Inside Out (United States, 2015)

June 19, 2015
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Inside Out Poster

No American animated studio has been as successful developing films that work on multiple levels as Disney/Pixar. From the beginning, they have been interested in telling stories that equally engage children and adults. Consider Toy Story 3, for example. For kids, it's a lively, funny adventure. For adults, it's a bittersweet meditation on the passage of time. I won't argue that Inside Out is as profound or all-around engaging as Toy Story 3, but the films succeed in many of the same ways.

Inside Out ventures into deep psychological territory, which may make it a hard sell for the littlest of children. The filmmakers (in particular Pete Docter, whose previous animated forays include Monsters Inc. and Up) include plenty of action/adventure set pieces and family-friendly comedy to keep youngsters involved but the main text is arguably the most complex of any Pixar outing. The movie uses anthropomorphized emotions to explore themes about how the entirety of an individual's personality is shaped on a foundation of memories and that regret is a necessary part of awareness. The depth of the subject matter belies that cuteness of the animated creatures populating the screen. The Pixar brain trust venerates veteran Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, and never have they previously come this close to replicating the feel of a Studio Ghibli production.

The main character is an ordinary girl named Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias). She and her mom (Diane Lane) and dad (Kyle MacLachlan) have relocated to the Bay Area for work-related reasons. Riley is sad and depressed - she misses her old house, her friends, her hockey team - pretty much everything. She's trying to stay upbeat but it's hard. Although bits of the story are told from Riley's perspective, the lion's share of the narrative transpires literally within her head. That's where we meet the five emotions that control her moods, organize her memories, and influence her actions: yellow, upbeat Joy (Amy Poehler), blue Sadness (Phyllis Smith), purple Fear (Bill Hader), red Anger (Lewis Black), and green Disgust (Mindy Kaling). When something goes wrong and Joy and Sadness are inadvertently ejected from the "Control Room," we begin perhaps the strangest road trip since Fantastic Voyage: a trek through Riley's subconscious. Along the way, there are some odd encounters, including one with the girl's one-time imaginary friend, Bing Bong (Richard Kind).

Inside Out takes complex psychological processes and simplifies them in ways that make them relatable and relevant. The film enters deep waters without getting too dark - we are treated to glimpses of the personality deterioration that occurs once Joy and Sadness (and their associated memories) have been removed. She shuts down, becomes uncommunicative, and eventually makes the decision to run away.

Inside Out has no villain. This is often the case with road trip movies but rarely with animated films, where the desire for black-and-white clarity makes demands upon the screenwriters. Nevertheless, the narrative isn't about defeating a bad guy; instead, it's about a bunch of mismatched creatures attempting to restore balance.

The art style is un-Pixar-like.  Although the "outside" scenes with Riley and her parents are designed with the realism we have become accustomed to in modern animated films, the "inside" material has a fantastical, almost hand-drawn appearance - a shimmery, cartoonish look that Pixar hasn't previously attempted.  This not only gives Inside Out its own identity but provides a different appearance in a genre where the look is becoming increasingly generic. (The 3-D, however, is useless - surprisingly, it's as if Pixar really didn't try.)

In recent years, Pixar has been in a rut, with two mediocre sequels, a year off, and several unspectacular (but entertaining) original productions. To use the cliché, Inside Out represents a "return to form." The open question is how the under-8 crowd will relate to it. This isn't Minions-style high energy hijinks. It requires thought and consideration.  Those are unquestionably laudable qualities but are they antithetical to a big box office?  One hopes not because Inside Out is the best American-produced animated film we have seen in many summers and deserves to be recognized as such.

Inside Out (United States, 2015)

Director: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Cast: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
Home Release Date: 2015-11-03
Screenplay: Pete Docter & Meg LeFauve & Josh Cooley
Music: Michael Giacchino
U.S. Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Ranked #7 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 2015
Run Time: 1:34
U.S. Release Date: 2015-06-19
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Genre: Animated
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1