Inside Out (2015)

Posted by on Dec 22, 2011 in Out of This World | 0 comments

Disclaimer: There’s a nightmare involving a giant clown and a puppy that’s cut in half, but it’s not as bad as it sounds.

A baby girl comes into the world. She opens her eyes. There’s a vague image of loving parents—smiling, welcoming her. She smiles, too. It’s simple. It’s beautiful. It’s joyous. Inside her head, in her emotional command center, it’s just as simple. Joy is the lone emotion to press the lone button, or emotional trigger. Then, outside, something happens: The baby cries. Inside something happens, too: Sadness is born and is on the button. As Riley ages, more emotions are born and the controls become infinitely more complicated and instruction manuals more lengthy.

It’s a great idea and rife with comedic potential, and Pixar is far from the first to think of it, let alone film it. But the way they wring out an emotional story from a comedic premise is the amazing part—and the thing that has set them apart since Toy Story 2, which took the premise that toys have lives of their own and upped the ante to toys having souls of their own. Up did it before the credits were over, and WALL-E did it without dialogue. The point is: They’re damn good at it.

Riley’s emotions are Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill hader), Disgust (Mindy Kahling), and Anger (Lewis Black). Together, they form memories during Riley’s daily life that take the form of glowing orbs. Said orbs are neatly arranged, starting with a small locked shelf of core memories shaped by big events and ending with ones fade away with time on the bottom of a long-term storage warehouse. Collections of these memories inform portions of Riley’s personality in the form of islands: family, hockey, friendship, honesty, and tragic vampire romance.

The movie focuses on Riley at 11 years old, as her family moves and her life is drastically altered. Joy tries to run the show and retrieve happy memories to cheer Riley up during the transition, but that represses emotions like Sadness and, before long, they come back with a vengeance. Sadness is compelled to touch happy memories, thereby transforming them. Joy can’t have this, so she disturbs the natural order of things, leading both Sadness and Joy to be lost in long-term storage. This, in turn, leaves Riley feeling lost and disconnected.

The gimmick of the world is fun and constantly developing, with explanations why something like piano lessons and presidents fade, but a gum jingle doesn’t; how facts and opinions get mixed together; where dreams come from; what happens when an emotion tries to play a part other than its own; and how the deepest fears of the subconscious manifest themselves.

It all feels like the product of a really fun brainstorming session in a writer’s room, which is fun to watch, but isn’t necessarily substantive. Riley’s imaginary friend character, Bing Bong (Richard Kind), is a prime example of what Pixar does best. Bing Bong is likewise lost and wandering the annals of Riley’s memories when Joy and Sadness find him. It turns out he’s been clinging to the hope of reconnecting with Riley and that she’ll remember him after all these years. It’s a character Pixar knows well (see Toy Story), but takes to a wholly unexpected level in Inside Out. At first he’s the comedy relief, falling and saying dumb things, and then he becomes the tragic figure at Riley’s emotional center.

If you look at this film outside Riley’s head, it plays like a melodramatic episode of The Wonder Years. The journey, the lesson, the emotions, the laughs—everything is still there, but it’s far less entertaining and a lot less genuine.

Take the scene around the dinner table after Riley’s first day at a new school, for example. In real life, it’s a resentful girl taking it out on her parents for making her life worse. But inside, we get to see mother’s in-tune emotions cooperating to soothe a distressed daughter in spite of an ignorant father. The presentation of male emotional command centers throughout is unfortunately stereotypical—dad’s emotions sit around, watching the game and not paying attention, while Anger is at the button ordering others around—but it’s an effective way to get a laugh. (In another instance, a teen boy’s emotions run rampant and screaming as they encounter a girl.)

The point is: They lead you to connect the emotional dots without forcing you there. In the end, Joy comes to accept and celebrate the role that Sadness plays in bringing everyone together. In the end, Sadness is the hero, not Joy—or, actually, it’s a perfect blend of the two. And what better way to sum up Pixar when it’s at its best?

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