This review is a week and a bit late (since my sister and I went to see it on Canada Day), but last week’s Captain America cake took up the rest of my week, so… better late than never?
As with my reviews of How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as I can manage.
Pixar is known for coming up with wild ideas, running with them, and turning almost all of them into fantastic films. From sentient toys to why monsters scare kids, from a clownfish searching for his son to an old man floating his house by balloons to South America, Pixar has made compelling stories that stretch limits.
Inside Out is no exception.
I do not consider Inside Out to be Pixar’s best film, but it is extremely ambitious and I believe they pulled it off successfully. People have been trying to understand the human mind for ages, but Pixar spells it out for us (as according to their understanding) with personalized emotions (and other characters) and even a geographically-mapped mind. Not to mention that the Pixar-norm of good storytelling does its job in bringing not only emotions, but a growing-up story, to life.
Meet Riley Anderson, an eleven-year-old girl who’s a happy, fun-loving, honest girl whose life revolves around her family, friends, and her enjoyment in playing hockey. But now she’s going through a huge change in her life: she’s moving from Minnesota to San Francisco. Leaving all things familiar, she ventures into this new world with Mom and Dad. There’s a lot to take in and deal with. The joys of adventure and excitement, the occasional anger at Mom and Dad for making the move, the fear of fitting into this new life, the disgust directed at the dead mouse in the room and the broccoli pizza…. With all that going on, who’s got time for sadness?
As the movie’s tagline puts it, “meet the little voices inside your head”.
Joy is Riley’s dominant emotion and it’s Joy’s job to keep the girl happy and build up all sorts of great memories. Sure, the others have their times to intervene. But Sadness isn’t allowed to touch anything, not if Joy can help it. If Riley’s not happy, what’s the point? But while the move is hitting all of the emotions hard – even Joy has to work to find something good about the things they run into -, none seem to be hit as hard as Sadness. She seems to have a sudden urge to want to touch anything and everything. Between that and Joy’s adamancy against that very thing, these two emotions (and Riley’s core memories (aka the main memories that make her who she is)) are sucked into Riley’s long-term memory.
And thus begins the real quest to help Riley.
While Fear, Disgust, and Anger attempt to man the controls at HQ, Joy and Sadness must make their way back. Travelling through the passages of long-term memory, on the train of thought, into the realms of abstract thought, subconsciousness, imagination, dreams, and even the memory dump, the polar-opposite emotions work together and meet other characters of Riley’s mind, ranging from her forgotten imaginary friend Bing-Bong to a scary version of a clown from a past birthday party to an imaginary boyfriend.
For most of the journey, Joy looks out for Sadness, but still is not a fan (after all, why allow Riley to be sad when she could be happy?). But when Riley gets it into her head to run away (thanks to Fear, Anger, and Disgust) and Joy accidentally reveals something (something she’d conveniently forgotten, though Sadness hadn’t), Joy realizes that it’s more essential than ever to get herself and Sadness back to HQ… fast.
Well, between that and the trailer, I think you get the idea that Sadness plays a larger role than Joy originally gives her credit for. And since it’s Pixar, it’s tastefully achieved. I’ll leave the rest of the story there for you to discover.
I think the part of this movie I enjoyed most was the setting of Riley’s mind: its little work force, the geography, the consequences of different locations or actions. I know Pixar consulted with psychologists in order to get as accurate as possible their depiction of the mind and I think all that hard work produced a seemingly effortless world that simply makes sense. How do songs get stuck in your head? What might your dreams be composed of? What does it mean when you forget something for good? I might be wary about the topic of psychology, but I did enjoy the fact that I’m still thinking about how the movie portrayed things even after a week and a half of having seen it.
The story, I think, flows nicely within and without Riley’s mind, transitioning from her world to that of the emotions seamlessly and in ways that made a lot of sense.
Speaking of the emotions, these five characters are fun and relatable. At first, despite knowing better, I was with Joy in excluding Sadness. By the end (actually, more like the middle), I changed my mind, (Perhaps partly because I found myself connecting with or at least understanding Sadness more than expected?) Anger and Disgust amused me. Of the five, I think Fear is at the bottom of my list, but he was great too. The voice work for all of the characters (Riley, Mom, and Dad included) was fantastic and fit each character well. Speaking of the Andersons, I enjoyed watching their relationship as it unfolded. They’re a good film family and I always like a good film family.
As for the part I liked least, I can definitely say that the abstract thought scene struck me as odd (partly because the characters take on an radically different appearance). Maybe I’ll like it more in the future, but that scene just felt out of place and like a dream that doesn’t make sense.
All in all, Inside Out is an enjoyable story with interesting characters, a good plot, and wonderfully-built setting. I don’t think it’s the type of movie one could watch too many times in a row (an online friend recommended not going to see it a second time and even in watching it for the first time, I understood what she meant by it even though I haven’t pinpointed why that’s the case), but I’ll definitely be happy to watch it again once it comes out on DVD.
Now, just because I’m curious. From what you know of the emotions as depicted in Inside Out, which do you think is the alpha in your mind? (Hypothetically speaking, that is. You don’t have little voices that control your reactions; you’re responsible for controlling your own emotions.) Unfortunately, I’m thinking that Disgust would be running the show in mine….