When Pixar announced “Up” and “Monsters Inc.” director Pete Docter’s “Untitled Pixar Film that Takes You Inside the Mind,” there was little doubt that the animation giant and its brilliant minds had yet another work of genius in development. Flash forward and the revolutionary studio has not disappointed with this endlessly creative, whimsical journey now titled “Inside Out.”
This totally original film couldn’t have come too soon for Pixar fans following the commercial cash-grabs that were “Cars 2” and “Monsters University” and the beautiful yet very traditional fairy tale “Brave” (not to mention no film in 2014). It’s a huge bounce back, and it would not be a stretch to call this Pixar’s most creative film, or even the most creative animated film of the digital era.
The story depicts 11-year-old Riley’s first major life challenge: moving from Minnesota to San Francisco with her mother and father. Yet it imagines her entire personality/brain as its own living world, piloted by her five chief emotions, all personified as characters: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).
Narrated by Joy, we see key moments of Riley’s life growing up that have become her “core memories,” represented as shiny orbs, with each memory triggering a part of Riley’s personality. To this point, Riley’s core memories are all tinted yellow because they have been joyful, and Joy plans to keep it that way. The big move, however, makes this challenging, and after a struggle with Sadness, Joy and Sadness find themselves booted out of Riley’s command center and into her long-term memory.
With only Anger, Fear and Disgust to guide her, Riley becomes unpredictable, and Joy and Sadness must find their way back before the damage becomes irreversible. Along the way, they team up with Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong, who assists (and innocently misguides) their journey through all parts of Riley’s mind including her abstract thought and subconscious.
The praise for “Inside Out” could stop at the fact that it’s a compelling animated film without a main villain. When was the last time you saw one of those? Case in point. The story creates danger and suspense by throwing new obstacles at Joy and Sadness left and right, creating a sense of doubt wondering what might happen to Riley if they can’t make it back to “head”quarters. Docter and co-writer/director Ronaldo Del Carmen use sheer creative force to fuel intrigue in the other moments.
“Inside Out” is awe-inspiring in the way it fully develops this personified version of the mind and carries it through to fruition with such conviction that none of the loose ends in the concept derail it. This is exceptionally elaborate, demolishing even “Wreck-It Ralph” in terms of world-building. From how the mind processes and removes memories to what is going on when you dream, the film is an ever-growing tower of “what if we did this?!” ideas piled one on top of the other and it never topples over.
Pixar’s trademark tear-jerking, heartstring-tugging M.O. is in place here as well, even if not to the same extent as “Toy Story 3” or the flashback sequence in “Up.” The importance of love and support, the challenges of childhood – the connections the film makes to the human experience are so profound and direct despite such an abstract premise and unusual storyline.
Topped with spot-on voice casting and a visual style that distinguishes itself while remaining true to Pixar’s form, “Inside Out” is an instantly lovable film for kids and adults, one that current children will grow to love different at each stage in their lives. Speaking of, the bar is quite high for a puberty-driven sequel.
Directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen
Written by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley (screenplay)
Starring: (voices) Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling