DIRECTED BY Pete Docter
STARS Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith
IN THE immortal words of the great Mark Twain, reports of Pixar’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
Well, maybe I’m paraphrasing – at any rate, that’s the takeaway following the release of Inside Out, which immediately establishes itself as one of the best animated efforts ever crafted by the beloved studio, an outfit that had been in a bit of a creative free-fall since 2010’s Toy Story 3.
Certainly, Monsters University, Brave and even the critically hammered Cars 2 all have their fans (with Brave even winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar), but none enjoyed the hosannas that greeted the majority of past Pixar pics, most notably during the incredible four-year stretch that produced in rapid succession the powerhouse quartet of Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3.
Inside Out is a glorious return to form for the outfit, as it demonstrates that few filmmakers in Hollywood today can match the Pixar brain trust when it comes to creating motion pictures that offer an irresistible mix of imagination, intelligence and emotion.
Inside Out relates the story of an 11-year-old girl named Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias). More accurately, it relates the story of what’s inside Riley – specifically, the core emotions that have been with her ever since birth.
First and foremost, there’s Joy (Amy Poehler), the “control room” leader and the one responsible for trying to make Riley enjoy every moment of her life. That’s a tall order, considering the other emotions are all vying for prime-time programming.
There’s Anger (Lewis Black), there’s Fear (Bill Hader) and there’s Disgust (Mindy Kaling).
And then there’s Sadness (Phyllis Smith), the emotion that Joy is perpetually attempting to most keep at bay.
Yet once Riley moves from her cherished childhood home in Minnesota to a ramshackle abode in San Francisco – a move dictated by her dad’s efforts to get his startup business off the ground – it’s hard for Joy to keep Sadness from not only affecting Riley’s current mood but also infecting the shimmery orbs that house her most precious memories.
An accident results in Joy and Sadness being ejected from the control center, and it’s at this point that the movie really takes off, both visually and philosophically. Riley’s at a crucial, critical age for any young person, waving goodbye to childhood innocence and about to undergo changes that will make her feel like a stranger both in her own body and in a world that suddenly seems a lot more complicated.
Certainly, a kid needs all available emotions to navigate such murky waters, and the beauty of Inside Out is how it allows Sadness to basically be the equivalent of both the outcast nobody wants to be around as well as the friend everybody wants by their side in a pinch. All of this is conveyed in a series of adventures that find Joy and Sadness -- sometimes accompanied by Riley’s long-forgotten imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind) – traversing a landscape that includes abstract thoughts, horrific nightmares and a garbage dump of discarded memories.
These excursions, which easily top those taken through Tomorrowland and Jurassic World, result in some of the most potent set-pieces in the Pixar canon, with select bits even invoking the spirit of the gems Hayao Miyazaki made for Studio Ghibli. As expected with an A-list Pixar piece, there’s plenty of humor to go along with the heart, particularly in the peeks inside the control rooms of Riley’s mom (Diane Lane), dad (Kyle MacLachlan) and the hysterical twofer seen at film’s end. There are also the expected gags engineered to please the parents even more so than the children, with a few threatening to raise the bar for future animated endeavors.
After all, when a toon flick has the audacity to reference the 1974 masterpiece Chinatown, it’s clear that the lowest common denominator is nowhere to be found.