Compartmentalisation of emotions, the loss of youth and the complex inner workings of the mind. No, it’s not the hard hitting drama it reads as on paper. It’s just another day in the office for Pixar Animation Studios. They sure do know how to toy with our emotions…
Perhaps the biggest of all of Inside Out’s numerous marvels is just how densely created it is. We step into the mind of Riley, a newborn girl taking her first glimpse at life. As she enters the world, so do we, viewing the film literally through her mind’s eye. We witness her first defining moments of childhood, her developing characteristics and her newly formed personality traits, not only as an external viewer, but also internally, through the residents of her mind’s Headquarters.
For inside the Headquarters live her embodied Emotions. Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), who on the surface are simplistic little beings whose designs reflect their functions, but in truth there’s much more to them than their basic purposes. It’s their job to guide Riley through her life, to protect her, to shape her and mould her into a happy, well-adjusted person. Each of Riley’s memories creates an orb, tainted with the colour of the emotion associated to it, with the her most important core memories powering her Islands of Personality; Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island and Goofball Island.
But life isn’t always easy. When Riley moves home to San Francisco, it opens a whole new layer of emotional complexity which the Emotions have yet to encounter. The perfect storm of a new school, new home, and new city combines to create havoc at Headquarters, with the delightfully dour Sadness unwittingly starting to tinge Riley’s joyful memories with her touch. Despite Joy’s attempts at damage limitation, Riley’s once-safe core memories become unleashed and lost, cutting off the power to her Islands and leaving Joy and Sadness to embark on a journey to recover the orbs and save Riley’s personality as they know it.
It’s here where the film really kicks into gear, as Joy and Sadness explore the land outside of the Headquarters. It’s littered with small yet brilliant touches which add up to create a place that is an absolute pleasure to journey in. Be it the towering halls of the Riley’s long term memory, her train of thought, which is quite literally a train, the Hollywood-alike Dream Studios, where her dreams are produced, or the TripleDent Gum theme tune Riley can never shake off which permeates the inner workings of her mind. Inside Out is consistently layered, and for the litany of jokes to be found just beneath the surface alone it’s worth taking the trip. Yet that’s not all there is to recommend by any stretch, as the characters are each wonderfully and hilariously brought to life.
Sadness is as sympathetic an antagonistic force as you could possibly imagine, she’s not bad, just oh-so-sad. Joy on the other hand is full of life and energy, but struggles to grasp why Sadness is the way she is. But both of them, along with the other Emotions, are intrinsic in the makeup of Riley’s DNA. They remind us that there can be no happiness without sadness, to keep the joy and spirit of youth, and not to grow up too soon. But also that emotions are more complex and less black and white than joy and sadness simply being opposite forces, and this is reflected in the characters themselves.
There’s a point where one of Riley’s Islands of Personality crumbles and falls to ruin. It’s perhaps one of the saddest things I’ve seen in film recently. Seriously. But it goes to show just how good of a grasp Pixar and directors Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen have on the story they’re telling. We’re talking Toy Story 3 levels of emotional gratification. “Depth, I’m lacking depth!”, cries out Riley’s long forgotten imaginary friend in one scene. He may be feeling a little flat, but that’s certainly not an accusation which can be levelled against Inside Out – A beautifully painted picture of a child’s mind.
Rating (out of 5):