Review Date: 07/02/2015
Rating: 5/5 Peanuts.
In a Nutshell:
One of Pixar’s best films yet, Inside Out packs incredible emotional depth into its 94-minute runtime while remaining lighthearted enough to take your children to.
I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that the studio that made me cry during the first 10 minutes of Up would be able to tell a story so emotionally deep and sophisticated as what I witnessed in Inside Out. The film tells the story of an eleven year old girl named Riley as she and her family experience a cross-country move from Minnesota to San Francisco, all from the point of view of personified emotions living in Riley’s head. Taken at face value, the film is obviously a children’s story, replete with slapstick humor, goofy visuals and imaginary friends. That said, Pixar has managed to maintain their magic formula, providing enough subtle layers of emotional depth and funny-because-its-true asides for the parents in the audience to thoroughly enjoy themselves – and let us not forget that many parents at this point may have been OG Pixar fans from the hallowed days of Toy Story.
What is so wonderful about Inside Out, aside from the life lessons it delivers, is the pure sense of wonder it conveys to the audience. With the majority of the movie taking place inside Riley’s head, from the aptly named “Headquarters” where the emotions sit at the master control board to the dense maze of long-term memory which resembles the folded grey matter of science class, the film’s design aesthetic is top-notch. It was truly amazing to see how many mental puns Pixar was able to cram into the film, including a gaping chasm of “the memory dump” where literally-faded memories go to be forgotten, the subterranean dungeon of the subconscious, and a visual representation of a “train of thought” that was, you guessed it, a train. And little jokes such as dumping phone numbers – they're in your phone after all – to never forgetting an annoying jingle for Triple-Mint Gum come so fast and furious that I needed a second viewing to catch them all. And on a side note, being a New Yorker who spent a few years living in San Francisco, I wholeheartedly agree that that city did indeed ruin pizza. All in all, the Emotional journey through the recesses of Riley’s mind (see what I did there?) was flawlessly executed, and so painfully original I found myself falling in love with Pixar all over again.
And while Inside Out may be full of massively breathtaking visuals and gorgeous animation, it is the small moments that pack the greatest emotional punch. Watching the personification of Joy, voiced to perfection by Amy Poehler, skate in tandem with the memory playback of a younger Riley out on the frozen Minnesota lake for no reason other than that she loves Riley unconditionally was a particularly poignant scene, but it was also by no means the only one. Indeed, all the emotions, including Anger and Sadness, also amazingly cast in Lewis Black and Phyllis Smith (of The Office fame) only want what’s best for their girl Riley, though they are at times utterly clueless as to how best to assist. Everyone has their moment in the sun too, from Angry outbursts as only Lewis Black can deliver to Bill Hader’s slapstick comedic relief, the filmmakers clearly thought through every detail of their newly created universe. And it wouldn't be a Pixar film without at least an honest attempt at making the audience cry - I'm looking at you Bing Bong - but seriously, Pixar clearly isn't afraid to play with the full emotional spectrum.
I really don't want to spoil this film for anyone, and in an honest effort not to do so I will only superficially cover the “moral of the story,” but it’s an important one and part of what makes the film so amazing, so I need to at least try. Suffice it to say, Inside Out is a coming of age tale, wherein the emotions inside Riley’s head need to learn the lesson so Riley can benefit. And the lesson is one most adults have learned along the way, though maybe not so explicitly. Sometimes it’s ok to be sad, to be unhappy, or even to have complex and layered emotions. That may sound obvious to anyone reading this site, but it’s a bold move to put into a kid-oriented summer blockbuster. That Pixar went there is testament to their self-confidence earned in an incredible run of unbelievably good films. That Pixar stuck the landing so flawlessly is testament to how amazing their bench of talent really is.