At their best (the Toy Story movies, The Incredibles, Up), Pixar films satisfy both children and adults. Inside Out is Pixar at its best. I won't speculate how kids will process the high-concept animated story – suffice to say that at the preview screening I attended, the children laughed at all the right spots, stayed quiet during the serious moments, and applauded at the end.
The wildly imaginative movie follows an 11-year-old girl from inside her head, where five distinct emotions collaborate to guide her. Mistakes are made and two of the emotions end up on a mission to restore balance to the young lady's life.
I spent a good portion of the film trying to identify the voice actors. If you wish to avoid that distraction, read up. Parks and Recreation's Amy Poehler plays Joy, the peppy leader of the emotions. Phyllis Smith, the dowdy-looking salesperson in The Office, is Sadness, Mindy Kaling (The Office and The Mindy Project) is Disgust, comedian Lewis Black is Anger, and Bill Hader (Stefon from SNL) is fear. Kaitlyn Dias plays young Riley, with Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan as her well-intentioned parents.
Study these names. Knowing the cast adds to the fun.
Other performers of note include Richard Kind (as Bing Bong), Paula Poundstone and Bobby Moynihan (as Forgetters), Frank Oz (Subconscious Guard Dave), Flea (Mind Worker Cop Jake), Rashida Jones (Cool Girl's Emotions), and Pixar perennial John Ratzenberger (Fritz).
The story is told from the point of view of the five emotions, who live and work in Headquarters, the control panel in Riley's brain. Joy (Poehler) serves as team captain and narrator. All is well at first, until Riley's parents move the family from Wisconsin to San Francisco. The emotions struggle to guide Riley through it, but all the changes make it hard for the group and Riley's life takes a negative turn.
In Headquarters, memories are stored in color-coded orbs, then cataloged after sorting. To the team's surprise, they discover that when Sadness touches a memory, it changes color and taints the incident. Big mistakes are made, and Joy and Sadness are accidentally ejected from Headquarters and sent deep into the lands of Riley's mind. Fear, Disgust and Anger are left to run the show and, despite their best efforts (never mind their names, they wish the best for Riley), all heck breaks loose.
Meanwhile, Joy and Sadness travel from one unique place to the next, encountering Riley's long-discarded imaginary friend Bing Bong (Kind) along the way. Visits to Family Island and the Subconscious allow for even more inventive adventures. How do they get around? By crossing long, scary bridges or hopping on a passing Train of Thought. Literally.
In the wrong hands all of this could have been overly intellectual, too cute for its own good or simply unrelateable. But directors Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen, working from a screenplay by Docter, Mag LeFauve and Josh Cooley, don't slip up. By keeping Riley's story simple, they have more room to let the emotions explore. And the excellent cast makes their circumstances feel genuine. Michael Giacchino's score is effective enough to support the story without overpowering it. Inside Out gets a bit frantic every now and then, but most of the film is sweet, funny and a visual knockout. You don't need to take a child to enjoy it.
Showing: in wide release on Friday