“Inside Out” Movie Review

     Frequent Pixar Animation Studios collaborator, Peter Doctor, co-directs with first time feature director, Ronaldo Del Carmen, the 15th film from the ultra successful animation giant, “Inside Out”.  With very few exceptions, Pixar has set a new standard for the genre each time they release one of their cinematic marvels.  And though “Inside Out” may not ultimately ascend to the beloved heights of their classic films, it certainly is on par with the majority of their offerings, checking in with an original story, colorful characters, and a high end production design that shows off the obvious wealth of imagination the filmmakers possess.  With a talented voice cast that includes Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Kyle MacLachlan, and Diane Lane, as well as the story by Doctor (whose previous writing credits include “Toy Story”, “Monsters, Inc.”, “Up”, “WALL-E”, and the upcoming “Toy Story 4”) and Del Carmen, the stage is set for another quality outing at the multiplex.

     I can, without a doubt, relate to the plight facing the main character in “Inside Out”, an 11 year old little girl named Riley who is being uprooted from the only life she has ever known in Minnesota to a new one in the hectic big city world of San Francisco.  A part of me immediately sighs when I think about that, since this means her parents can afford to live in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country, but one can’t expect an 11 year old to care about that when home is somewhere else.  That’s really the basis of the story, but the filmmakers have provided one important and creative twist.  The majority of the screen time is devoted to five cartoon characters who represent the emotions going on within Riley’s mind as her family whisks her away from the Midwest and bring her to the cramped and unfamiliar confines of the sprawling urban landscape that is the Bay Area. 

     Operating from what is referred to as “Headquarters”, the emotions of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) attempt to navigate Riley through what turns out to be a very difficult time in her young life. I couldn’t help but notice the filmmakers have drawn Joy as a young, skinny, and vibrant looking character.  Just as any of us would prefer to be.  While Sadness is drawn as short, fat, and sulking or just as none of us would prefer to be.  An interesting, but true, take on our societies issues with obesity and the accompanying assertion that few overweight people are happy.

     When you hear the expression “My whole world is falling apart”, “Inside Out” will likely give you a new perspective on what that would actually look like if your mind could be explored visually.  At times I was reminded of the great 1966 film “Fantastic Voyage” as both the characters in that film and “Inside Out” have the opportunity to move within various known systems of the body, with the former exploring areas more physiological and the latter moving through different thought processes and memories.  And just as the characters in “Fantastic Voyage” had to, the emotions in “Inside Out” must deal with the consequences of the decisions they make with these thoughts and memories, which immediately translate to actions by Riley.

     One of the more comedic and best written moments in the film was unfortunately seen in whole during the trailer.  It’s a dinner table scene where we not only are given a view into Riley’s mind, but also the minds of her parents, voiced by Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane.  It’s one of those sequences adults will appreciate most, especially if you have children.  No other film has likely portrayed the inner thoughts and especially the differences between those thoughts when it comes to mothers and fathers than you will see here.  The mother is clearly keying in on Riley’s emotions, as she is obviously not taking to her new surroundings very well.  Even attempts at recreating new versions of her hobbies and favorite things to do have fallen flat.  But the mom doesn’t want to be the bad guy here and so she signals the father to take charge in what is the traditional role of the man, I guess.  When we delve into his mind, the various emotions are unwinding and don’t have the slightest clue that Riley is hurting internally.  His headquarters are instead lit up with thoughts of hockey game scores and problems at work.  Though these personality traits may seem a little stereotypical, the scene does work well, but it also sets up the crucial third act as Riley’s emotions go into overdrive.

     “Inside Out” doesn’t have the feel of the kind of Pixar film that will go down as one of their best, and may merely end up being used as an example of how they are consistently able to achieve such lofty standards in filmmaking, even if they aren’t breaking new ground with every feature.  Most would likely agree the “Toy Story” films are and will remain the gold standard with “Finding Nemo” and “Monsters, Inc.” not far behind.  “Inside Out” seems destined to be mentioned with the studios films that successfully put a new animated spin on genres that are in no shortage of live action counterparts, such as  “WALL-E” being a science fiction film, “The Incredibles” being a superhero story, and now “Inside Out” playing as a spruced up family drama.  And that is exactly what Pixar seems to excel at.  We believe we’re watching something wholly original, only to find later, beneath the glossy colorful paint is a time tested story.  Nonetheless, “Inside Out” is a fabulous entertainment that is sure to leave younger viewers in awe, and will allow older viewers to give some serious thought as to how we are sometimes forced to make decisions that will affect our children’s lives now and forever.  GRADE: B