by David Robinson, Movie Reviewer
Out on DVD, “Inside Out” is the latest production of Pixar Studios, which has given viewers young and old such animated feature delights as the “Toy Story” series, “Cars” and my own favorite, “Up.” This current effort, however, seems to be aimed equally at teenagers and their parents. Director Pete Docter says the initial inspiration came from watching his daughter change as she grew up, and the script will ring true for every mom and dad who have shared that experience, in all its complexity. Indeed, parental guidance may be necessary here to help younger folk interpret and understand what it all means.
The plot will be all too familiar to anyone whose family has ever moved into a new city and (argh!) school district. The focal character, 12-year old Riley Anderson (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) has been uprooted from Minnesota to San Francisco when her father (Kyle MacLachlan) starts a new company there. Her mother (Diane Lane) tries to assuage Riley’s fears and comfort her over the loss of friends, hockey teammates, and even her bedroom furniture.
But they can’t truly appreciate what’s going on inside Riley’s head as she strives to adjust. There, five emotions — continually at odds with each other — are trying to dominate a control panel that creates and stores memories, both temporary and “core.” Joy (chirpily voiced by Amy Poehler) dominates at first, but she has to deal constantly with the competing demands of Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). They and screenwriters Decter, Ronnie del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley give new and hilarious meaning to the phrase “mixed emotions.”
The five of them, with the possible exception of Fear, take turns at the controls in Head Quarters, though Joy and Sadness detach for a long stretch to rescue some core memories from the abysmal Memory Dump, the pit of no return for childhood fantasies. One of them is Bing Bong (Richard Kind) a large and goofy imaginary friend of three-year old Riley who is now on the verge of extinction. (Appropriately, he appears to be made of pink cotton candy.) Not the most reliable of guides, he leads the two conjoined emotions through a bank of memories. They pass through all sorts of realms, attempting to board the Train of Thought and get back to Head Quarters in time to rescue Riley from a serious misstep.
It wouldn’t be fair to name all the abstract states that are wittily concretized in their semi-allegorical quest. (Nor will I reveal all the voices you should be listening for.) Suffice it to say that every minute or so a new imaginative stroke adds to our pleasure, as well as tweaking our appreciation of the complexity of emotional interactions. As Riley’s situation and relationships shift moment by moment, the five emotions often comically portray the turmoil in the preadolescent mind. The plot treats Riley’s problems mostly humorously. The resolution, though, may bring forth a tear or two — no matter how old you are.
“Inside Out” is rated “PG,” but adults may well appreciate it more fully than the kids do. Along with some informative “making of” shorts on the Blueray edition, the Pixar technical magicians have supplied a lovely short to go with the main attraction: “Lava,” in which a lonely volcano finally gets a mate. And be sure to watch through the credits for brief peeks inside the minds of various minor characters: both dog and cat lovers will laugh in recognition. When the credits conclude, I can guarantee that — whether accompanied by a child or not — you’ll carry this wonderful movie in your mind for some time. You might even want to sneak in a second viewing,