The start of the school summer holidays means two things for me, one, that my usually serene and stress free day time cinema trips become an exercise in small child avoidance, and two, that there will no doubt be a major release, most likely animated, that I will force me to brave the chatter filled, sweet bag rustling crowd all for the love of cinema. This summer’s main contender came in the form of Inside Out, Pixar’s latest offering that secured the price of my admission ticket from its very first teaser trailer. Promising to be the studio’s most sensitive and introspective picture since Wall-E, I was both anxious and excited to see how the filmmakers would deal with a set of themes that, on the surface, might not immediately lend themselves to children’s cinema.
Inside Out tells the story of young girl Riley Andersen (Kaitlyn Dias), a school kid whose life is upheaved when her family moves from quaint Minnesota to comparatively bustling San Francisco. What makes the film different, however, is that we experience most of this journey from inside her head, in the company of her five core emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Anger (Lewis Black). Due to a freak accident at ‘head quarters’ which leaves both Joy and Sadness unable to impact on Riley’s actions, both the audience and her parents begin to see a change in her character, turning from a once happy young girl in to a lifeless, brooding youngster who with only Anger, Fear and Disgust to guide her, hatches a plan to abandon her family and run away back to her hometown. The bulk of the narrative centres around Joy and Sadness’s journey to get back to ‘head quarters’ to rectify the situation, travelling through long term memory and engaging with several different characters along the way including Riley’s long forgotten childhood imaginary friend voiced by Richard Kind. The first thing to say about the Inside Out is that it is, overall, a work of children’s cinematic genius. The visualisation of Riley’s brain, with so many different factors accounted for like the simple way memories are stored to the process of dreaming, is an absolute joy to behold. It is so satisfying to see how the slightest action from any of the five main emotions influences Riley’s character in the outside world, and the filmmakers have succeeded in showing the audience an entirely new kind of coming of age story, literally, as the title suggests, from the inside out. However, the second thing to say is that the scope and ambition of the film is so large that, to me at least, portions of the middle narrative become a little too messy and intricate for their own good. There is an extended passage of Joy and Sadness’s journey back to ‘head quarters’ that feels distinctly less clever and innovative than that rest of the picture, relying on the old buddy movie type tropes that we have seen a million times before and that feel outdated amidst the refreshingly clever details of the rest of the plot. Despite this slight blip and change in level of genius, the ultimate message of the film is one that is unexpected but absolutely vital to get across children in an accessible way, the simple fact that it is okay to be sad sometimes, and that through sadness comes a new, cathartic happiness and containment that allows a person to grow and mature in a natural way.
With regards to the voice casting, stellar performances are given by all the actors involved. Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith are given more time to shine as Joy and Sadness, but Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader and Lewis Black all breath life in to their respective emotions and together form a basic group of distinguishing features that younger audience members can associate different feelings to, and older audience members can enjoy from a more experienced mature level. Pixar’s magic formula is to please young and old equally, and Inside Out certainly contains humour and messages for all, in fact one might go so far as to say that the entire picture in general will probably play more meaningfully to the older generation of nostalgia seeking cinema goers who have grown up with the works of Pixar and whose maturity level has grown as the studio has grown, we have certainly moved on from the likes of Cars or The Incredibles. I did consider for a few moments whether the youngest viewers were actually aware that much of the action was actually taking place inside the mind of the main character, but hey, I’m a selfish cinephile, and for me it worked just great.
Overall, Inside Out is undoubtedly another massive home run for Pixar. It is both a critical and box office success and is a perfect example of a film living up to its extraordinary hype. The filmmakers have taken a potentially impossible premise and visualised it in a way that is both aesthetically pleasing and mechanically credible, there is little ‘because we said so’ involved here, the intricacies of Riley’s mind have been painstakingly considered and the on screen results are a joy to behold. A fantastic return to innovative form after the mediocre reaction that was given to 2013’s Monsters University. Also, a quick shout out to the pre-film short Lava, a musically driven sweet treat that will be giving you the feels even before you are presented with five of them, quite literally, in your face.