Disney/Pixar’s “Inside Out” is director Pete Docter’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning “Up”, which featured the most emotional opening scene in Pixar history. “Inside Out” is all about our emotions, and while I laughed at times, this film also desperately wants you to cry, but falls short in achieving that reaction. It’s good, but far from Pixar’s best effort.
Amy Poehler leads the voice cast as Joy. She’s the main emotion inside the head of young Riley. Joy and the four other emotions: Anger (the perfectly cast comedian Lewis Black), Fear (“SNL”‘s Bill Hader), Disgust and Sadness (voiced by Mindy Kaling and Phyllis Smith from “The Office”), have been with Riley since her birth and control her every action from the control center in her mind. And things can get pretty hectic in there when they all want to make Riley feel a certain way at the same time. Docter has called these five emotions Pixar’s version of the Seven Dwarfs.
Riley is a care-free 11-year-old who loves her family, friends and playing hockey. But now she and her parents (Kyle McLaughlin and Diane Lane) are moving from Minnesota to San Francisco for dad’s work. Riley is cautiously optimistic about the move, even though many of her emotions are not looking forward to it. Joy tries to keep everyone positive. Poehler took inspiration from Tom Hanks’ voice work as Woody, the motivational leader in the “Toy Story” films.
But when Sadness accidentally touches one of the core memories that Riley has stored inside her mind, it sets off a firestorm of uncontrollable emotions on the outside, and pretty soon, Joy and Sadness are literally sucked-out of headquarters and taken to the vast Long Term Memory section of Riley’s mind. The rest of “Inside Out” focuses on Joy and Sadness trying to get back to HQ and straighten things out, while Riley has to deal with the other emotions – Anger, Fear and Disgust – which are turning her life upside down.
Docter and his team came-up with a mind-blowing amount of inventive ideas to incorporate into this imagination-filled adventure. There’s an incredible amount of attention to detail, resulting in some funny one-liners, gags and running jokes, but the scope does get a little overwhelming. “Inside Out” is one of Pixar’s most vibrant and beautiful-looking animated films, even going beyond traditional CG animation in one very clever and memorable scene.
Every Pixar film has that one, heart-tugging scene that everybody remembers, whether it’s Nemo’s mother dying, Anton Ego’s speech in “Ratatouille” or Andy saying goodbye to his toys in “Toy Story 3”. There is one near the end of “Inside Out” involving Joy and a character called Bing Bong (voiced by Richard Kind). This element of the story, and particularly that scene, is the only one that truly worked on me emotionally. Otherwise, the psychological examinations of Riley’s mind and her parallel journey with Joy come-off as in-your-face and (dare I say) “emotionally manipulative”.
While the concept of “Inside Out” is unique, the story itself is fairly straightforward and the core messages, which Pixar is known for, are underwhelming and off-balance. I left the theater entertained but also wondering what it is this film is trying to say about its very tricky subject matter.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Inside Out” gets a B.
The Pixar animated short that precedes “Inside Out” is the romantic musical “Lava”, about singing volcanoes. Disney and Pixar have been on a recent streak of love story shorts that are way too simple and lack any creative or emotional punch. You can add this to that list.
Running Time: 95 min.