Review – Inside Out

Pixar’s sublime return to form may be set almost entirely within someone’s head, but it’s the heart this beautifully realised love letter to the highs and lows of growing up really speaks to.

Inside Out - Welcome back Pixar, we've missed you.

Inside Out – Welcome back Pixar, we’ve missed you.

After falling short with the diminished artistic returns of sequels Cars 2 (2011) and Monsters University (2013), there was a fear that laziness had set in at Pixar and the stratospheric heights of The Incredibles (2004) and WALL-E (2008) were no longer being reached for.

Pete Docter clearly had other ideas, however, and with Inside Out has delivered the best original Pixar feature since Up (2009), ironically also helmed by the same director.

It's going to get emotional: Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) in Inside Out

It’s going to get emotional: Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) in Inside Out

Docter clearly understands the golden rule of animation – don’t talk down to the kids. Ever since Disney had the balls to (spoiler alert) kill off Bambi’s mum way back in 1942, the most timeless animated movies have been the ones that treat their audience, young or old, with the respect they deserve.

Monsters, Inc (2001), Docter’s first film, declared that being scared was a good thing and all part of growing up, while Up dealt with issues of loss and loneliness, most notably in the heartbreaking opening reel. Crucially, both films speak to adults and children in their own way, and not just by throwing in a bit of innuendo or cheap gags to please the mums and dads.

The same can be said of Inside Out, which may follow the familiar Pixar formula of having two disparate characters thrown together and forming a bond through a shared jeopardy, but does so in a beautifully engaging fashion.

Riley's (Kaitlyn Dias) not happy with mum and dad (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) in Inside Out

Riley’s (Kaitlyn Dias) not happy with mum and dad (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) in Inside Out

Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is a happy young girl whose life is thrown upside down when she moves with her mum (Diane Lane) and dad (Kyle MacLachlan) from the only home and friends she’s ever known to a new life in San Francisco.

Riley is led by her emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) – who operate out of Headquarters. But when an unfortunate incident leaves Joy and Sadness stranded elsewhere in Riley’s mind, her life is thrown into turmoil as her other emotions work out what to do whilst Joy and Sadness try to find a way home.

Films set inside a person’s body aren’t unique – Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid To Ask) (1972) famously featured a sequence that explored what happens during ejaculation, whilst Fantastic Voyage (1966) and Innerspace (1987) were more action-packed – but what sets Inside Out apart is its sheer inventiveness.

You're in my head! oy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Mindy Kaling (Disgust) and Fear (Bill Hader) in Inside Out

You’re in my head! oy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Mindy Kaling (Disgust) and Fear (Bill Hader) in Inside Out

Joy and Sadness’ trip through Riley’s head is wonderfully realised, with giant banks of marble-shaped memories and grand islands that define her personality (family, friendship hockey) that start to crumble as emotional tumult grips the young girl.

Their journey back to Headquarters (which includes an inspired and tripy Pablo Picasso-esque excursion through Riley’s Abstract Thoughts) is assisted by the colourful Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s childhood imaginary friend who has been forgotten over time. Bing Bong’s gradual acceptance that Riley has moved on and his time has been and gone culminates in a scene that manages to be both heart-warming and heartbreaking all at once.

This understanding is also shared by Joy, whose single-minded belief that happiness alone is enough to define someone slowly gives way to the recognition that Sadness can play just as important a part in determining who we are.

Family time for Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and her mum and dad (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) in Inside Out

Family time for Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and her mum and dad (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) in Inside Out

Just as in 2014’s Boyhood, Inside Out speaks to what it’s like for all of us to grow up. Like Mason Jr. in Richard Linklater’s masterpiece, Riley is pulled out of the life she knew and struggles to fully understand the emotional impact it has.

In one hilarious scene set around the dinner table, we’re shown a family argument through the perspective of Riley’s and her folks’ emotions. Tellingly, the predominant emotion in Riley’s mum’s life is Sadness, whilst for her dad it is Anger (a cut scene inside the father’s head with his emotions enjoying watching a game of football instead of listening to the dinner chat is especially funny).

Inside Out is a rarity in cinema; a film that not only speaks to children going through the trials of growing up, but also to the parents who are doing their best, but may sometimes struggle to remember what it was like to be 11. Welcome back Pixar, we’ve missed you.

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16 comments

  1. Stu · July 2, 2015

    Nice review Mark. I will try and check this out at some point. Not a huge fan of animated films but I like Pixar and, more specifically, I like Docter’s films. That first 10 minutes or so of Up is probably Pixar’s finest moment to date.

    • Three Rows Back · July 4, 2015

      Cheers Stu. Animation isn’t my favourite either, but when it’s done right – as it is here – it’s a joy.

  2. Jordan Dodd · July 4, 2015

    Okay I am convinced. I am going to see this movie. It sounds so fun!

    • Three Rows Back · July 4, 2015

      What can I say; it’s ace!

      • Jordan Dodd · July 4, 2015

        Hehe awesome, I’m gonna go see it on Monday, bugger seeing it on the weekend, there will be kids everywhere!

  3. fernandorafael · July 4, 2015

    Great review! I so wanted to see this one but every screening was dubbed in Spanish and I hate that! Will have to wait for home video.

    • Three Rows Back · July 5, 2015

      Really? Ah, well that’s a bit of a pain. I hope you enjoy it soon! Thank you Fernando.

  4. ruth · July 5, 2015

    We’re in agreement on this one Mark! I actually like Monsters University but yeah, nice to see Pixar back w/ an original story that’s every bit as entertaining as it is insightful and emotional. Definitely one of the best of the year!

    • Three Rows Back · July 5, 2015

      I’ll be surprised if there’s anyone out there who hates this. It’s such a joyous film in so many ways.

  5. Tom · July 6, 2015

    I certainly wasn’t expecting to come out of this film almost instantly convinced it would have a shot of making my top ten of the year. This is a dazzling film. It just so happens to be an animated film, too. The story is just that powerful. I’m glad you’ve also taken a shine to it Mark, I couldn’t agree with your review more

    • Three Rows Back · July 27, 2015

      Tom; I can only apologise my boy. Man, I’ve been struggling to keep on top of blog stuff recently. The more I think of Inside Out the more I love it. Can’t wait to see it again.

      • Tom · July 28, 2015

        No worries buddy, I have taken a mini break myself. (Today’s BSR reviews post is the first I’ve made in almost a week — gasp!) I need to probably take more of those kinds of breaks. I feel refreshed.

  6. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · July 13, 2015

    Very jealous you’ve already seen this one mate! Very much looking forward to it, when Pixar nails it, they really nail it. Fantastic write up.

    • Three Rows Back · July 27, 2015

      Sorry for the late reply mate! Hope you’ve managed to catch this now 🙂

  7. indiefan20 · August 2, 2015

    Great review! I really want to see this. The fact that Pete Docter directed it (which I didn’t know until I read your review) makes me want to see it even more. And yes, I’m prepared to cry, as with “Up.” 🙂

    • Three Rows Back · August 2, 2015

      If you’re prepared to cry then that’s good, because you may well do it. Thanks for the kind words 🙂

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