There are no talking cars or lovable monsters in Inside Out. Instead, it’s the story of a very normal 12 year-old girl named Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias). Or rather, it’s the story of what goes on in her head. For most of the movie, Riley deals with experiences to which we can all relate: she moves to a new city, she struggles to relate to her well-meaning parents (voiced by Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane), and she tries to fit in at a new school. Inside Out is a film about the small moments of life and how they all add up to create a bigger picture.
What sets Inside Out apart is the way that it tells its deceptively simple story. Inside Out takes place almost entirely inside of Riley’s brain. And it turns out that her mind is gigantic wonderland, one that is so big and complex that not even the characters who live there quite understand how it all works. Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a pink half-elephant, half-cat, half-dolphin creature, spends his time wandering through the halls of memory and mournfully thinking back to when he was Riley’s imaginary friend. Whenever Riley goes to sleep, the actors and directors at Dream Productions film a different nightly movie. Meanwhile, Imagination Land is a fun place to visit but not a good place in which to live and past childhood traumass — like a gigantic stalk of broccoli and a terrifying birthday clown — are locked away deep in Riley’s subconscious, where they are guarded by officious policemen. Zigzagging through this mental landscape is the literal Train of Thought.
And then, above it all, there’s Headquarters. This is where five different emotions take turns “steering” Riley through life. Fear (Bill Hader) is always nervous but, at the same time, keeps Riley safe. Disgust (Mindy Kaling) prevents Riley from eating broccoli and hanging out with the wrong crowd. Sadness, meanwhile, hasn’t had much to do over the past 12 years and, as a result, she spends most of her time standing in a corner and feeling … well, sad. Sadness is voiced by Phyllis Smith, best known for playing Meredith on The Office. Smith proves herself here to be a strong and empathetic voice artist.
Their unquestioned leader is Joy (Amy Poehler). As befits her name and job, Joy is always positive, always upbeat, and always optimistic. For 12 years, Joy has been in charge of steering Riley’s life but that all changes when Riley and her family move to San Francisco. Suddenly, Joy finds it more difficult to keep Riley permanently happy. Memories that were formerly color-coded yellow for happy start to turn blue.
When both Joy and Sadness are accidentally expelled from the Headquarters, it’s up to the three remaining emotions to try to keep Riley well-balanced until they can return. However, the journey back up to the Headquarters is a long and dangerous one, full of some of the most imaginative (and metaphorical) imagery in Pixar’s history. Joy and Sadness will have to work together to make it.
And really, that’s what makes Inside Out so special. It’s the rare family film that acknowledges that allowing ourselves to feel sad is often as important as being happy.
Inside Out is a brilliant coming-of-age story and one of the best films of the year. It’s a film that will make you laugh and cry and will remind you of why you fell in love with Pixar in the first place. Kids will love the humor and adults … well, adults will probably be trying to hold back the tears.
What a great film!
Thank you, Pixar.