Inside Out has both the strength of its convictions and a life-affirming intelligence, elegantly veiled by a hugely funny and emotionally engaging story. It’s not a brilliant children’s film, it’s simply a brilliant film, wondrous and imaginative, filled with love and detail, treating its children and grownup audiences as smart, emotional creatures who want to be stimulated and surprised.
Surprisingly, this is only Pixar’s second original, non-sequel since 2009’s Up, which incidentally shares writer and director Pete Docter. Here, he takes an incredibly difficult concept and makes it look seamless . Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) is a hockey loving 11 year old, uprooted from her Minnesotan comfort and moved to San Francisco. Inside her mind we see five grappling manifestations of her emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kalling). The emotions exist in the Headquarters, where memories and actions are stored and accessed via a control panel. Outside the Headquarters are Riley’s islands, each reflecting a different aspect of her personality. A world of emotions, memories, dreams, personality, imagination and subconscious are brought to life elegantly, interacting like a game of chess, every move having a consequence on each facet and wonderfully represented.
The machinations of the mind are beautifully embodied and personified. Hours of storyboarding and discussion must have gone into inventing this world, but the illusion is so well designed that the effort that has gone into it is rarely apparent, like a great magic trick. It’s secondary to the wonderful characters and humour. It’s so complex but looks incredibly simple, allowing children and adults to understand and empathise with this world, mesmorised by its creativity and insight, plunging through the mind of Riley and wondering about the state of the mind of their own. Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack is emotionally strong, striking beauty through its innocence and simplicity. Just as impressive is the strength of its humour. Chuckling rarely ceases. Playing off her naturally infectious and upbeat persona established in Parks & Recreation, Amy Poehler is terrific casting as Joy, the film’s lead. Jokes land on the same level for adults and children, a trick only Pixar have truly mastered.
Inside Out resonates emotionally like all of Pixar’s finest work. It tackles similar ideas regarding growing up as Toy Story 3 and when you know how interconnected the Pixar world likes to be, it almost plays alongside it, adding to its poignancy even further. Unpatronising and fully committed to its intricate concept, this film could easily have been a a half-hearted mess, or worse still too clever for its own good. Instead it is emotionally universal, innovative and compelling. It makes children and adults alike run wild with imagination, encouraging curiosity, fitting gracefully alongside Pixar’s many greats.
Inside Out is out on 24th July in the UK and out now in the US. Rating U (UK). Running time 102 mins.
Review by David Rank