out is Pixar’s 15th feature length film and tells the dual stories of an 11-year-old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), and the personifications of five main emotions in her mind – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader). The Emotion characters (which I will capitalize to avoid confusion) are based in Riley’s conscious mind in “Headquarters” and influence her thoughts and memories. Certain “Core Memories” make up different parts of Riley’s personality that are portrayed as “islands” in Riley’s mind – Goofball Island, Friendship Island, Hockey Island, Honesty Island, and Family Island. Joy is the Emotion who is the foremost in charge in Headquarters making Riley a generally happy girl. But Riley begins to feel down after her family moves from Minnesota to San Fransisco and much in her life starts changing. After a mishap in Riley’s head, Joy and Sadness get sucked out of Headquarters and accidentally find themselves lost in the corridors of Riley’s memories. There they find Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a lost and nearly-forgotten imaginary friend of Riley’s who tries to help them back to Headquarters to set things right again.
The world inside Riley’s head is quite imaginative and how things function there make this a very smart film. Upon watching it, you can tell this film put a lot of thought into world building. From the sci-fi of Syndrome’s lair in The Incredibles to the monster world in Monsters, Inc., Pixar has had an excellent track record of creating very unique worlds and fantastical settings. Inside Out was no exception. Sometimes the explanations of how the world works were slightly textbook sounding, like Joy’s description of the creation of Core Memories, or when Sadness was reiterating the various levels of abstraction. But it still managed to keep it fun and fantasy-like. There were even little details that I liked such as the bookshelf-like corridors of long-term memory looking like the folds of a brain. Some were even made for humorous effect like the ease with which we forget phone numbers, or how we can’t get a song out of our head.
The voice acting and animation were top notch. Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith as Joy and Sadness play off each other very well. And Lewis Black makes a perfect Anger. As always Pixar’s animation is fun to watch. This film was slightly more visual gag oriented, and with the characters looking like they were made up of particles of energy, it added a kinetic nature to the Emotions’ movements.
Getting to the heart of the story, we see something that hasn’t really been done before quite like this – a story about how and why we feel, by using emotions as characters to show it. Before coming to see the movie, I was worried that Riley’s emotions would seem contrived or fake. The switches between emotions that Riley experiences could have been played for purely gag effect, and sometimes this was the case. The creators risked the changes in emotion seeming too deliberate or controlled by the Emotions, as if they were controlling Riley’s every thought and action. But Riley was written in such a way that her reactions and feelings seemed totally realistic and normal. You could have taken out all of the scenes in Riley’s head, and everything Riley did or experienced would still make sense to her character and to her situation. Not that I would want the scenes in her head removed, since the Emotions’ storyline is equally as compelling and well-written, with characters as equally realistic. This doesn’t entirely apply to Anger, Disgust, and Fear as they are somewhat trope-y. However, Joy and Sadness seem like that one friend you know who is the optimist, and that other friend you know who is the pessimist. Even as the embodiment of specific emotions, they are still able to feel outside of their designated role, and their motivations are very much understood. Joy’s need to make Riley feel happy, and Sadness being drawn to those who feel sad are well done. I especially like the scene where Sadness is able to comfort Bing Bong by being a crying buddy when he feels down, thus allowing him to get over his depressed state and move on.
This is probably the most important message in the movie – that it is okay to feel sad. Many children have had to deal with moving to a new place or have been in similar distressing or disruptive situations, and understand the confusing emotions that come with them. There is one moment where Riley is explaining how she misses Minnesota and it is at this moment that I cried (this is actually a fairly big deal for me since only two movies have ever made me cry*). It could be that it was because I was watching it alone in a movie theater in Japan and not with my friends or family back in the states, but at that moment where Riley is missing her home, I really related to her.
Inside Out is a great film and one that many children and adults alike could relate to. It is also a film that could help children understand their emotions better and the role that they play. This movie truly embodies it’s central theme – that it’s difficult to grow up and it’s okay to be sad about it.
*A list of movies that have made Aubrey cry:
The Fox and the Hound
Grave of the Fireflies