Inside Out – Film Review

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We’ve all heard them and all too often we let them get the better of us.  They’re the voices in our mind; that constant, subconscious chatter that talks us into things – things we don’t always realize we’re even thinking about, yet there they are, dictating policy, sometimes louder and clearer than we might want.

Do you ever look at someone and wonder what’s going on inside their head?”  That’s the question posed by the voice of Joy (Amy Poehler), one of the five primary emotions residing within the mind of a little girl called Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) in the new Disney Pixar animated feature, Inside Out.

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Riley is having a great childhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Her inner emotions – those voices in her head – have kept things upbeat and altogether pleasant.  Then her father (Kyle MacLachlan) tells the family they have to move to California.  He has a new job in San Francisco, meaning everyone will need to uproot and get packing.  For Riley, that means leaving the school she loves, leaving her friends, and giving up just about everything else she loves about living in Minnesota.  Her emotions up in the control room of her mind do their best to make the transition across country as pleasant as they can, but the little girl misses too much of her previous life, and Sadness (Phyliss Smith) takes over.

Riley’s emotions are presented as a series of colorful little characters running around in her head, operating thoughts and feelings through a large game console, or control board.  When Riley has a great idea it’s because one of her emotions has plugged a light bulb into a slot on the console and turned it on.

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The principle controlling emotion is Joy, an upbeat, ever cheerful and buoyant character who continually looks on the bright side of life while doing her best to keep the other emotions at bay.  And so far she’s done a good job, supplying Riley with some of the happiest memories of a loving childhood.  But that move to California is not helping. Sadness keeps touching those happy little memory bubbles, or orbs, and turning them blue.  Plus, when Riley is served her first west coast pizza, it has the nerve to come with broccoli.  “Congratulations San Francisco,” declares red-faced Anger (Lewis Black).  “You’ve just ruined pizza!”

Inside Out is so full of creativity it’s virtually bursting with ideas, and those ideas come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  Riley’s memories of glowing orbs, each colored to whatever emotion those voices dictate, are stored in the library of her mind, all there to be enjoyed at a moment’s notice.  When Joy plucks a memory orb off the shelf and peers inside she can see a past event of Riley’s life stored within, replayed like a scene from a film.  There’s a moment when Joy replays a memory of Riley ice-skating on the surface of a frozen lake, and Joy shadows her, skating as one.  It’s a moment of pure, visual poetic charm and gets to the heart of what the imagination of Pixar can and does achieve; it inspires and introduces us to our own inner sense of Joy.  Oddly, those memories are presented from the point of view of a camera recording the event, not from the point of view of Riley herself, thus we actually see the little girl in her own memory.

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The majority of the film takes place within Riley’s mind, though occasionally it cuts back to the real world as the little girl tries to fit in at her new school with new friends.  It’s a way of keeping things grounded.  For Riley’s primary emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear (Bill Hadder) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), their time is spent mostly within the confines of the control room.  Then it all goes wrong.

By accident, both Joy and Sadness are ejected out into the vast corners of Riley’s uncharted inner world, just at the moment when little Riley needs as much joy in her life as possible, and it’s their attempts to get back to the control board before Fear, Anger and Disgust mess everything that takes up the bulk of the adventure.  For Joy and Sadness, navigating the corners of Riley’s head is like journeying through an even more eccentric version of Alice in Wonderland mixed with colorful imagination of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, and it’s a genuine and very funny thrill.

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It’s also a smart movie.  As strange as this may sound, there’s a good chance you may actually hear your own inner voices from a different perspective.  By presenting those emotions as distinct characters motivated to act in the imaginative way director Pete Docter has done here, the ability to recognize your own issues of joy, sadness and anger and even control them to your best advantage might be achieved far more effectively than any serious self-help book on the subject can.  We could all use a lot of Amy Poehler’s Joy in our heads.  Inside Out is unique.

MPAA Rating:  PG     Length:  102 Minutes    Overall Rating:  9 (out of 10)

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