“Inside Out” comes from the brain trust at Disney’s animation shop Pixar, so you can expect that it will be engaging, insightful, entertaining, and poignant. Pixar is the Godiva chocolate of animation studios, the Mercedes of film companies, the Dom Perignon of kids’ flicks. Anything they serve up will be good.
“Inside Out” is no exception. A fun and funny trip through a girl’s psyche, it hits notes other studios only dream to reach.
The bulk of the action takes place inside the head of Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias), an eleven-year-old girl transplanted from a delightful life in the Midwest to a grungy rowhouse in San Francisco. She’s left behind friends, a hockey team, and everything familiar. She’s not sure she’s okay with it. Neither are the voices in her head: Joy (Amy Poehler), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and Fear (Bill Hader). They vie for control of Riley’s emotional landscape, running things through a sort of internal control tower that helps Riley make sense of her world.
There is one more inner voice, but she is never allowed to touch the controls. Sadness (Phyllis Smith) doesn’t seem to have any purpose. She just gets in the way. But when all the change becomes too much for Riley, Joy and Sadness have to figure out together how to help their girl.
Good, But Not Great
Joy and Sadness trek through Riley’s internal world, with delightful locales such as “Goofball Island” and “Friendship Island” connected by an unpredictable Train of Thought.
It’s a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress through the self, a heavy-duty allegory that in other hands would be dreadful. If you think it sounds like a Psychology 101 syllabus come to life, you’re not far off.
The skill of the Pixar team makes a pedantic concept a delightful journey. Pete Docter, the driving force behind “Up” and “Monsters, Inc.” teams up with longtime Pixar artist Ronaldo Del Carmen to direct. They’ve made magic before.
Yet the film didn’t reach the heights of “Up” or “Toy Story 3.” Original and beautiful stories go far beyond allegories. The central image of “Up,” a bittersweet dream of escape, of floating on balloons to an ideal life, resonates in a way more cerebral ideas can’t. (Pardon the pun.) Ironically, for a film that descends, literally, into the subconscious, “Inside Out” never reaches deeper to tug on those things beyond our conscious understanding. It’s beautiful, but not quite sublime.
Being 11 Definitely Feels Inside Out
After you realize the central message, which has to do with Sadness herself, the film feels a little like an exercise you’d experience at a good therapist’s office.
This is not to say the film is unenjoyable or unimportant. Quite the opposite. Children will see themselves reflected in Riley’s eyes and their feelings echoed in hers. The film deftly and beautifully portrays childhood in all its fun, joy, and confusion. Parents, too, will find themselves giggling and wiping away an occasional tear. The film zeroes in on a particular girl in a particular situation, finding beauty in her and leaving aside broader, more boringly PC messages such as “don’t bully” or “love the earth,” or what have you.
Rated PG, the film has no objectionable content as far as language, sexuality, or violence. The PG part comes from some intense emotions and mild peril to Riley. It is a film you can joyfully share with your family. In fact, its central image is the bedrock of identity and confidence that family provides a child. When all else fades, family stays strong.
I did not love “Inside Out” as much as other Pixar films, but I did love it more than any other kids’ film I’ve seen for a long while. The Pixar magic still works, and long may it thrive.