This review contains spoilers.
Do you ever look at someone and wonder what is going on inside their head?
I think I first saw a trailer for this film back in January, and I had been looking forward to it ever since. (Oddly enough, I ended up seeing Inside Out with my parents, in the cinema I used to go to as a kid.) Right from that initial teaser I was struck by the uniqueness of Inside Out’s premise: a film set primarily inside the mind of an eleven-year-old girl, with personified emotions as its central characters. Not so strange, perhaps, if Inside Out were a Wachowski flick, but this is Pixar; an animated, fun-for-the-whole-family affair. And it is undoubtedly the best Pixar film since Up in 2009 – Inside Out and Up share the same sweet sadness, the same depth, the same thoughtfulness (and, unsurprisingly, the same director/co-writer, Pete Docter). In fact, I will even go as far as to say (my nostalgic love of Fern Gully and The Little Mermaid aside) that Inside Out is the best animated film I’ve ever seen. Full stop.
The idea behind Inside Out may be a great one, but it is also incredibly complex. Apparently it took Pixar’s team of writers a long time to decide just how to build a story around a young girl’s thought processes. They wrote numerous drafts, and consulted psychologists. The wait, and the hard work, certainly paid off. While Inside Out focuses primarily on the inside of Riley’s (Kaitlyn Dias) mind, it does a good job of showing how external events (like a family move across the country) can influence internal ones. Our inside and outside worlds are inextricably connected, but what Inside Out does so well is indicate just how important our inner (mental) wellbeing is, and how easily the balance can be upset. The climax of Riley’s outside journey comes when she decides to run away – we see her pack a bag, walk up a street, get on a bus. But on the inside things are much more chaotic. Inside we see Riley losing her sense of self (depicted as collapsing islands); all the things that have connected Riley to her family and her external world.
Inside Out does so many things so well: story structure, animation, voice acting (Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith are perfect as Joy and Sadness; Richard Kind also deserves a mention for his portrayal of Riley’s doomed imaginary friend Bing Bong). It’s a little complex for younger kids – there were a few restless five-year-olds present during my cinema experience – but for anyone over the age of about eight Inside Out is right on the mark. Part of me wanted to see more scenes of the inner-emotions of other characters (like Riley’s parents), but I also think this would have made the film unnecessarily complicated.
The thing I love most about Inside Out is the way it presents the landscape of the brain. Imagination is a theme park, the train of thought travels everywhere, the subconscious is a dark cave best avoided. The idea of little creatures working in the brain’s memory throwing up annoying advertising jingles every now and then is hilarious; the way core memories are often tainted by sadness so that they become nostalgic and bittersweet is beautiful. Inside Out is a film about emotions, and it had me so emotional. Which only helps to drive home the central theme – that sadness is necessary, and important. In order to be really healthy, inside and out, we need to be sad sometimes. I would love to see more family-orientated films like this that tackle complex and relevant themes (rather than the same-old ‘hard-work-pays-off’ type ideas that are easy to write but fairly dull and uninspiring to watch).
So – go and see this film. Take your kids. Or, if you don’t have kids, take your parents. And if you cry a little bit that’s okay. It’s just your brain trying to keep things balanced.
Released in 2015, Inside Out is rated PG. It is Pixar’s 15th film.