Many people (me included) often look down on kid’s films , and dismiss them as something adults shouldn’t waste their time watching. When I do, I’m talking about your Minions, your Chipmunks, and live-action remakes of Disney classics. However, Pixar have always been the exception, and much as The Lego Movie did last year, Inside Out should be a template for how to make kid’s films in future. In other words, don’t make the film immature – give it some heart, some intelligence and colour, and kids will enjoy it as much as adults.
Pixar’s films have always been more weighted towards adults, and Toy Story, WALL-E and Up are prime examples: not just in their more subtle humour, but in their emotionally-involving stories, grown-up ideas and ability to accommodate both audiences. Inside Out, directed and co-written by Up’s Pete Docter, continues this in style as it tackles psychology, growing up and memory intelligently and with emotion.
Inside 11-year-old Riley’s head, five emotions control her thoughts and actions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). But as Riley’s parents move her away from her home town to San Francisco, the emotions struggle to deal with the changes, and Joy and Sadness end up lost in Riley’s mind, aiming to get back before the other three (while meaning well) cause any more damage.
The more that you think about the ingenuities of Inside Out, the more amazing it is to think that this is a children’s film. We have the embodiment of emotions, but also a visual depiction of the mind – from “islands” corresponding to important aspects of Riley’s memories and mental state, through to the “dream factory”, depicted as a movie studio. Memories are stored away in a “long-term memories” library, while all of this surrounds a huge chasm in which forgotten memories are lost. All of this – as well as musings on abstract thought, the “jail” full of subconscious fears, and an”imagination land” – is so clever that you end up a little stunned at its sophistication.
Poehler, who stars in US TV show Parks and Recreation (of which I am currently a huge fan), channels her busybody, frenetic mania into the relentlessly hopeful Joy, whose ignorance of how other emotions work summarises the end of care-free, happy childhood. Phyllis Smith (of the US Office) brings a slow, trudging tragedy to Sadness, whose incompetence and clumsiness mask her importance and the fact that even a happy memory can hold bittersweet elements. Of the other three emotions, Bill Hader’s Fear is the most obviously kid-friendly (read: annoying); while Disgust doesn’t have much to do, though Mindy Kaling’s teen-girl distaste fits well at times. Finally, Lewis Black (of The Daily Show) gets the part he was born to play (if you’ve ever seen him on that show), with the stout, ruddy Anger trying to force his way into any given situation and take control.
An all-CGI affair as per usual with Pixar, the “human” aspects of the movie are very good, though the people (Riley, her parents and others) still remain distinctly cartoonish. Inside the brain, the vivid landscapes and scale of size do a good job of reflecting how complex our minds are, with Joy and Sadness’ journey back to their “control room” taking up much of the film’s plot. Even this can be seen as a metaphor – many kids can shut down emotionally in a stressful situation, and it’s a perfect fit that Riley’s two most seemingly-opposed emotions are “lost” while the aggressive and reactive ones are left to run the show (appallingly). Speaking of emotions, Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind) is both a fun, kid-friendly addition and a bittersweet reminder of how we grow up and forget our young lives.
The humour is excellently broad, with some childish flourishes more than evened out by some great jokes only older audiences will grasp. One scene, entering Riley’s parent’s brains (voiced by Kyle McLachlan and Diane Lane, while Kaitlyn Dias voices Riley) and showing us their grown-up emotions, is absolutely hilarious in nailing both a family (and couple) dynamic. The inventiveness of the area where dreams are made (as mentioned earlier), is another aspect that had me laughing throughout. With music, one refrain in particular stuck around in my head, with Michael Giacchino (he of Jurassic World, Lost and Star Trek) giving the movie an zany, bouncy 1950s feel.
In summation, I think Inside Out is one of Pixar’s very best films. It’s hilarious and intelligent, and doesn’t really pander to kids at any point with fart jokes or anything ridiculous. Having seen most of what the company has made, I hope they try these sort of out-there ideas in future instead of sequels to Cars, Toy Story and The Incredibles.