Directed by Pete Docter. Produced by Jonas Rivera. Written by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley. Release date: June 19, 2015.
Maybe it's because we haven't had a truly great Pixar film in half a decade, but it feels far too easy to forget just how good the animation studio can be when it's "on." The likes of Ratatouille, Up, and the Toy Story trilogy rank right up there on the list of "best animated movies ever," and that's not even counting great films like Monsters, Inc. or Finding Nemo - or The Incredibles, if I'm feeling generous. While its more recent entries haven't quite lived up to those heights, with Inside Out we see Pixar return to form and deliver a movie that rivals any of its previous outings. It may not be the best film that studio has released, but it's very much in the conversation.
With perhaps the most creative idea in the Pixar uvre, Inside Out takes place primarily inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias), as her anthropomorphized emotions - Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust - essentially control the way that she responds to external stimuli. The goal of all the emotions is to keep Riley happy, and they're led by Joy (Amy Poehler) in this task. But after Riley moves away from her Minnesotan home to San Francisco, and Joy and Sadness find themselves away from the emotion headquarters, things start to go wrong both for the emotions and for Riley.
How's that for an intriguing premise? Joy and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) have to go through their own little adventure movie in order to get back to HQ, Riley suffers through the trials and tribulations of being an emotionally unbalanced pre-teen - but not in an insufferably annoying way, like it could easily have become - and the other emotions provide much of the humor as they try to stabilize Riley but fail at seemingly every turn.
It could be jarring to continually move back and forth between these three groups. It's not, in large part because there always feels like a connection between the events that happen at each turn. The emotions at HQ make a decision, it plays out in the real world, and then the area that Joy and Sadness are exploring starts to crumble, for example. Each jump between characters is purposeful and gets the audience more engaged in the utter chaos that is happening. Inside Out does, at times, risk having too much going on, but it stays on the rails and never becomes overwhelming.
If you're not up for an intellectual challenge, Inside Out may not be the movie for you. Oh, you'll have a good time just watching these characters do their things, and it's certainly funny enough that you won't feel like you wasted your time, but this is an intelligent movie - one that you'll have to think about throughout as it uses its premise and central metaphor to make points about how humans think and act. It's narratively complex enough for adults to take a lot from it, but simple enough that children will enjoy it, too. It's the perfect example of a "family" film - something where any potential audience member, regardless of age, can benefit from watching it.