In the run up to the release of Inside Out, there was a picture that made its way around social media which poked fun at how emotions seemed to be the last thing left for Disney/Pixar to humanize for an animated tale. And indeed, “what if feelings had feelings!?” does seem like one of the last possible areas for the studios to explore, having done everything from toys to bugs to robots previously. However, this thinly veiled cynicism doesn’t account for the fact that in many ways, Inside Out is the movie Pixar have been working to make. Since their ’95 debut with Toy Story, Disney/Pixar have dealt with a myriad of highly emotional topics with grace and empathy and Inside Out is very much a test of that learned emotional intelligence. Because, for the first time, instead of using analogy or fantasy, the latest Pixar animation is just a simple story about a young girl, just trying to make simple sense of the world. And it is one of the pair’s finest moments.
The young girl in question, Riley (voiced by Kathryn Dias), has her regular 11-year-old life turned upside down when she has to move away from everything she knows. This, naturally, means her emotions are all a fluster, trying to make sense and the best of what’s going on. Enter Joy (Amy Poehler) who has, until this point, steered Riley’s consciousness happily through-out her childhood. Joy is flanked by Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), who each help guide Riley through the world as she sees it, protecting her well-being. That is until suddenly Sadness feels a compulsion to touch Riley’s core memories, a database of her most vivid and cherished moments, meaning that when Riley remembers them, it’s with a tinge of resentment rather than the regular happiness. This leads to Joy and Sadness having to journey through Riley’s subconscious to try and protect Riley’s core memories from being saddened, all the while helping her through the difficult process of having to fit in to a whole new life.
Though obviously a CGI fantasy, a lot of Inside Out‘s core structure relies on merging both the information and the entertainment, with obvious leaning on entertainment to avoid being the most dreaded of things – educational. Every layer of the screenplay, as we’re taken beyond Headquarters (the conscious mind) into Riley’s memory bank and islands of experience, is presented with both necessity for plot and meditation on function. It’s obvious that writer Meg LeFauve has done her homework and worked hard to really use the film to discuss and communicate the importance of these topics in a genuinely funny, creative way. Joy has an argument with some workers hoovering up old memories for deletion, she later fangirls over a character that’s a regular in Riley’s dreams – every creation and set-piece, and where and when it’s encountered, follows a string of logic that allows for both the increased tension of the screenplay and tiered, gradual exploration of child psychology and the gravitas that surrounds a young child’s psyche.
Director Pete Docter shows obvious confidence in driving the movie forward while also taking care at the right moments. There are times when Inside Out struggles a little with its own concept, particularly in the areas of dreams and abstract thought, but Docter gives them just the right amount of time and focus before moving on. A veteran of Pixar with both Monster’s Inc and Up under his belt, the wave of emotions elicited in the final act is dealt with the kind of earnestness that should make even the most stone-hearted develop a twinkle in their eye.
Coming out 20 years after Toy Story grants a certain poetry to Inside Out as a kind of epilogue to a lot of the themes Disney and Pixar have spent the last two decades mulling over in film. Taking the time to wilfully create a movie about understanding childhood and the family in a way that could be a great bonding piece of entertainment between parent figure and child is something that, coming from almost anyone else, would have been worrying and yielded flawed results. For these two, it’s all in a day’s work.
Deeply charming and emotionally enriching.