From one of the most creative minds working in cinema today, Pete Docter, comes his third feature length film for Disney/Pixar. First, there were the monsters living in our closets in 2001’s Monsters Inc.. Then, in 2009 he brought us the tale of a man, a house, some balloons and a Boy Scout in Up; a film that contains one of the most emotionally impacting first 20 minutes in cinematic history. And now, we come to what is without question his grandest and most abstract concept yet: a venture into the little voices that live in our minds in Inside Out.
The animated film stars Amy Phoeler (Parks and Recreation) as “Joy”, named so for she provides the joy in all of us. Or, in this case, the joy of 11 year old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). She’s accompanied by four other emotions. Sadness, Phyllis Smith (The Office), becomes the most prominent of the group and was perfectly cast – though no one knows particularly what she does. Comedian Lewis Black brings us some of the best moments of the film (no surprise there) as Anger (“he looks like a bear!”), while Mindy Kaling (The Office) and Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live) round out the edges as Disgust and Fear, respectively.
The film takes us into the mind of 11 year old Riley who is not only at the point in her life where her emotions start to change, but finds herself uprooted from her Midwest life – full of ice hockey and great friends – to the city of San Francisco. Meanwhile, unable to keep their own emotions in check, Joy and Sadness get accidentally removed from the control centre, where Sadness seems to be overtaking everything.
The crux of the film sees Joy and Sadness trying to make their way back to their control centre to help bring Riley’s emotions back to normality, as their world collapses around them. The more you read into everything that’s happening, the more genius it all becomes. Along the way, they come across the memories and thoughts that have made Riley who she is, in particular her imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind), who walks her walls of memories like a ghost in the night.
As the three of them work to return to the core of Riley’s mind, some of the difficulties of the concept do come to fold: there’s only so many places an emotion can go. The entry to the plains of abstract thought and the arrival of her imaginary boyfriends is clever, as are the moments in the cloud world and that song that gets stuck in their heads, but for a while the film exists in a “how do we prevent the characters from reaching their goal” cycle, which does get repetitive. All the same, it remains entertaining, with great performances from the cast, buoyed by a solid script, a typically great score and the film’s incredible design. I don’t think they’ve ever created more original characters – and the animation itself is arguably the best the studio have ever achieved.
But really this film strives in its complexity and originality. This was such an “outside-the-box” concept that would have fallen apart in the hands of another studio. And after their run of less than inspiring sequels, it’s great to see them back doing what they do best.
Inside Out is film about coming to terms with growing up, the importance of all your emotions and it’s a sentimental take on how your memories make you the person you are; some defining you more than others. Their articulation of this through the design of the characters and the world they live is a wonder to witness. And it gets pretty moving by the end – in a way that only Pixar animations seem to be able to achieve (Toy Story 3 anyone?).
In spite of a few minor flaws, it’s hard to argue that Pixar have achieved anything less than a wholly original, enjoyable film here. It’s not their best film, and I feel that even for Docter, Up reigns supreme, but it’s everything that you can want from a Pixar film and more. It’s clever, it’s full of jokes that all ages will appreciate (Black’s aforementioned comment about bears in San Francisco is one that sits with me), and it’s one of the most original ideas you’ve ever seen achieved on the screen. It’s safe to say you’ll never look at your brain the same way again.
Oh and don’t rush out of the cinema – some of the funniest scenes of the film happen during the credits. And just wait until you enter the mind of the pre-teen boy.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Inside Out is released in cinemas on Thursday, June 18th in 2D and 3D.