Pixar is pretty well acknowledged as having a deep understanding of human emotion, with classics such as Toy Story, Wall-E, and Up tugging at our heartstrings while leaving us incredibly satisfied with extremely creative and immensely enjoyable films. The last few years have either seen Pixar completely absent or blatantly subjecting themselves to the Mouse House’s commercializing demands for more sequels, and things just haven’t quite been the same… Until now. Inside Out is a fantastic little film that will restore your faith in the beloved animation studio. Unless you are a child, because this might not be the film for you, paradoxical as that sounds.
Riley is an eleven-year-old girl, born and raised in Minnesota, who moves with her family to San Francisco and must deal with the loss of everything she has ever known and adjust to a new life in a new city. Coming from Pixar, this could be pretty compelling in and of itself, but this is just as much a story of what’s going on inside Riley’s mind, as we meet the five emotions who drive her: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. As Riley tries to cope with her move, the emotions vie for control over her mind in the emotional Headquarters. Things only become worse, though, when an accident leaves Joy and Sadness far outside of Headquarters’ reach, and the two must traverse the recesses of Riley’s mind in order to restore themselves in Riley’s emotional spectrum.
Pixar has been great at providing insight into emotion and humanity in the past, but never before have they taken that task so literally. And they make it work to great effect. The parallel narratives of Joy and Sadness learning to understand one another, Fear, Disgust, and Anger struggling to keep Riley emotionally healthy, and Riley herself struggling on a metatextual level are all brilliantly interwoven to create a narrative that might otherwise have been mundane and infuse life into it by literally demonstrating how a world of emotion and cognitive processes function as represented by anthropomorphized abstracts. We see the depths of the subconscious, the wonders of the imagination, the bureaucracy of memory management, and the curiosity of abstract thought, all realized as a creative world that exists within us all. Riley’s story is one of emerging adolescence, of losing childhood bit by bit in ways that are scary and imperceptible, and Pixar once again hits the emotional resonance right on the head, finding a way to make us feel for Riley through making her emotions grow in complexity with her.
But isn’t this a kid’s movie? Isn’t all this philosophizing and cognitive analysis a bit much for the film’s intended audience? Well, I would argue that, yeah, this is not a great movie for kids. Sure, there’s some obligatory slapstick and the whole experience is bright and colorful, but I don’t think that pre-adolescent children are going to have the self-awareness nor the emotional intelligence to grasp the complex concepts central to the narrative. That isn’t to say this diminishes the film’s quality at all, but audiences should expect something targeted at those who can look back on childhood and understand what is happening in Riley’s mind, rather than a piece of diversionary entertainment for their young ones.
That said though, assuming you are an adult and have enjoyed Pixar’s work in the past, Inside Out is a must-see film, especially considering how lackluster the rest of the summer is looking to be. It is an extremely intelligent piece that has returned Pixar to top form.
Think Pixar can keep this good momentum going with this fall’s The Good Dinosaur? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.