After the emotional trauma that Sunday’s season finale of “Game of Thrones” dealt me, I was overjoyed to come into theaters a few days early to view Pixar’s 15th feature, “Inside Out” (which ironic because “Inside Out” is a film that is all about emotions). We all know the narrative of Pixar at this point. The studio that has produce masterpiece after masterpiece slumped a little bit with the disappointing “Cars 2” and the solid but not up to par fantasy adventure “Brave”. I even wrote an editorial about whether Pixar has lost its touch (which can read here). “Inside Out” though is just more indication that Pixar has some of the best talent in not just the animation world but some of the best in the North America film world. “Inside Out” is one of the best films of the year with clever and creative writing, laugh out loud comedy, and an simple emotional core that anyone can relate too. Pixar crafts another winner.
Ever wonder what goes on inside your head? Well Pixar is here to answer that. “Inside Out” follows the 5 emotions inside a young girl named Riley’s head; anger, fear, disgust, sadness and joy. Each one lives inside control central in Riley’s brain. Joy is always remaining positive and trying hard to keep Riley positive especially during Riley’s move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Sadness and Joy can’t seem to get along in control central when both of them get sucked out into Riley’s internal memory. Now in control central without Joy and Sadness, all the emotions are out of control and in chaos as Anger, Disgust, and Fear try to balance out Riley’s life. Joy and Sadness now need to find their way back to Command Central before Riley turns her own life upside down as she struggles with living in this new place.
The genius of “Inside Out” is not just the brilliant idea but rather it’s the execution of it. With this idea you could do 100 plus things. Even during the movie there moments where your brain will racing thinking of other tangents and story arcs this movie could have gone. However the movie (like so many other Pixar movies) grounds this high concept into a simple emotional core; which is this little girl is moving and isn’t sure how to deal with that. New friends, new place leaving the old place behind is something many kids had to go through in their lifetime. It forces these emotions to go through it with her. The family dynamic that not only represents both Riley and her parents but also the emotions (which are a fun collective family) is paramount and makes this high concept to be something relatable.
It’s doesn’t hurt that when that Emotional core is able to rock the audience to their own personal cores. In true Pixar fashion the moments when it’s time to cry, the filmmakers delivers upon that emotion. Now we never get into “Up” territory where you will be balling your eyes out. Still though that’s a one in a thousand example. Here there are plenty of crucial scenes for Riley or even Joy that will tug at your heartstrings (and if you don’t get sucked in with those scenes then I am convinced you have no emotions).
Under less careful hands the emotions could either been too devoid of personality or have too much but director/writer Pete Doctor (director of “Up” and “Monsters Inc”) strikes the right balance between those two extremes. The personalities of the emotions shine through the brilliant voice acting of the cast. Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation and SNL) voices the optimistic and sometimes misguided Joy. Phyllis Smith (The Office) plays Sadness (whom voice seems tailor made for this part). Bill Hader is one my personal favorite parts of the voice cast as Fear. He is optimistic in the sense that if Riley didn’t die or get hurt the day wasn’t so bad. Mindy Kaling (co-star of Phyllis Smith in The Office) plays Disgust, which is basically a far more restrained version of her character in “The Office” but she does a great job at it. The show stealer for me though is comedian Lewis Black as Anger. If anyone has seen Black’s standup you know he is perfect for the role and he owns every line of dialogue thrown at him.
With that talented group of people behind the “mic” (which also includes Richard Kind as the imaginary friend Bing Bong) this movie seems to always be funny. Perhaps this is even among Pixar’s funniest of films with a wide range of in-jokes, nostalgia and of course fast wit and physical comedy. I don’t recall one joke I didn’t laugh at nor did I ever roll my eyes. It’s one of those rare films that is able to find the right balance between humor for adults and kids.
The other impressive feat is the world building. Everything is simple yet at the same time has a lot going in it. Pixar is able to make everything (even the most far out there ideas) make sense. There literally is a “Train of Thought” in this film and explains why we have memory loss. It’s all so wonderfully done that I was smiling nearly the entire time. This is the type of stuff that will be enjoyable for kids but adults will eat up.
I thought “Monsters University” was a welcome return to form for the studio 2 years ago. Still it wasn’t quite at the top tier of Pixar’s catalogue. Here “Inside Out” with one definite swing, it climbs to be among their best works. This will be in the Best Animated Category at the Oscars and it should even be in the Best Picture category; it’s that good. Pixar’s other film coming out later this year, “The Good Dinosaur” has a lot to live up to (which is perhaps very unfair). This is a film that is able to explore such complex and universal themes in such a delightful package. I’m not sure how much it’ll make at the box office (it’s certainly a tough movie to market) but either way I have a feeling this will become a future classic.