INSIDE OUT. It all makes so much sense now, how at times we're steamrolled by anger, buoyed by joy, puddled by sadness, paralyzed by fear and/or caught up in disgust. Never has a movie described the inner workings of our emotional lives with as much clarity, charm and poignancy as Pixar's latest, Inside Out.
One of the unexpected rewards of having children is the pleasure of reading with them, especially when you get to the young adult novel phase, even if they prefer to read curled up in their own space instead of snuggled against you — because if they are reading the books, you can, too. Novels written for adolescents finally, thanks to the Harry Potter series, have earned the respect they've long been refused, so that even people without children know The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars and City of Bones. The thing that books aimed at this age group can do is get dark, get real, speak to the fears that erupt during this era between childhood and adulthood, and yet also offer hope and, sometimes, a happy ending that would be dismissed as maudlin and predictable in something written for the grownup set.
Pixar has excelled at capturing in film that same sweet spot between the giddy, carefree, in-the-moment magnificence of a child at play and the crushing, overwhelming heartache of someone who has suddenly learned that the world can be a terrifying and unsure thing. The movies are aimed, ostensibly, at a younger age group, but thematically, those of us on the other side, we of once-soft hearts now hardened with layer upon layer of scar tissue, we are the ones those Pixar wizards have crafted their movies to pierce. Inside Out is as profound as Toy Story, as sweet as Wall-E and as insightful as The Incredibles. You do not need a child to see this movie. (I do recommend borrowing one if possible — to watch simultaneously through your own jaded eyes and those still veiled by wonderment as the movie jacks up the emotion meter to nearly unbearable levels, which is something all people need on occasion to remind us of our humanity.)
On to the plot! Riley is a content Minnesota girl, loves hockey and her parents. We go inside her mind — "Headquarters" — where five emotions work to keep Riley happy. Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler, Leslie Knope-style) runs the show, with help from Disgust (Mindy Kaling, wonderfully), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). Joy's purpose is clear, and Fear, Anger and Disgust all serve to keep Riley safe in different ways. Sadness, however, not only lacks a defined role, but gets in the way and messes up Joy's efforts to keep Riley cheerful, frustrating the other emotions. At one point, Joy, attempting to protect Riley from Sadness' inadvertent effects, draws a circle on the ground and instructs Sadness to stay inside it. Anyone who's been told to keep a happy face on or to "turn that frown upside down," will understand the bigger theme here. And as the movie unfolds, with Riley suddenly uprooted to San Francisco as her father pursues a new career, the usefulness of Sadness gradually shimmers into understanding.
But don't worry, plenty of comic relief spins in and out of the story along the way and the design of Riley's inner being is brilliantly illustrated. As memories are created, the most important ones are stored in Headquarters, where they provide power for the five "islands" representing different aspects of Riley's personality. There's Goofball Island, Family Island, Friendship Island, Hockey Island and Honesty Island. (Quick — what are your islands?) Faded memories are cleared out by "mind workers" and tossed into the "memory dump," a black abyss from which nothing returns. Through a series of events, Joy and Sadness are transported from Headquarters to Riley's long-term memory, and as they wind their way back, we see how some memories stay and some go, how once-beloved memories end up in the dump — it's a behind-the-scenes tour as Riley is wrenched from her childhood bliss to a place where the point of silliness has been lost. (If you've watched your once-sweet child turn into a surly preteen, the collapse of Goofball Island will likely send you descending into tears.) The fact that Anger, Disgust and Fear are the only emotions left to run the show in the meantime means Riley's unhappiness continues to spiral until eventually she becomes numb to feeling entirely. The transformation is so well done that, sure as I was that a happy ending was inevitable — it's a children's movie, after all — I began to worry how the filmmakers were going to pull it off. (For the record, my 5-year-old friend was as enraptured, but far less concerned.) The amount of grist for the mill is as plentiful as the entertainment value and the effects of Inside Out on your own brain are likely to linger in the best and most Joy-ful ways. PG. 94m.
— Jennifer Savage
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— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill