Starring Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling & Phyllis Smith
Directed by Pete Doctor and Ronaldo Del Carmen
At some point or another, every parent has wondered what — if not what in the world — his or her kids were thinking.
Pixar offers an answer — or at least some exuberantly fanciful, wonderfully imaginative, wildly creative, richly emotional speculation — with Inside Out, which takes place mostly inside the head of an 11-year-old girl, Riley.
Since Riley’s birth, the five emotions in the command center of her noggin have been working together as she interacts with the world, sending the proper signals down her neural pathways, keeping her safe and trying to make her happy — and storing away her memories at the end of every day in a vast memory bank.
The emotions are all “characters” themselves, with their own (literally) colorful personalities: Perky, effervescent yellow-glowing Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), the leader of the cranial crew, is joined by the geeky, purple all-phobic Fear (Bill Hader); blue, depressed Sadness (Phyllis Smith); prissy green young maiden Disgust (Mindy Kaling); and blustery red hothead Anger (Lewis Black).
When Riley’s young life hits some major growing-up turbulence, the emotions spring into overdrive to help her through it. But a snafu separates Joy and Sadness from the rest of the emotions, whooshing them out of Riley’s command center and marooning them in the deeper recesses of her conscious and subconscious — and leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust to call the shots.
Soon things begin to fall apart, both inside Riley’s head and outside in the real world.
The magic and wonders of Inside Out, steered by directors Pete Doctor (Up and Monsters, Inc.) and Ronaldo Del Carmen, are wide-ranging as the inventive initial setup expands to become a rollicking adventure for Joy and Sadness, especially after they encounter Riley’s imaginary childhood friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind), who’s part elephant, part cotton-candy, part cat, part dolphin — and all delight.
The brain, science tell us, is one of the most complex things in all of creation, and the movie’s depiction of it is a thing of ingenious splendor, a mix of fantastically cartoonish sight gags and sublime comedic riffs, all of them connected to the emotional rollercoaster ride being experienced by Riley — and, by extension, any of us, at some time or another.
There are some terrific side trips, especially during the credits, into the heads of other characters, where we meet their emotions.
Pixar’s best films, like Toy Story, Up, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, have always worked on double levels, entertaining kids and moving grownups — often to tears. The exceptionally well-made Inside Out is no exception: Kids and adults will both laugh, and plenty.
But the movie’s underlying themes about how Sadness and Joy “work together” in more ways than one, and how some memories — and parts of childhood — fade away forever will resonate on a profound, deeply moving level with adults who can relate in ways that many younger viewers can’t … at least yet.
Settle in early for Lava, a heartwarming, all-musical Pixar short about a Pacific volcano looking for love. Then get ready for another Pixar gem that starts in the head, but ends up settling into somewhere much, much deeper.