Inside Out

Inside Out photo starrating-4stars.jpgPixar’s ode to the emotions of a little girl, Inside Out is a sophisticated journey into the physical expression of the psyche. Sounds pretty philosophical for a cartoon, right? However Pixar brilliantly distills the idea into an interpretation that is surprisingly lucid.  It manages to be gracefully enlightened in what it conceptualizes too. OK but just how many emotions are there really? In the 4th century BC Aristotle came up with 14: Anger, Calm, Friendship, Enmity, Fear, Confidence, Shame, Shamelessness, Kindness, Pity, Indignation, Envy, Emulation, and Contempt. Whew! That’s a lot of characters. Experts say it’s your facial muscles that tell the real story. As a result, many scientists have since agreed to reduce the core number all the way down to 4. Well Pixar chose 5: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader) and then granted Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black) their own separate entities.

In the physical world, a girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is born to a loving mother (Diane Lane ) and father (Kyle MacLachlan) in Minnesota. When her dad gets a new job, the family must relocate to San Francisco. Moving is a particularly troublesome experience for the by now 11 year old: new home, new school, new people. On the outside, we see the facial expressions that belie her feelings. On the inside, we see the emotions argue, persuade, pressure and praise in the “Headquarters” of Riley’s mind. Joy is an effervescent pixie with a haircut to match. She is most often in control of Riley’s memories which are housed in glowing color coded orbs. Each one the shade of their overriding emotion. The spheres considered the most relevant are known as “core memories”. These power five “islands” in Riley’s subconscious, each highlighting a different aspect of her personality.

Then one day, Riley’s emotional world falls apart. Everything comes to a head on her first day of school. Sadness is a blue bespeckled awkward girl with bad posture. Sadness inadvertently touches a happy memory and turns it “sad”.  So Joy tries to eliminate the negative recollection.  Complications arise causing Riley’s 5 core memories to get knocked from their container. Joy and Sadness are accidentally sucked through a tube and displaced along with Riley’s essential thoughts into the far reaches of Riley’s mind.  Disgust, Fear, and Anger become the de facto masters at the control of decisions that could ruin her life.

As a saga, Inside Out is The Incredible Journey or it’s Fantastic Voyage. Joy and Sadness must navigate their way across this bizarro world back to the command center. Indeed navigating the subconscious mind is pretty surreal. It’s not unlike the Beatles trying to get to Pepperland in Yellow Submarine. Inside Out isn’t anywhere near as psychedelic, but it still includes the realm of Abstract Thought, an Imagination Land, Dream Productions, and a dizzying labyrinth of Long Term Memory. Denizens include a clown, a unicorn and Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend from early childhood. Voiced by Richard Kind he is a cotton candy colored creature that fuses the trunk of an elephant with the tail of a cat and the squeal of a dolphin. A fun loving fellow wearing a porkpie hat and a purple bow tie, this hybrid creature is one of the more surreal entities on the Pixar roster. Anyone remember Jeremy Hillary Boob? That’s another reference to Yellow Submarine, a character that was also a bit of a nowhere man. Now a forgotten friend, Bing Boing consistently radiates joyful exuberance, although his selfless act later in the narrative has an elegiac quality.

Inside Out is a dazzling manifestation of the emotional mind, both visually and aurally. Last time director Pete Docter and composer Michael Giacchino collaborated, it earned them both Oscars (for Up). It could easily happen again. Pixar has long been the animation studio that combines the weight of poignant drama with dazzling visuals. Inside Out’s greatest gift is the presentation of the psyche as a landscape for which thoughts and memories are accounted and sorted. I realize Pixar didn’t invent this construct. The early 90s Fox sitcom Herman’s Head (It followed Married… with Children on Sunday nights) did a variation on this theme over 2 decades ago. But Pixar gets credit for expounding on the abstraction in a way that makes you question the way you experience your own life. The “Personality Islands” are a nice touch in making concepts tangible. That’s just one example of an idea that could be taught in the field of psychology.

After a series of perfectly adequate films that began in 2011, Inside Out is a welcome return to cinema par excellence for the Pixar studio. First and foremost, the adventure is an affecting story. Anthropomorphic emotions in red, yellow, green, blue and purple hues articulated as individual characters we can embrace. Joy and Sadness are the real stars here. They dominate the narrative with their odyssey back to the central hub. Call it Journey to the Center of the Mind. However Disgust, Fear and Anger all have their their moments too. Every emotion is key to a well adjusted human being. Pixar staddles the line between presenting it all as something a young child can comprehend but allowing just enough depth to captivate the adults in the audience. It’s still pretty straightforward, but there’s beauty in simplifying a complicated subject. Inside Out makes it all seem effortless.


23 Responses to “Inside Out”

  1. Hi Mark,

    When you reviewed the movie, you and most of the critics grade this movie so high based on your adult perspective. But I actually saw a lot of kids gering bored to dead with this movie, they didn’t get anything about it. So… could it be that, any adult review is simply not fair? because this is a kids movie? I enjoyed most of the parts but I really think, some kids won’t even care.


    • I can only review from my own perspective so what you’re getting are my thoughts. I don’t try to guess how others will perceive the film. Anyway I’ve always felt the best animated movies are equally enjoyed by adults and kids alike so not solely a “kids’ movie” in this case. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • smilingldsgirl Says:

      I’ve seen it twice and kids in my theaters loved it.


  2. martin250 Says:

    great review Mark. will be seeing this movie very soon.
    “Up” was a great movie with an imagination that reminded me of the Japanese animated films by Miyazaki.
    am hoping that Inside Out is able to generate a similar experience, per your review, it is about a navigation to a command center, so its kind of like a journey. am looking forward to this movie.


  3. Great review. I’m happy to hear this is Pixar’s return to excellence. I haven’t caught up with their more recent ones like Cars 2 and Brave but Inside Out sounds like something I shouldn’t over look.:D


  4. Loved the film and Pixar are back to the quality we expect from them. Left the screening with a big smile on my face. At the moment this is my favorite movie of the year.


  5. smilingldsgirl Says:

    Love your review! And it is kind of an Incredible Journey within the mind of Riley. I’ve seen it twice now and it is so moving. I cry, cry, cry at that ending. I think in many ways it is very similar to Up but at different ends of the memory spectrum. It kind of reminded me of the play Our Town and the great Japanese film After Life which both deal with memories.

    But there is also tons of great laughs and dazzling visuals. The only part that may be tough for very small children is the clown is pretty scary. There was a little girl in one of my screenings that had to be taken out at that time. I also liked how in Imaginationland everything was changing. Childhood was being taken down and new things were being developed like Riley’s imaginary boyfriend.

    I’m really thrilled it did so well and think it will have strong legs like Frozen or even this years Cinderella.


    • I love your response. I never saw After Life (1998) but now I want to. It’s fun when we see other films within the context of a new film.

      Yes, like Frozen, it should have long legs and play well through the entire summer. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        Oh After Life is such a good movie. I think Roger Ebert had it as one of his masterpiece films. And on the surface you’ll think I’m nuts for comparing the two but there are similarities. I guess a movie about emotions and memory is going to relate to all kinds of movies.

        I know what you mean about relating to a movie when watching another one. It really is a neat experience. Another one I thought of during Inside Out was Boyhood and all the little moments of growth he experiences. So many great movies, so little time 😉


      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        Oh another good one that deals with memories is Defending Your Life, the great Albert Brooks movie.


  6. Heard so many brilliant things about this. We don’t get it until July unfortunately. With Agents of SHIELD and now this, Kyle MacLachlan is really stepping up the fatherly roles these days! Great write-up Mark.



  7. A stellar film. If I were in charge of your ratings, I’d boost this to 4.5 stars. It’s a deep, complex and unforgettable film. Oh, and it’s animated wonderfully. It’s got a good chance of making my favorites by year’s end. Great review man.


  8. I thought this was very good and very creative, however, it didn’t blow me away. It is in my top 5 of all Pixar movies. Minor nitpick: parents had all male or female emotions, but the daughter had men and women. Her friends too. 4 stars.


    • Is that a nitpick? I think maybe that said something about the ways their minds worked.

      Also…I’m confused. It didn’t blow you away, but it’s in your Top 5 of all Pixar movies? That’s high priase in my book!


  9. I agree that Pixar’s distillation of its idea with Inside Out is surprisingly lucid for a high concept that could be complicated and difficult to execute. I also agree that it’s a dazzling manifestation of the emotional mind, visually and aurally. Strangely I’ve never heard of Herman’s Head. Not sure how I missed that show. You’re right that it’s a return to form for Pixar and the narrative is pretty straightfoward, but as you say, there’s a beauty in simplifying a complicated subject. It all seems effortless, which is an impressive feat. Inside Out is definitely high on the list of my favorite films from this year.


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