Written by Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley and Pete Docter / Directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen / Voices by Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith and Kaitlyn Dias
Sadness: Crying helps me slow down amid the weight of life’s problems.
Seeing INSIDE OUT should easily silence any Pixar naysayer out there. For years, Pixar’s ability to roll out hits was unmatched but there were rumblings that they were losing their edge by relying too heavily on sequels in lieu of the originality that made them the juggernaut they had become. After a two year hiatus, Pixar returns with INSIDE OUT, a film that is perhaps their most original and most ambitious film to date. And for this fan, it is a very welcome return.
Who other than Pixar would dare set a film inside the brain of an 11-year-old girl? More importantly, who other than Pixar could actually pull it off? Where do you even begin to tackle this feat? INSIDE OUT, directed by Pete Docter (UP), opens at the moment of birth and it is clear that something resembling that miracle is about to transpire. Little Riley has just been born and just as she is new to the world, so are her emotions. The first of which, Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), comes into existence before our very eyes out of nothing. It is all so natural and ethereal, you would think Pixar had the inside scoop on what exactly happens the moment we’re born.
Joy is followed by Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black). The general consensus is that Joy should be in charge of driving the ship that is young Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), but on occasion, there is need for one of the others to take the wheel. It all just depends on the situation. Together, they help Riley navigate life and form many memories along the way, including the all important core memories that shape her personality. When Kaitlyn’s parents (Diane Lane and Kyle McLachlan) pick up and move her across the country to San Francisco though, nobody knows what to do.
The one thing they can all agree on is that Sadness should not be in charge. Who wants to be sad anyway? The goal should always be making Riley feel happy. Following the move though, Sadness feels compelled to get involved without understanding why. As she begins to taint some of Riley’s core memories, her personality starts to shift and it is left up to Joy and Sadness to comb the deep corners on Riley’s brain, from her subconscious through her abstract thought process and long forgotten memories, to get Riley through this tumultuous time in her life.
Aside from being a fountain of philosophy and insight into what makes us who we are, INSIDE OUT is also a delightful ride that is both exciting to partake in and beautiful to behold. The emotions themselves are these not quite solid, fluttery entities that capture the tone they’re meant to brilliantly. And they are all voiced perfectly as well with each emotion appropriately cast. The choices may seem uninspired but sometimes the obvious choice is the right choice as well. Smith’s Sadness for instance, is so sad, she’s really a riot. And I can never get enough of Kaling looking down her nose at most things.
The human brain is a bewildering thing and INSIDE OUT delights in its limitless possibilities with creativity and care. And not only is it a fantastic film but it is also an important one too. Sadness is not an emotion that we should run away from but our natural impulse is often to do just that. If we do not allow ourselves to experience the lows though, how can we ever appreciate the highs? As modern parenting trends tend to usher children away from pain and suffering, INSIDE OUT is a poignant reminder that we can never know true joy if we don’t allow ourselves to suffer through our own sadness first. That said, INSIDE OUT itself is a total joy from start to finish.
If you’ve seen INSIDE OUT, then you’ve seen the lovely short film, LAVA, that screens before it. We interview the director, James Ford Murphy, here.