I feel like this is something I’ve become more acutely aware of recently — possibly because I don’t have a job in which I am asked to do one mundane thing over and over again over the course of a given day and am therefore forced to compartmentalize the state of my own psyche — but basically, everyday is a god damn emotional roller coaster. One minute I’ll be pissed off because some jerk-off in the lane next to me cut off, while moments later I’ll hear some amazing song on the radio that I haven’t thought about in years which will arouse every little bit of my pleasure centers, and then I’ll come hurtling back to Earth once I remember that moneything I gotta go do before I get home. Anyways, I’m acting like this is somehow unique to me, which of course it’s not. We all deal with a whole wide range of emotions over the stretch of one day unless we are either irreversibly depressed or perpetually, cloyingly upbeat, but in most cases, each emotion is constantly struggling for dominance over the control panels of our brain. Which of course brings us to the ingenious conceit of Pixar’s new film Inside Out.
The conceit I’m talking about involves the inner workings of a young-ish girl named Riley, whose brain is controlled by anthropomorphized representations of Riley’s emotions, known as Joy (voiced by the indomitable Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (who else but Lewis Black). These emotions are then sent scrambling, as Joy along with the understandably burdensome Sadness find themselves lost in the nether-regions of Riley’s mind after Riley’s family moves to San Francisco from Minnesota (which just happen to be the two places in the U.S. other than Seattle that I equate with home, and further prove how easily this film was able to wrap it’s arms around me). We then get the internal and external repercussions of Riley trying to cope with having these less seemly emotions at the helm of her brain, while Joy, with the help of Riley’s former imaginary friend (voiced by the always welcome Richard Kind) attempt to make an arduous trek back towards happiness.
If there were any worries that Pixar had lost its touch in the past few years, they’re pretty much obliterated in the first half hour of this film. Inside Out is classic Pixar, in that it has a high-concept premise combined with a deep understanding of human nature, but wrapped up in a funny, charming package filled with colorful, imaginative animation. Also, the character of Joy feels like one of those classic Pixar characters in that she’s a fully-realized, living, breathing creation, and seems like the perfect animated extension of its voice actor, Amy Poehler, who at this point I might feel comfortable declaring as my favorite human on Earth (as I said, this movie clearly wants me specifically to like it).
But as much as this film does all the things right that I would want it to do right, I do feel like it does maybe lose a tad bit of steam in its second act, which to be fair, is maybe inevitable considering the blissfully high-minded wonder it evokes in its first. I suppose I couldn’t help but be reminded of Wreck-It Ralph and other not-quite-Pixar level animated movies, in which our hero is forced to make their way through a bunch of colorful sub-worlds in order to find their way home. Granted, this slight familiarity is solved by us constantly getting a look at the reality of Riley coping with her new home, and the awkward difficulties of being a lost kid in a place you don’t understand. It’s pretty affecting stuff, and combined with the film’s more fantastical sequences and surprising wit, it creates a feel and a tone that you’d have to be a raging asshole to not enjoy on at least some emotional level.
In the early years of this blog, I was for some reason given the designation of being the “Pixar guy”, meaning that every time a Pixar movie had to be reviewed, I was the one to do it. I don’t think it had anything to do with me liking Pixar movies more than anyone else necessarily — it just kind of happened that way. Anyways, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to review a new Pixar movie, due to their recent combo of a half-baked sequel and prequel that I didn’t even bother seeing, along with the just-ok Brave, which I nor anyone else decided to review (I think we talked about it on a podcast at some point). However, with Inside Out, I can only hope that this will mark a new resurgence in quality films from the venerable animation studio, since seeing this movie reminded me what a special thing it is to see a Pixar film in the theater. Because where else in this day and age are we given the opportunity to see a completely original, non-franchise-driven story being told on the big screen, featuring a good dose of heart and humanity, but while also being made for a mass audience? Nowhere, and for that I’ll just say, guys, it’s good to have you back.