This dizzyingly good, brilliantly animated and incredibly emotional ride is one of the most original films in a long time, and is perhaps the most resonant film that Pixar have ever made.
U, 94 mins
‘It’s all in your ‘ead,’ says inept farmer Mr. Tweedy throughout the Aardman masterpiece Chicken Run, and so it proves with Inside Out, the latest odyssey from animation giants Pixar, which has, shall we say, a very rich vein of emotions. The story tells of plucky 11 year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and how she and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco – through the eyes of the emotions which run her brain (and her life). There’s Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), all of whom are personified by miniature people, each sporting a colour representing their personality, inside the HQ of Riley’s mind.
But whilst Christopher Nolan’s Inception made an exact science out of the process of dreaming, Pixar go to town with thought itself in Inside Out. The devil has always been in the detail with the animation studio, and if possible they go more madly inventive than ever here. It’s eye-popping. Each memory enters Riley’s mind as a glistening little ball, before some of them head out to the expansive territory that is Long-Term Memory, and it’s out in this wilderness that two of our characters end up stranded after a mishap. Every little avenue of the mind is explored in dazzling, creative and often very clever detail – the Subconscious, Dreams, and all aspects inbetween. The Pixar team have literally thought of everything. The film recalls the door conveyor belt of Monsters, Inc in its approach to the inside of someone’s head, and even makes it look quite inviting. There are definitely echoes of previous Pixar films within Inside Out, from the sometimes grotesque characters in Toy Story, to the family focus of The Incredibles and Up, but this has its own madcap energy and emotion.
And although critics may have been focussing on the emotional side of things, humour is a key part of proceedings too, albeit of the subtler, more understated kind. Perhaps more so than usual, the visual gags abound here, and there’s plenty to enjoy, which I won’t spoil by mentioning. Suffice it to say that Inside Out, as is the case with many Pixar films, will reward repeat viewings, and you will notice more and more if you watch it again.
As ever, there are bumbling, loveable characters, all sketched in brilliant detail and all contributing to a very complex and emotional but compact story. Fear is a nervy guy in a bow-tie who runs around permanently anxious, whilst Anger is a block-like, red figure the top of whose head flames like a volcano when he gets irritable, and Disgust, a sickly green specimen, comments witheringly on fashion sense. But it’s the interplay between Joy and Sadness which makes the film, and the voice performances for them both are top-notch. However there’s also another character who, though perhaps a secondary figure, is the heart of the film, whose very purpose is the importance of growing up – and moving on. Pixar have been plumbing ever deeper emotional depths in recent years with the likes of Up and Toy Story 3. Along with those films, this is a more profound kind of Pixar adventure, and as it reaches its end it becomes extremely affecting. You may need either tissues or a will of strongest iron for the often heart-rending third act, which goes beyond any family film I’ve yet seen in its exploration of emotions.
And so while it might not be realistic to think that our heads are populated by little dashes of colour whizzing around trying to regulate our lives, it might comfort us to know that everyone is, deep down, the same: the same emotions resonate with all of us, and we all need the same things to be happy. You may just come out of the film viewing life differently, as at its core is something more specifically relatable than any other film Pixar have made: not toys, or monsters, or even family – just simply having emotions. And wouldn’t you know it, Inside Out, in typically heartfelt and witty Pixar style, handles the gamut of feelings with ease, and is comfortably up there with some of the best films the studio has ever made. It may be slightly too dark for the very young, but it’s still a family film for the most part, with the trademark Pixar charm and wit on show in spades. Inside Out may be a dizzying, emotional ride, but it knows how to balance things out.
And talking of balance, the key, as with most things, is disarmingly simple, says the film: everything in moderation, including emotions, will lead to a happy life. And, just once in a while perhaps, leave things to your imagination. You’ll find a way.