2015, PG, 94 min. Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. Voices by Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., June 19, 2015
It takes a special kind of visionariness (or perversity) to see the entertainment value in, say, a rodent master chef or a sad robot patrolling Armageddon for signs of life, but Pixar really swings for the brass ring of seemingly unmarketable concepts with its latest, Inside Out, which throws a couple hundred million dollars at a movie about the life of the mind. Its audacity is entirely matched by its artistry.
Co-directed and co-written by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up), Inside Out personifies the voices in our heads, giving them shape and a common cause: in this instance, the care and maintenance of an 11-year-old Minnesota-bred girl named Riley (voiced by Dias). Inside Riley’s mind is a hive of activity – it’s called “headquarters,” with a wink and a smile – wherein five emotions take turns at the console that controls Riley’s brainwaves. Joy (voiced by Poehler) is central command, and she’s depicted as a lovely, barefoot sprite almost pathologically fixed on keeping Riley buoyant and bopping with enthusiasm: for ice hockey, goofy faces, and her dear parents. But when Dad (MacLachlan) has a new Internet venture that necessitates a stressful move to San Francisco, Riley’s four other emotional drivers jockey for the wheel: Anger (Black), spitting red flames when agitated; Fear (Hader), a ducker and a squealer; Disgust (Kaling), a symphony space of vocal-fried ughs; and Sadness (Smith), a blue-hued bundle of melancholy. Joy treats Sadness like a kindly leper nobody should touch, but Sadness just can’t keep her hands to herself. When Sadness accidentally infects one of Riley’s happy core memories with sorrow, it sets off a chain of events that plunges Riley into despair.
The summer movie season promises no shortage of disaster films; Inside Out is surely the most ingenious one. (Mass transport takes a hit here, but it’s a literal train of thought in peril.) It’s almost too obvious to remark upon, but has the imagination ever been so, well, imaginatively imagined before? In Inside Out’s dazzlingly inventive universe, memories are sorted, Plinko-style, and they all go somewhere to live, and possibly die: a library vault where nonessentials get zapped (who really needs to remember phone numbers these days?), a movie studio where dreams are produced with blockbuster gusto, a cavern where subconscious terrors sleep, and so on.
Inside Out is ostensibly for kids – at least, its medium (animation) and rating (PG) suggest that’s the target audience. But like the very best Pixar movies, Inside Out speaks to multiple generations, in multiple guises, from zippy entertainment to meaningful drama. (This adult – in hiccuping near-meltdown – had to call on her own central command to shut this shit down after a third-act turn had her dangerously close to audible sobbing.) To borrow from the Internet lingo of the day, you might say Inside Out will make you feel all the feels (seriously: so many feels). But who knows how our elastic language will have evolved by 2030, or 2130 – what new ways we’ll rearrange words in order to describe the solar-plexus punch of art on the heart. Be it this century or next, I suspect Inside Out will still be something worth talking about. These feels are built to last.
See “The Medium Is the Message,” June 19, for an interview with Pete Docter.