Inside Out is an important reflection on the power of emotion and proof that Pixar is still king of imaginative CG animated storytelling.
Inside Out follows Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a happy 11 year-old girl with loving parents, great friends, and a passion for hockey – thanks to subtle monitoring from her personified emotions. For over a decade, Riley’s emotions – led by the exuberant Joy (Amy Poehler) – have helped their girl navigate the ups and downs of life, ensuring that even the most challenging days result in happy memories. When Riley’s father takes on a stressful new job in San Francisco, the Minnesotan pre-teen tries to be positive about the family move, buoyed by the Joy’s can-do attitude. However, Sadness (Phyllis Smith) looms heavy in the background of her mind.
As Joy attempts to keep Riley focused on the bright side of life, the young girl faces disappointments that throw her emotions into chaos. In a desperate attempt to regain control, Joy tampers with Riley’s memory logging system, which inadvertently leaves Joy and Sadness stranded in the maze of Long Term Memory. As Riley faces one frustrating situation after another in the world, Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Anger (Lewis Black) attempt to keep their girl from mental collapse, while Joy and Sadness embark on a dangerous trek back to “Headquarters.”
In the six years following the release of Pixar’s critically-acclaimed Up, the fan-favorite Disney studio released two sequels (Toy Story 3 and Cars 2) and one prequel (Monsters University) but only a single original story (Brave). Many moviegoers started questioning if the once-groundbreaking animation studio was folding under pressure from the Disney franchise machine. It’s clear, given the announcement of Toy Story 4, Cars 3, Finding Dory, and The Incredibles 2, that sequels are now a key piece of Pixar’s production slate; yet, there’s nothing quite like a fresh Pixar tale. Inside Out is the best Pixar film in years, blending thought-provoking human drama (for kids and adults) with an imaginative premise and whimsical adventure – a must-see for children, parents, and cinephiles alike.
Up director Pete Docter has created a beautiful and dynamic film – even if it doesn’t revolutionize modern computer animation or bridge the uncanny valley. The story setup and balance between Riley’s real life conflicts and the fantastical internal drama of her emotions, is fertile ground in both visual sophistication and narrative punch. Riley’s emotions color her view of the world – literally (through shifts in visual tone) and figuratively (as she reacts to events in the story). This combination of vibrant fantasy and real-world challenges is the hallmark of Pixar’s most iconic and groundbreaking films, such as Toy Story, WALL-E, and Up – which depicted deeply emotional stories through unique perspectives.
For Inside Out, Pixar anthropomorphizes emotion – with a new set of colorful characters for young viewers to enjoy, while also exploring one of mankind’s greatest mysteries: the mind. Delving into psychology theory, Docter injects entertaining but equally sophisticated insight into how emotions influence behavior – insight that affords Inside Out‘s audience a chance for self-discovery and reflection, regardless of age.
Amy Poehler leads the voice cast as Joy – a familiar fit (in all the right ways) for the comedy actress. Docter imbues Joy, along with the rest of Riley’s emotions, with layered personalities – even though they’re each representative of a single “feeling.” The characters are ripe for gags that play off their emotional namesakes (ex., Anger is a hothead) but Inside Out manages to find a deeper level for the protagonists on the inside – the same nuance that differentiated past Pixar animation films from their contemporaries. As a result, Joy struggles with her own fear, disgust, sadness, and anger – breathing life into what could have been a gimmicky outline (while also contributing to the movie’s larger message of emotional maturation).
Smith leads the supporting cast, providing the same depth to Sadness that is given to Joy – and, in spite of Poehler’s energetic leading role, Sadness is instrumental in many of Inside Out‘s funniest and most impactful scenes. Kaling, Hader, and Black are given less to do, but their characters are not afterthoughts. Docter ensures each has a spotlight to shine in the movie, and makes it apparent that each emotion is essential in maintaining Riley’s safety and happiness.
As indicated, Inside Out also makes a genuine effort to juxtapose the zany cartoon hijinks of Riley’s mind with relatable and heartwarming real-world drama. Docter dedicates a significant amount of his runtime to life in San Francisco, as Riley and her parents endeavor to carve out a new home there. Thanks to Pixar’s evolving depiction of CG people, Inside Out accurately animates micro-expressions and body language that are crucial in non-verbal comprehension of emotion. Riley isn’t necessarily the most realistic person that Pixar has ever animated, but instead of striving for photorealism, the studio takes advantage of Inside Out‘s cartoonish style to accentuate human emotion – delivering some of the most expressive CG characters in animation history.
Like previous Pixar movies, Inside Out is playing in 3D and premium ticket price will be worthwhile for most viewers. Taking a page from his work on Up, Docter utilizes the format for depth rather than pop-out effects. For that reason, 3D might not be a requirement for thrifty filmgoers, especially those who are already on the fence about an Inside Out ticket, but 3D does add immersion to the film’s striking set-pieces – especially the fantasy scenes inside Riley’s mind.
After years of cashing-in on established film franchises, Inside Out is a much-appreciated return to form for Pixar Animation. In an industry that is packed with CG animation studios, many of which have made significant strides in quality over the years, Docter’s latest film offers a sobering reminder of the invention and heart that turned Pixar into one of Hollywood’s most beloved (and bankable) brands. More than an entertaining film, Inside Out is an important reflection on the power of emotion – and proof that Pixar is still king of imaginative CG animated storytelling.
Inside Out runs 94 minutes and is Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our Inside Out episode of the SR Underground podcast.
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