Film Review: Inside Out

Inside-Out-Official-PosterDirected by Pete Docter, Ronaldo del Carmen

Starring Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black

Hype. You can’t get away from it in our rolling-news obsessed, celebrity driven culture. You certainly can’t get away from it whenever the latest Disney-Pixar animation is released. In fact, if you think about it too much, it’ll just lead to anger. It’s a no-win situation; if the film is great, you’re expecting it to be so; if not, well, that’s another trip ruined.It’s enough to drive anyone to sadness.

In fact, if you consider it too much, you’d never take a trip to the cinema again, you’d be so laden with fear. Will this film really be as jaw-droppingly awesome as I’ve heard it is? Even worse, if you tell all your colleagues, family and mates how dope the movie is, only to be unpleasantly surprised, the looks of disgust on their faces will say it all. It’s a complicated lark, this film viewing business. So I’ll cut to the chase, and put this convoluted metaphor out of its misery; Inside Out is worth the hype, every single last obnoxious drop of it.

The film is original, amazing, bloody clever stuff. You may walk out of the theatre feeling angry that you’ve dropped your popcorn, fearing your results on tomorrow’s exam, or maybe disgusted that you’ve stepped on someone’s discarded chewing gum. If I were a betting woman, however, I’d wager you’ll feel this; sad, definitely, that the preceding hour and a half has gone so quickly, but, more than anything else, joy.

If that introduction has riled you up good and proper, then great – Inside Out is for you. In fact, it’s for every homo sapiens on the planet. The conceit is so simple, yet so profound, you wonder why it hasn’t been explored before on the silver screen (the only thing similar I know of is early 90s Fox sitcom, Herman’s Head). The story centres not just on eleven year old Riley, but on the inner workings of her mind; specifically, her emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust (see what I did there). Life is great for Riley, until she has to move with her parents from Minnesota to San Francisco, and contend with a new house, a new school, and a new hockey team, plus far too many servings of broccoli pizza. What eleven year old girl’s head wouldn’t be reeling from all that?

Inspired by director and writer Pete Docter (Up, Monsters Inc.), who developed the plot after seeing his own daughter, Elie, struggle with school and life once she turned eleven (in other words, once she began growing up in earnest). Riley herself – delightfully voiced by Kaitlyn Dias - is an excitable, intriguing character, but the real stars of Inside Out are of course Riley’s emotions.

Charmingly animated, there could at one point have been well over twenty tiny characters racketing around Riley’s head, but the five we are left with prove more than enough when it comes to narrative, wry smiles and provoking thoughts. The casting of the emotions is spot on, and will strike a chord with fans of American television and comedy in particular. Amy Poehler is outstanding as a slightly sardonic, hyper-energized Joy, whilst Phyllis Smith is inadvertently hilarious as melancholy miser Sadness. Mindy Kaling channels every Mean Girl on the planet for Disgust, Bill Hader is a comically terrified Fear, and Lewis Black is excellent as a ridiculously cute Anger (I’m sure the British version would have cast Frankie Boyle in this role, but for an American film, an irate New Yorker anthropomorphisation of anger fits perfectly).

Predictably, Riley struggles to adjust to her new surroundings, and this is where things get really interesting. Seeing a version of the brain is cool in itself – and here, Docter and his team – including co-director Ronaldo del Carmen in his feature film debut, plus screenplay writers Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley strike gold. Little orbs represent Riley’s memories (and bare a passing resemblance to the Ministry of Magic prophecies, Potter fans); a select few orbs are ‘core’ memories, and these influence Riley’s ‘Islands of Personality’, whilst the Train of Thought arrives on schedule every time Riley wakes up. The cleverness doesn’t cease here, however. Joy is convinced that the way to help Riley through the move is by remaining relentlessly positive, but the other emotions, particularly Sadness, have different ideas. When Joy and Sadness find themselves deep inside Riley’s brain – away from ‘Headquarters’, where the emotions usually live – Riley herself becomes more or less depressed. That is big for a Disney-Pixar movie. Inside Out isn’t your usual sugar-coated Hollywood fare. It tackles big themes intelligently, and doesn’t patronise its audience. In fact, I can’t remember ever being in a cinema full of kids that was so quiet. The children at my showing were hooked.

As Joy and Sadness journey through Riley’s brain, attempting to get back to Headquarters, you realise that the level of detail that has gone into this movie is epic – not just on a visual level (the curves of the memory shelves reflect the wrinkles and rolls of the cerebral cortex) – but also on a scientific level. Inside Out’s producers consulted with psychologists Paul Ekman and Dacher Keltner, in order to get the link between emotions and facial expressions right, whilst also adhering to the latest consensus that short-term memories are changed into long-term memories whilst we dream. Riley’s dreams themselves are both hilarious and genius, giving Sadness a chance to prove her worth once more.

The humour is pretty subtle throughout the movie and it is through cleverness and visual trickery that Inside Out really makes you smile. There are some wicked little recurring themes, such as Riley’s earworm, and Sadness’ general emo tendencies.

Inside Out is that rare beast; a truly original idea, executed with great talent, effort and love. It is also a fantastically feminist film, with all three central characters – Joy, Sadness and Riley - being female. Its central message is important, and profound; we need the dark as well as the light; we need Sadness as well as Joy. That is the essential dichotomy of being human; we are neither yin nor yang, but both. There is so much scope for a sequel –  perhaps aimed at older kids – and after reviews and box office receipts have both been so exceptional, it is highly likely that we’ll return to Riley’s head in the not too distant future. For now, though, go see Inside Out as soon as. Be warned, though; just like a happy day, great friendship, or important milestone, this film will stick with you.

4.5/5

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