Inside Out

Review by Sophie Monks Kaufman @sopharsogood

Directed by

Pete Docter Ronaldo Del Carmen

Starring

Amy Poehler Bill Hader Phyllis Smith

Anticipation.

It’s Pixar, so obviously looking forward to all the fun-time larks.

Enjoyment.

Blimey. Fun-time larks, and a serious exploration of psychology.

In Retrospect.

So clever, so witty, so true. This one instantly drops into the Pixar top tier.

Pixar are firing on all pistons with this wonderful, colour-coded exploration of a child’s inner psyche.

Have you ever wondered what scenes might unfold if your brain functions were anthropomorphised? What if instead of biological synapses controlling your state of mind, emotions – voiced by popular US actors – were constantly negotiating with each for dominance over your feelings? Which of your emotions would be the most vocal? What philosophical reasoning would it use to justify taking control? Which one would wear glasses?

In Pixar’s growing pains drama, an 11-year-old girl’s mind is animated with the same visual floridity as seen in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The innovation of chatty, colour-coded emotions may sound like a child-courting flight of fancy, but the sophistication and thought that has gone into mapping out and evoking the mind speaks to any adult with an interest in psychology. Inside Out has the power to provide an alternative to the academic lexicon for talking about internal processes.

The 11-year-old is called Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and a task-force of administrators populate her headspace, each trying to protect their host in different ways. Key emotions that dwell in headquarters, frowning over a control panel. Whichever one is in the driving seat at any given moment colours Riley’s experience and also, crucially, her memories. Memory islands surround HQ – each one defined by one of Riley’s key interests (Hockey Island, Family Island). There is the subconscious where troublemakers are sent, the longterm memory department where jaded bureaucrats hoover up old phone numbers and a train of thought, which is prone to suddenly stopping. Interconnected internal structures are neatly labelled and metaphysically mocked (“These facts and opinions look so similar!”).

The sharp wit of the writing and detailed imagery of the world-building combine in a way that provides endless surface delights and chuckles. Yet Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen’s film goes deeper and further, travelling in a focused arc from the brain’s well-lit centre to its darkest reaches. Inside Out is about growing up and letting go of the simple joys of childhood. Memories in this film are, of course, palpable objects, taking the form of iridescent crystal ball-like orbs filled with images of Riley, her family and friends. They are colour-coded according to the overriding emotion they contain. Joy (Amy Poehler) is forever ticking off Sadness (Phyllis Smith) for touching yellow happy memories and turning them blue and sad. The emotional bickering is hilarious but the weight of a memory changing colour is immediately felt by Riley.

Like a constantly dipping and corkscewing rollercoaster, the narrative inhabits the world that Riley and her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) move through as easily as the world within. At times it seems like she is at the mercy of her emotions and at others it’s vice versa (to namecheck the film’s working title). Her story unfolds at a time of transition. The family have exchanged Minnesota, the site of Riley’s happy childhood, for San Francisco where her increasingly distracted father has been relocated for work.

When the film begins, before the move, Joy is head of the control panel and her yellow is all over the marble run-like memory bank. Sadness, Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) co-habit Headquarters with Joy who – in a desperate attempt to reverse the havoc that Sadness has begun wreaking on memories – goes on a mission through the mind to save happy memories from destruction. The irony is that in doing so she leaves the other emotions to navigate Riley in her new life in her new town.

Part fantastical quest, part emotional exploration and part sensory overload of animated brilliance, Inside Out’s only weakness is that it deals in archetypes. Riley is less a person and more an aggregation of childhood norms. To wit, Riley’s biggest fears are clowns and broccoli. Her imaginary boyfriend is floppy-haired teen heartthrob.

But this quibble barely has time to register because the marvellous existential factory is in the process of being demolished and rebuilt – isn’t it always? The poignant sight of memory islands crumbling leaves Riley in a state of flux. There is no sentimental cushioning to this animated evocation of what it means to roll with the times. Inside Out is equally firm when it comes to providing a complex ending that gives hope but only within this newly expanded interior context.

It’s also worth mentioning that during a brilliant coda, the film goes inside the mind of a cat, providing the best interpretation of the feline psyche that this writer has ever seen.

Published 24 Jul 2015

Anticipation.

It’s Pixar, so obviously looking forward to all the fun-time larks.

Enjoyment.

Blimey. Fun-time larks, and a serious exploration of psychology.

In Retrospect.

So clever, so witty, so true. This one instantly drops into the Pixar top tier.

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