by Pete Docter (wr/dir)
Review by Drew Bittner
Date: 01 July 2015
Links: IMDB Entry / Show Official Info /
Told from the perspective of the five emotions who help steer Riley through life, Inside Out is Pixar's latest and perhaps one of its best. Starting at birth, when baby Riley cooed at her parents, star-shaped and blue-haired Joy (Poehler) was always with her. Moments later, though, Riley cried for the first time, and Sadness (Smith) appeared.
Anger (Black), Fear (Hader) and Disgust (Kaling) all showed up in turn, each of them determined to help Riley as best they could. They take turns running her emotion-controlling console, depending on what Riley needs, and as Riley makes memories (each color-coded to its emotional context), they're sent from Headquarters to the vast and sprawling Memory Center.
All is well, until Riley's dad (Kyle MacLachlan) moves their family from Minnesota to San Francisco. Joy tries to encourage them--the new house will be wonderful, she'll make lots of new friends--but the house is old and run-down, her room has a dead mouse in it, and school is strange and scary. Joy does her best to keep everyone engaged, but slowly they are checking out. The breaking point comes when Sadness cannot resist the urge to touch one of Riley's core memories--the most important ones, that make Riley who she is--and she infects a happy memory with the blue of sadness.
This sets in motion a chain of events that gets Joy and Sadness shunted from Headquarters to the Memory Center and the five "islands" that comprise Riley's personality. As Riley succumbs to disappointment and resentment, despite her mother (Diane Lane) struggling to keep up her spirits, these islands are undermined; this complicates Joy and Sadness trying to return to Headquarters, even as Anger, Fear and Disgust try to compensate for the missing emotions.
Joy and Sadness come upon Bing Bong (Kind), Riley's imaginary friend, who's now wandering the back halls of memory and trying not to be sent to the Memory Dump by the Forgetters. He knows the way to get them back--taking them through Imagination Land and Dream Productions (where her dreams are made)--but the implosion of Riley's self makes this journey not only difficult but dangerous (even without attracting nightmares).
And yet, it has to be made. A bad decision has put Riley in danger, and if Joy and Sadness cannot get home--and come to an understanding--then everything could be lost.
Director and co-writer Pete Docter, whose work includes Toy Story, WALL-E, Monsters, Inc., and Up, hits a home run with this tale of growing up, with all the pain and confusion and sadness that that can bring. As much for grown-ups as children, it comes loaded with the resonant emotions (no pun intended) that is a Pixar hallmark. There are at least four times in the movie that adults will be tearing up, even if the kids don't. It's about the importance of ALL the emotions, how they work together (easily or not) and how they're all necessary for anyone to learn and grow.
Poehler's Joy is the one to which kids gravitate, because she's happy and upbeat (even when that's not a great idea). Poehler does an amazing job as Joy herself grows up, discovering that even if she's a very important part of Riley, there are others who are just as important.
Smith, a veteran of The Office, is the breakout in the movie. Quiet and subdued, her voice often a whisper, she imbues Sadness with the strength and conviction she needs to help Riley when it really matters. Growing up is hard and it's okay to be sad--which is one of the key messages of the movie. Smith does a wonderful job of making Sadness, the least likely character, into a hero.
Kind is also a breakout as Bing Bong, the imaginary friend who's been left behind with the unfulfilled daydreams Riley had years past. He's happy and chipper, yet beneath is anguish and fear that his best friend went away and won't come back. A cotton candy elephant with a silly hat, he may be one of the most poignant creations to come from Pixar.
Black, Hader, and Kaling all deliver great performances as Anger, Fear, and Disgust. Not one of them is a villain, not one has a hidden agenda--they all want what's best for Riley but might not be able to make the best choices for her. It's refreshing to see a movie where there's no "enemy" to fight except the one we all battle: growing up.
Paired with a delightful short, "Lava", about a lovelorn volcano, Inside Out is a wonderful, thoughtful and emotional (again, no pun intended) film for the whole family.