INSIDE OUT (Cert. PG)
Director: Pete Docter
Stars: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader
Rating: * * * * *
A BEAUTIFUL MIND
Pixar’s fifteenth feature sees the animation superpower thinking and feeling its way back to their best. Coming after a worrying dip in form, including lacklustre, strategic sequels to merchandising cash cows Cars and Monsters Inc, the studio is back with one of its most daring and inventive films to date. Jump for Joy – and Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger – at Inside Out.
Those five emotions are the building blocks for the consciousness of a little Minnesotan girl, Riley. They take up residence inside her mind – a Mission Control head-quarters that looks like a candy-coloured Star Trek Enterprise bridge – and by interpreting her reactions according to which of them is the most appropriate responder, build up a bank of crystal ball-like memories, to be processed, stored and effectively shape Riley’s personality.
As a child, most of Riley’s glowing memory orbs are golden, the colour of Joy (voiced by an effervescent Amy Poehler). But as she grows up, Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) increasingly creep in – never more so than when Riley, now aged eleven, is forced to relocate with her parents to rundown, urban San Francisco, without friends or her beloved hockey. And when Joy and Sadness get stranded below in Riley’s long-term memory vault after her traumatic first day at her new school, the girl basically shuts down with just Fear, Disgust and Anger at the controls. In other words, Riley becomes a cranky adolescent; and Joy is determined to make smile again.
One viewing is nowhere near enough to appreciate the extraordinary level of detail lavished on this world. The memory bank’s tubes and labyrinthine storage depot, Riley’s series of linked core Childhood Identity Islands as well as the physical shapes of the fistful of emotions – Anger’s fiery-red flat-top, Sadness’s globular blue – are all wonderfully, vibrantly visualized.
Plot-wise, familiar Pixar tropes appear – devotion to a child, the importance of teamwork, the helter-skelter chases – but their tried-and-tested journey narratives have never before been given licence to go, quite literally, on such a head trip. Previously, Pixar surrealism was restricted to Toy Story Mr. Potato Head / Picasso gags. Here, Joy and Sadness must navigate a seemingly never-ending gauntlet bursting with wild imagination, from Dream Production’s Hollywood movie studio recreation of the day’s events to Abstract Thought’s Cubist-to-2D-to-line-drawing shape-shifting. To get back to HQ, they have to jump onboard Riley’s Train of Thought. It’s dizzying, freeform animation at its best, and yet still all in the service of the story at hand.
The humour also comes thick and fast, in what’s possibly the funniest Pixar script since Finding Nemo. It seems mean to spoil them here when they’re best appreciated going in fresh but, as the trailers have revealed, clips from inside other characters’ minds, notably Riley’s parents, are priceless. As ever, several jokes are specifically pitched to more grown-up audiences. In fact, though the action takes place within a kid’s mind, Inside Out’s sophistication, despite The Incredibles’ mid-life crisis plot or Up’s octogenarian lead, feels like its most adult storyline to date.
Emotional complexity is on a different scale too. Whereas even youngsters can tune into the separation anxiety of Toy Story or Nemo, director Pete Docter and co-writers Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley’s ambition here is to convey nothing less than learning to accept the undeniable encroachment of Sadness into your life – and, most potently for parents, the heartbreaking realization that it will inevitably do so to your joyfully innocent littl’un. That’s heavy stuff, no matter how much rainbow-coloured razzle-dazzle you front-load it with and, for the first time with Pixar, I felt the message just occasionally overwhelm the medium.
Then again, if children can appreciate a film as challenging and dreamlike as Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away – and Inside Out is easily Pixar’s closest thing to a more mature Ghibli sensibility – then perhaps that’s a false alarm. If anyone knows kids inside out, it’s Miyazaki and John Lasseter & co. And when they’re on such inspired form, it’s best to just sit back and open your heart and mind to some of the greatest family entertainers around (the voice cast are all on great form too) at very near their peak.
Pixar has never been so formally and visually inventive and rarely so funny as they are here. Perhaps lacking the sledgehammer tear duct attack of Up, it’s also an exceptionally poignant and thoughtful look at developing and understanding our feelings. It’s also simply enormous fun. Consider next year’s Animated Feature Oscar race over and Pixar firmly back on track.
To read the original review at IGN.com click here: Inside Out – IGN