If you take nothing else away from this review, remember one thing: Inside Out is possibly the most original, intelligent and heart-warming film you could see all year. It is a joy to experience, though not quite in the way its central emotion – played by Amy Poehler – would imagine.
The character of ‘Joy’ in Inside Out is one of five emotions portrayed as the ‘central processing unit’, in a sense, of a person’s mind. Joining her as part of the ensemble are Anger, Fear, Disgust and Sadness, who together form the guiding unit for Riley; a little girl who has just reached the age of 11 and is about to go through some significantly life-changing events that cause what can best be described as an identity crisis for her emotions – joy in particular, for whom life during Riley’s younger years had been simple and straightforward.
During these early years, joy is the dominant emotion in Riley’s life, having been the first thing Riley felt as a newly born child staring up at her parents. However, as with all babies, it is not long before she starts crying, and sadness is born; the second emotion. Joy and Sadness (played by Phyllis Smith, who you may know from the American version of The Office) clash from the start, the former seeing the latter as a threat to Riley’s happiness.
As the focal point of Riley’s emotions, Joy ensures that all her core memories remain happy, trying as much as possible to avoid sadness’ involvement in her life. When Riley’s family moves house, however, and she is forced to adapt to new surroundings, Joy starts to find her control slipping, which eventually leads to chaos between the emotions.
One of the best things about this film is its insightfulness into the human condition. It really captures the essence of growing up, while mixing this theme seamlessly with the drama between the emotions; joy and sadness in particular. Dramatic sequences and catastrophic events happening inside Riley’s head which appear entirely organic are actually, when viewed as a whole, the necessary journey that everyone goes through when they get to a point in their lives where they must leave who they were behind and become a more mature person, eventually growing into an adult. This is a process which can be painful – yet that pain is necessary to make us who we are. Inside Out is very much about facing that process head on, from the refreshingly naive yet hopeful perspective of an 11 year old’s emotional spectrum.
What becomes a sort-of coming of age journey for Joy and Sadness, as they are separated from the other emotions (who try to replicate joy’s effect, with hilarious results), reflects the turmoil that greets Riley in the outside world; her fluctuating attitude between anger, disgust and fear exemplary of the mood swings that come along the bridge between childhood and adolescence.
In Riley’s case the trigger for these mood swings was moving house; a situation her emotions had not yet encountered. That journey takes Joy and Sadness through various parts of Riley’s mind, including ‘the subconscious’, abstract thought, and imagination land.
But I have been talking here as if this film is somehow complicated, and apparently this was a genuine concern before release – that smaller children would perhaps not quite ‘get it’, some of the more vague concepts and imagery (the film is beautiful, not just in its use of colour but in its often melancholic, fittingly imaginative environment inside Riley’s mind) in danger of going over the head of a fair portion of its target demographic.
In my experience there’s no need to worry; younger audience members seemed to find the film hilarious in any case, and its charm (in both characters and story) is sure to win over those of any age who’ve paid to watch it. This is a movie for the entire family, in which each family member may take different things from it.
Such praise has been levelled at both Disney and Pixar films before, and the fact that it is as true as ever in this case speaks for itself: Inside Out deserves recognition alongside the best that we’ve seen from either studio in the past. Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack is the finest work he’s done in a long time (I’ve been a fan since his Medal of Honor days over fifteen years ago), while the same could be said of director Pete Docter, both of whom also collaborated together on Up (2009).
If I had any nitpicking to do, it would be regarding something that doesn’t exactly affect my thoughts on the overall quality of the film, but rather its clear marketable intentions. As much as Pixar have made a great movie here, one can’t help but speculate that they may be rubbing their hands together in anticipation of the potential merchandise profits. Let’s just say, if you have kids, you may soon find they’re begging you for the toys based on this film. Honestly though… please don’t let that put you off going to see this one. Kids will, after all, be kids regardless, and thankfully you won’t mind too much here – because as an adult, you’re likely to connect with this film emotionally in your own way.
Ultimately, this is an essential film that everyone simply needs to see.
10 / 10