Things We Love: Inside Out, The Movie
People are complex; we don’t always know what we want, don’t always know what to do, don’t always know what we feel. These concepts aren’t particularly easy for adults to grasp or explain, let alone children. That is, unless you’re Pete Docter, writer and director of Inside Out, Pixar’s latest animated tale releasing in Indian theaters today. Docter and co-director Ronnie del Carmen – with writers Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley – have crafted a masterpiece that somehow corrals a morass of emotions into a linear story that’s relatable for everyone. Old or young, go see this film. It’s one of the smartest kids’ movies you’ll ever see.
Inside Out opens with a newborn girl, Riley, blinking filmy eyes for the first time as she peers into her parents’ faces. In that moment, she feels one emotion only – bliss – and thus, we are introduced to the main character of the film, Joy. Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) is the first of ensemble cast: As Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) grows, Joy is quickly joined by Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).
Together, these five run the Headquarters of Riley’s brain, responsible for guiding her reactions to the world around her and for creating her memories. For 11 years, everyone works together smoothly, with Joy decidedly at the helm. But when Riley moves to a new city with her family, leaving her home and friends behind, Joy’s memories become tainted by Sadness. In a struggle to preserve Riley’s happiness, Joy and Sadness are accidentally sucked out of Headquarters through the Memory Tube and into the furthest reaches of Riley’s brain, leaving only Fear, Anger and Disgust in control.
The rest of the movie follows Joy and Sadness’s adventures – and Riley’s misadventures – as the two race to get back to Headquarters before Riley’s personality is damaged forever. Led by an old, imaginary friend named Bing Bong, they wander through the endless, towering halls of Long-Term Memory, take a perilous shortcut through Abstract Thought, make a terrifying stopover in The Subconscious, and hitch a ride on the Train of Thought, all in an effort to cross the Memory Dump, a yawning chasm that separates Headquarters from these other parts of Riley’s brain.
It’s a movie as brightly colored as it is brilliantly written. The whimsy makes enjoyable, sometimes even hilarious, the fact that much of the film revolves around a young girl’s lonely slide toward depression. This common mental condition isn’t an obvious topic for movies, let alone children’s movies (and is never mentioned by name in this one). When it is, it’s seldom treated as sensitively and genuinely as it is in Inside Out, the result of an exhaustively researched script with a subtext of the same length. (It can’t be coincidence that Joy ultimately returns to Headquarters from Imagination Land; what is hope, but an imagined, happier future?) Films like this don’t always work out; it’s a fine line between thought-provoking and point-missing, particularly for a children’s movie.
To say there’s something in this movie for everyone is an understatement. Like most Pixar films, Inside Out is about the universal experience of growing up, maturing, gaining wisdom and perspective. For adults, Inside Out is a reminder of what it’s like to be a child – every emotion keenly felt, untempered and unchecked. (Adults will also appreciate the brief, hilarious forays into the emotional Headquarters of Riley’s parents.) For children, it’s a glimpse of where life will ideally lead them: to a more complicated, yet balanced, state of being, in which each emotion is given its due and no more.
If I can find any fault with this kids’ movie it’s that it gives us one more skinny, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white-skinned heroine. The Disney/Pixar canon is full of these, and, since depression is a condition that affects roughly 350 million people from every corner of the globe, there is no reason Riley couldn’t have looked different and given other children a chance to see themselves on screen. But this is a small complaint, because Inside Out has given children struggling with mental health disorders a chance to see themselves depicted as a typical kid and, maybe, an easier way to talk about a too-often misunderstood and stigmatized condition.
As the lights rise and the credits roll, I think: For a movie about the innermost workings of our brains, Inside Out sure has a lot of heart.
Run time: 94 minutes
Ages: All ages