Inside Out (2015)

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Directed by Pete Docter
Written by Josh Cooley, Pete Docter, and Meg LeFauve

Rated PG

Amy Poehler as Joy
Phyllis Smith as Sadness
Bill Hader as Fear
Lewis Black as Anger
Mindy Kaling as Disgust
Kaitlyn Dias as Riley Anderson
Richard Kind as Bing Bong
Diane Lane as Riley’s mother
Kyle MacLachlan as Riley’s father

Pixar has done it again with a soaring, original, and poignant odyssey of the mind. Of course, the film is part comedy, part drama, and the ambitious storyline involves the interactive emotions within the mind of a little girl named Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Davis). This 15th feature from the Disney/Pixar studio is a glorious return to form, and it’s the best offering from the studio since 2009’s Up. I will go out on a confident limb and note Inside Out is certainly one of the best films of the year, and it could be 2015’s Best Animated Feature. (Indeed, it’s a wonderful time to be an animated film, especially with the releases of Minions and The Peanuts Movie still upon us.)

But Inside Out is a tried and true masterpiece, a film that will be beloved for generations to come. The story could have been simple; instead it is a multi-faceted wonder. The setup: Riley is a sweet and sometimes precious 11-year-old girl, and she’s none too pleased when her parents uproot the family and relocate from Minnesota to San Francisco. The culture shock is traumatic enough, but Inside Out provides an eloquent and fantastical ode to the wonders of the Midwest. Most people are aware of the many charms of San Francisco, with winding and hilly streets, but what a sweet reminder of how not to take for granted the idea of having an ice skating pond in your own backyard.

Up until this point, the emotion-driven headquarters of Riley’s mind has been smooth sailing. Joy (Amy Poehler, as infectious and endearing as ever) is self-appointed spokesperson, and she truly wants her charge to be happy indefinitely. The nerve-wracked Fear (Bill Hader, SNL), quick-tempered Anger (comedian Lewis Black), and no-nonsense Disgust (Mindy Kaling, The Mindy Project) comprise the remaining emotions, and it’s a hoot to see them interact. The actors bounce off each other marvelously, but this show is between Poehler and scene-stealing Phyllis Smith, at turns hilarious and heartbreaking as Sadness. Director Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up) taps into the universal chord that touched all ages in his Oscar-winning classic Up. This is especially evident as we see the emotions react to each other with bemusement but never disrespect. They make us aware of the importance of maintaining Riley’s long-term memories. These memories are stored in softball-sized orbs, and they all make up five islands that represent Riley’s personality: Family, Friendship, Honesty, Hockey, and Goofball.

The team soon has their work cut out for them when Riley’s first day of school results in a reaction prompted by an emotional malfunction. Joy and Sadness scurry to help restore Riley to a happy state, but they are separated from the other emotions. The remaining emotions scramble to make Riley happy, but the situation goes haywire. Joy and Sadness attempt to resume their positions at headquarters, and they are soon traveling with Riley’s early childhood Imaginary Friend, “Bing Bong” (a wonderful Richard Kind). The journey on Riley’s Train of Thought (literally) is followed by even more adventure (the “subconscious”) takes place when the journey is derailed, and the emotions learn the individual value of disparate and distinct emotions.

A full-blown critical essay will someday do more justice to this enthralling animated feature, but I feel I have said enough the plot’s awe-inspiring content. Inside Out will have you laughing out loud and wiping away tears, grateful and humbled by this ambitious and unforgettable family film that’s as much a coming of age tale as it is sheer summer movie brilliance.

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