With 2015 half over, I thought I’d review my favorite film of the year so far, “Inside Out.” It’s in wide release and making a killing, so if you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it, there’s still a chance.
Oh, how I love Pixar! From 1995 to 2010, the studio produced an almost unimpeachable run of animated features. In the intervening years, their output has been a little rocky with sequels and prequels such as “Cars 2” and “Monsters University,” but “Inside Out” is an absolute return to form.
First thing’s first, it’s got a fantastic premise. We follow young Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) and the emotions that govern her life: Joy (Amy Poehler, who should probably be in every Pixar film), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader). Lead by Joy, these anthropomorphized figures reside in Riley’s head and work together to balance her emotional existence.
The film chronicles an important time in Riley’s life, as she struggles with her family’s move from Minnesota to California. It’s not an altogether original story idea, but that’s hardly a liability for the film. The internal workings of her mind, as rendered by director and co-screenwriter Pete Docter, are bursting with creativity. There are core memories, the Train of Thought, islands that represent the tenants of Riley’s personality, Dream Productions, and one of my favorites…Abstract Thought. After being separated from Headquarters, Joy and Sadness travel though the latter, where they’re reduced to flat geometric shapes and finally simple lines.
Though the humor is on point throughout — including a hilarious end credit sequence that delves into inner emotional workings of some other characters — “Inside Out” sees Pixar return to its darker storytelling impulses. Not since the harrowing third act of “Toy Story 3” have I felt as emotionally invested in the fate of our characters. As Joy and Sadness travel through the recesses of Riley’s mind, they watch her personality islands crumble and fall. Joy’s plight, just wanting to see Riley happy, is genuinely heartrending. So too is the end of the film.
Lately, it seems the studio has kept its stakes low and manageable, but “Inside Out” sees Pixar pushing them to their brink. And it’s a welcome relief. Too often, animated and family films are content to play it safe. Pixar ventured out of the sandbox, and the trip was worth the risk – they reminded characters and audiences alike what it means to grow up.
Have you seen “Inside Out?” Comment below!