Inside Out (2015)

It’s a difficult business, growing up.

Eleven-year-old Riley is doing very well, thanks.  She has a loving family and enjoys playing ice hockey with her friends.  Her emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust – control how she responds to the world around her, and Joy is very much in control.  But a family move to San Francisco prompts a massive emotional upheaval.  Joy and Sadness need to work together to get things back on track, or Riley may be left unable to feel anything at all …

It’s fair to say there’s no such thing as a bad Pixar movie.  But in the 5 years since Toy Story 3 was released, it’s felt like the team that gave us Up and Wall-E hasn’t quite been at its best.  Thankfully, Inside Out is a wonderful return to form, demonstrating everything we’ve come to love about Pixar.

It may seem obvious, but I think it’s worth noting that the film looks fantastic.  The workings of the mind in particular were brilliantly rendered; colourful and simple to understand, but also hinting at the complexity at work.  Really liked the way things seemed much bigger and less clear from the depths of the long term memory banks.

Things get even more complicated as Riley’s struggle progresses.  You have to break down before you can rebuild, and the process of growth is shown to be a pretty bloody business.  The mind is a beautiful place, but surprisingly fragile.  The connections between headquarters and the rest of the mind are elegant but delicate.  Great glowing, complex towers of personality turn lifeless and grey, before collapsing into a vast bottomless pit, forgotten.

The mind isn’t just home to the emotions- they govern proceedings, but there are other entities that manage Memory and Dream, drive the Train of Thought and police the Subconscious (scary place).  And there’s Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s imaginary friend.  Now abandoned and roaming the halls of memory, looking for snippets of happiness to borrow, he once took Riley for adventures in their song-powered rocket ship.  Distraught at Riley’s difficulties, he helps Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) return to headquarters, eventually sacrificing himself to do so.  His final request: ‘Take her to the moon for me, ok?’

For a film about anthropomorphised emotions, this is a very engaging and relatable story.  Even as we know Riley is making bad choices, we understand why.  And remember doing the same sort of things ourselves.  The voice-work is superb.  Sometimes with an animated movie, I find myself trying to work out who’s doing the voices, but here I just went with it.  Kaitlyn Dias does an especially fine job as Riley, but everyone acquits themselves admirably.

While the film is never too dark, there is nevertheless a genuine melancholy at work.  I honestly thought the film was going to be about depression, but it was more subtle than that.  Growing up is exciting and difficult and wonderful, but it’s also a loss.  The simplicity of childhood is gone forever.  Even the memory of how it felt, that purity of emotion, is something we can no longer comprehend.

When we’re babies it’s all very straightforward.  Yet, we need a more finessed understanding of things if we’re to make our way in the world.  Challenges lead us to a better understanding of the world and its complexities – prompting us to develop an ever more intricate, fully realised personality.  Bing Bong is sweet and kind and selfless, but it’s Sadness who actually has most of the answers.  Moreover, this process isn’t a one off- there are big moments of change, sure, but a healthy mind never stops growing.

Basically, the world is complicated, we are complicated and emotions are complicated.  So, classic Pixar!

An emotional film, then, but there are some brilliant comic moments as well.   Joy mixes up some facts and opinions because they look so similar – ‘Don’t worry, happens all the time!’ Dad talks to Riley and detects ‘high levels of sass’.  We get a lovely glimpse into the mind of cats (very chill) and dogs (very hungry).  And ever wondered why you sometimes get a random tune stuck in your head..?

In short, I don’t have a bad word to say about it.  I suppose younger children may have been a bit out of their depth, and I didn’t like the short before the main feature (too sappy), but that’s about it.

Gorgeous, funny and emotionally satisfying, Inside Out is everything we’ve come to expect from Pixar.  A future classic, it even got me thinking, which is my dominant emotion?  Actually, best not ponder that one too much…

What did you think?  Bit of an emotional work-out, or did it leave you cold? What did you like/dislike the most?  Have I missed anything out? Let me know!