Back in the 90’s, I was a frequent visitor of Disney World’s Epcot. Inside the park’s Future World was an area themed to the human body, that housed a show called Cranium Command. The attraction allowed you to go inside the mind, and help a younger solider control the emotions of a teenage boy. And though it is gone from Epcot’s current roster, the ideas it provided always made me wish it were a movie. Well, thanks to Pixar, we are given the closest thing I will ever get to seeing Cranium Command on the big screen. Let me introduce you to Inside Out.
The movie takes place inside the mind of an 11 year old girl named Riley, who is brought to life through her emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Together, each of these characters performs their tasks in perfect sync, that is until Sadness wants to help more than ever. This eventually leads to conflicting issues within Riley’s personality, as she is trying to cope with moving from her hometown to San Francisco, meeting new kids at school, and her relationship with her parents.
For the past 3 years, many have doubted that Pixar was able to make the movies they once did, with questionable projects such as Cars 2 and Brave. But Inside Out, I can say with complete honesty, is among Pixar’s best, and stands shoulder to shoulder with the studio’s recent classics like Toy Story 3 and Up. It is a return to creative form for the studio, both visually and as storytellers, giving the audience an almost completely new perspective on human emotions, and how wildly beautiful and unique they can be.
The film has the kind of spark and energy that has been missing from the majority of the animation genre for some time, but handles the material with a mature nature that adult audiences can cherish just as much as the kids. That kind of layered viewing experience is all thanks to writer/director Pete Docter, who has always been my favorite of the Pixar team, and continues to be a genius at his craft. He perfectly balances the silly moments with the true heart-wrenching sequences beautifully, so that we as the audience can grasp the struggle that Riley and her emotions go through during the course of the film.
Many will argue that these moments continue the tropes that Pixar is known for, and though they wouldn’t be completely wrong, the scenes in question are easily Pixar’s most personal work to date. There is not one person, adult or child, who has not gone or is going through the same exact thing that Riley is. We have all shifted our personalities at some point throughout our life journey, and no film has truly captured that change quite like Inside Out does.
Like all Pixar movies, Inside Out also features some incredible characters. The ones that particularly stand out here are Sadness and Joy, who in essence are the stars of the film. Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith are an unstoppable team, in both their comedic timing and their perfect dramatic chemistry. Their dynamic is so fantastic, that at times I forgot they were animated characters, and thought they were real, true beings that could also be inside my mind. That believability factor isn’t even in just the acting, but the animation itself. All of the characters, when examined in close-ups, seem to be made of this felt fabric-like material, as if they’re stuffed animals of sorts. It’s a really interesting thing to imagine – like Winnie The Pooh, that possibly our minds are “stuffed with fluff,” but at least this said fluff looks as cute as this emotional team does.
With an overall inventive and beautiful take on the human mind, Inside Out proves that Pixar still has it. Though the film features no stereotypical villain, the struggles and conflict instead reside in a unique structure that is all Pixar’s own, and brings about some of the purest depictions of human life yet seen on film. Move over Boyhood, this is the cinematic poem to the human condition the world has been waiting for, and though it might appear as a colorful and cartoonish journey, it is more real than anything else that has been in the cinema before or since.