Inside Out – Review

The personification of stream of consciousness, thought and emotion has often been realised in isolated moments of film and television as well as short form animation, with the good angel, bad angel trope perhaps being the most famous example. Presented with the signature Pixar theme of growing up, Inside Out is a feature length expression of this concept.

In the film, the emotions of an 11 year-old girl called Riley are split into five core characters: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black). These emotions, voiced by an impressive comedic ensemble, occupy the headquarters of Riley’s brain, guiding her actions via a control panel which grows more intricate as she matures. With Joy at the helm, the emotions work to create as many happy memories, represented by golden orbs, for Riley as possible. However, when Riley’s parents decide to move from their native Minnesota to San Francisco, the live of both the girl and her emotions are thrown into turmoil.

As a result, Sadness begins to seep into Riley’s most precious memories, including the core memories which define Riley’s personality. This puts Joy in direct conflict with Sadness, and through a series of mishaps the two are plunged into Riley’s long term memory along with all of her happy core memories. With the key components of Riley’s personality: goofball, hockey, honesty, friendship and family, all missing the core memories which power them, Joy and Sadness must find a way back to headquarters before Riley’s identity is lost forever.

Thus begins a weird and wacky tour through the mind of an 11 year-old girl. From this point onwards Inside Out becomes reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, not least due to the appearance of Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s goofy childhood imaginary friend. Bing Bong guides the mismatched pair of Joy and Sadness through the various sections of Riley’s mind, from long term memory to the imagination to the train of thought. As in any Pixar film, the passage through Riley’s mind is packed with jokes which will appeal to children and adults alike. Particular highlights include abstract thought, where the animators play around with increasingly bizarre visual styles, and dream production, which is essentially a pastiche of a film studio.

As the journey progresses, Joy and Sadness struggle to learn to work together, Phyllis Smith’s melancholy clashing horribly with Amy Poehler’s bubbling energy. Meanwhile Fear, Disgust and Anger attempt to run the control panel without them, with disastrous consequences as Riley’s relationship with her parents becomes strained, and without her core memories or personality traits, she struggles to adapt to her new life. The real strength of Inside Out is the presentation of the process of cause and effect between emotion and action. The relationship between internal and external worlds is realised with aplomb in one particular scene, used as a trailer for the film, in which the camera switches between the minds of Riley, her mother, her father and the conversation they are having over tea. The film ends by bringing these two worlds closer together, with Joy coming to accept that Sadness has an essential role to play in Riley’s relationship with her friends, her family and herself.

Directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen fixate on Pixar’s recurring fascination with growing up and the changes that take place as children approach adolescence. With Inside Out, Pixar have taken the exploration of childhood and growing up to a new peak, and at the same time produced their most entertaining and touching film since Toy Story 3.

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