Pixar Animation has yet to make an outright bad movie, but its last few — Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University — were not quite up the excellence that preceded them. With its latest release, Inside Out, Pixar has made one of their absolute best.
Inside Out looks at the inner workings of the brain by personifying our primary emotions. The mind we are shown it that of preadolescent girl who falls into depression following a cross-country move with her parents.
Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) is a bright, happy girl who becomes disconnected when her emotions, Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith), Anger (voiced by Lewis Black), Fear (voiced by Bill Hader) and Disgust (voiced by Mindy Kaling), misplace her core memories. It is explained that our core memories form the islands of our personalities and without them we lose ourselves. This is a fascinating allegory for depression and mental disorder.
The film, co-written and directed by Pete Doctor (who also wrote and directed Monsters Inc. and Up) and Ronaldo Del Carmen, is endlessly imaginative in the way it depicts the workings of the brain. Some ideas are obvious (a literal train of thought), but others are truly inspired (things in the room of abstract thought are morphed into abstract art).
What is most compelling is how the push and pull between our emotions is shown as an actual struggle. Joy, who is a bit of a control freak, usually wins out. She always wants Riley to be happy. It is easy to be happy as a child, but as Riley faces the first big upheaval in her life, it becomes hard to stay happy.
Joy wrestles with this idea and doesn’t understand that sadness — both the emotion and the personification of it — isn’t always wrong. The central story is Joy and Sadness learning to work together as they strive to get Riley’s core memories back to the brain’s central control. This is a familiar formula, but the script hits unexpected beats in reaching the final destination.
Inside Out’s most important message is that it is OK to be sad. Without pain, we can’t truly appreciate joy. It is through our own sadness that we learn empathy.
These are all big concepts for an animated movie targeted at kids and it is wonderful that Doctor and Del Carmen took the risk to present them. Children should be exposed to these themes. It may help them to understand themselves more. Heck, it may help adults to better understand themselves, too.
After seeing the movie, I met a little boy in the bathroom, and he asked me what movie I saw. My eyes were still slightly damp from tears I shed when I replied, Inside Out. The boy cheerfully replied that that was what he saw, too. I asked him what his favourite emotion was. After a moment, with a gleeful grin, he said “Joy!”
This boy, despite the heavy themes, had viewed and enjoyed Inside Out as a bright, colourful and funny adventure. Like the best Pixar movies, the more serious ideas of the story don’t drown out the sense of fun and imagination.