Starring: Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation), Phyllis Smith (The Office), Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), Lewis Black (Hannah and Her Sisters), Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane (Man of Steel), Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks)
Directors: Pete Docter (Up) and Ronaldo Del Carmen
Writers: Meg LaFauve & Josh Cooley and Pete Docter
Runtime: 1 hour 34 minutes
Release Date: 19 June (US), 24 July (UK)
It’s kind of hard to believe, but the last really great Pixar movie was Toy Story 3. That was five years ago. In the meantime, we got the unnecessary cash grab Cars 2, the decent but highly underwhelming Brave, and the fun but not very ambitious Monsters University. Combine that with the behind the scenes trouble on their long-delayed The Good Dinosaur, and all has not seemed well at the house that gave us Toy Story. Some have even begun to wonder if Pixar has lost their magic touch. But fear not, dear readers. Pixar has not lost any of their talent, and Inside Out is very convincing proof that these minds still have a few ideas to share.
The concept of diving inside the human mind isn’t an entirely new concept, with prior examples including the sitcom Herman’s Head or the Beano strip “The Numskulls”. However, Inside Out’s take on the concept is all its own and the film’s vision of the mind is full of wonderful concepts that play with memories, emotions, personality, dreams and much more. The story is very traditionally Pixar in regards to tone and heart, but it’s a formula that still works beautifully in their hands and Inside Out may be their most emotionally arresting film since Up; there are multiple opportunities for you to cry, and you will take them. It’s a story that I’d rather leave for you to discover, but I will say that this may also be Pixar’s most adult film to date. Not in the sense that it’s dark or unsuitable for children, just that not only does it deal with far more abstract concepts than most kids’ films, but because I think a more mature audience will actually get a bigger emotional kick out of it than kids will. Children will certainly relate to a lot of what is going on in Riley’s (Dias) head, as the film taps into a lot of relatable childhood experiences, but the adults in the audience will see it from a different perspective: one of nostalgia and reflection. It’s this small but important divide that really makes Inside Out not only a film for all ages, but will certainly make it a film where, years from now, kids who see it today will look back as adults and be able to enjoy the film on a far deeper level.
I don’t think you could have gotten more perfect casting than the actors chosen to represent these five emotions if you tried. Amy Poehler’s Joy is an engrossingly bouncy presence that literally lights up the environment, imbuing the character with such a beaming personality that borders on aggravating. She’s like that friend you have who is overly optimistic even in the worse situations. That can either be encouraging or drive you insane, and Poehler’s performance balances that line expertly. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, Phyllis Smith’s Sadness is a hilariously melancholic character thanks to her terrifically deadpan delivery, crafting a character that could be best summed up as her character from The Office mixed with Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. These two get most of the story’s focus, and their naturally conflicting outlooks create for both great comedy and (fittingly enough) emotional drama. Lewis Black’s Anger is definitely the most quotable character, his bursts of fiery rage filled with frustrated observations, whilst Bill Hader’s Fear is a delightfully nervous wreck. Mindy Kaling’s Disgust definitely gets the short shrift of the bunch, but she gets just enough to avoid being completely useless, whilst Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan as the parents are smaller parts but are key to some of the films best comedic and heartfelt scenes. Last but certainly not least, Kaitlyn Dias does a tremendous job as Riley herself, flipping naturally between emotions as they swap control without any of it feeling jarring or unnatural; you could cut out all of the story going on in her head, and her performance would feel just as complete.
Pixar really knows how to make a colourful and memorable world, and Inside Out is no exception. The way such intangible concepts have been realised as locations, characters and props into a believable environment is a marvel unto itself. Sure, some of the concepts are a little more obvious (the train of thought is a literal train, for instance), but others are so fascinatingly accomplished and the way all these different parts of the mind work together and sometimes clash with each other is truly inspiring stuff. The visual design is fantastic too, with all the different characters feeling distinct and easily recognisable, and the colour pallet difference between the mind and the real world helps distinguish these two environments. The quality of the animation here is yet another step up for Pixar, with such fine detail in textures and fluid movement creating a wonderfully vibrant and engaging picture, whilst Michael Giacchino once again knocks it out of the park with a beautifully diverse and energetic score that expertly accentuates the unfolding story.
Inside Out is not only Pixar’s best film in years, but may also end up being among their finest ever. It’s a film that ticks every box a great animated film needs to: an engaging story, rich characters, imaginative world, emotional depth and, most importantly, timelessness. It’s a film that will make you feel every emotion at one point or another (or perhaps all at once), and one that I’m sure generations of families will return to again and again just like all of Pixar’s other classics.
FINAL VERDICT: 10/10!
P.S.: The preceding short film Lava is also an absolute joy. Won’t say much more, but it’ll give you a strong emotional connection with the most unlikely of things.