Film Review – Inside Out
Unless you’ve been living in a cave or Dreamworks writing room the last few months, chances are you’ve caught glimpse of the relentlessly adorable marketing campaign for Pixar‘s Inside Out. Directed by Pete Docter, the stalwart, visionary leader behind Monsters, Inc. and Up, Inside Out might be the most accomplished effort by the company in years. And yes, you’ll likely be hiding your tears from your children. They call that the Docter Punch.
11 year old Riley, the purported central character of the movie, is having a rough go of things. Dad (an understated Kyle MacLachlan) gets a new job in San Francisco, leading to an abrupt move from a small town in Minnesota, the only place Riley has ever called home. Initially optimistic, her mood sours after a heartbreaking first day at a new school. She runs the gamut of emotions, which we get a true insider’s perspective of thanks to the frequent intercutting between her real life travails and the colorful control room that resides within her brain. (Hey, this is Pixar, not the new Todd Solondz joint.)
Here’s your go-to guide for the emotional spectrum running the day-to-day operations in Riley’s brain: Joy (Amy Poehler), the persistently uplifting (and uplifted) pixie who generally calls the shots. Her polar opposite is Sadness (The Office‘s Phyllis Smith), a blue blob of bummer. Think Debbie Downer but more Disnified and adorable. There’s the sarcastic and fashionable Disgust (Mindy Kaling, naturally), the spastic beanpole Fear (Bill Hader), and Anger (Lewis Black), a stocky ball of rage intent on introducing Riley to cursing. Each actor here is perfectly cast and inhabit their respective characters with aplomb. It is a delight to watch this story unfold. And unfold it does!
Without getting into the surprisingly intricate specifics, Joy and Sadness find themselves literally sucked away from the control room, leaving the mostly inept Disgust, Fear and Anger in charge. (Trust me, you don’t want Anger anywhere near the button.) Without Joy around to call the shots, Riley is left to revel in her angst, leading to a series of real-life dangerous decisions.
The fleshed-out and consistently inventive world created by Docter and his team is truly astounding. While the physics of this inner world are in a constant state of fluctuation, it never feels like a cheat. Each of the several exciting setpieces offered build naturally and masterfully connect to one another. Along for the adventure is Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a forgotten elephant-like imaginary friend with the lay of the land and habit of crying candy pieces. It’s all as adorable as it sounds.
Never cloying, though. Pixar has a reputation for striking that tricky balance of pleasing both children and adults, and Inside Out could be the most shining example yet. Let the kids marvel at the joys to be found in Imagination Land while you identify with Riley’s parents’ in trying to understand and help your children adjust to change. Inside Out is as surefire a bet as you’re likely to see this summer.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with director Pete Doctor and producer Jonas Rivera from SIFF 2015.