I was fortunate enough to see INSIDE OUT at El Capitan before the movie was released. To answer the question that immediately follows the announcement of a new Disney/Pixar movie: yes, it made me cry. It also made me laugh, and occasionally made me jump out of my skin. It’s a movie about emotions, and it certainly knows its source material.
INSIDE OUT is the story of Riley, an eleven year old girl whose family packs up and moves from Minnesota to San Francisco when her dad gets a new job. More to the point, it’s about Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust, the emotions that live in Riley’s mind and help her live her life. Joy is the first emotion to arrive when Riley is born; as such, she’s the head emotion, and she’s in charge of keeping Riley happy. Anger makes sure things are fair; Fear keeps her safe; Disgust keeps her from being poisoned, both physically and socially; and Sadness has a purpose, no really, she does! She just…isn’t sure what it is, and neither is anybody else. When the move throws Riley and her emotions for a loop, Joy tries to keep on top of things and keep her happy; unfortunately, a series of events sweeps her, Sadness, and all of Riley’s core memories out of Headquarters and into the far reaches of Riley’s mind, leaving Disgust, Anger, and Fear in charge.
Within this premise, INSIDE OUT tells three concurrent stories – Joy and Sadness’ quest to return to Headquarters and their development along the way; Fear, Anger, and Disgust’s struggles to hold the fort until Joy and Sadness return; Riley’s move to San Francisco and her struggle to adjust to her new surroundings – and interweaves them masterfully. Never before has watching someone’s inner monologue actually play out and seeing how the interplay between emotions translates into words and actions in the “real world” been so entertaining. Part of what makes it so much fun to watch is the fact that all of the emotions are well-rounded characters in and of themselves. Anger can be compassionate; Disgust can have fun; Fear spends most of his waking time terrified of everything, yes, but he can also be snarky and smug and, for brief intervals of time, confident. My personal favorite scene with him, and is watching him pull “Dream Duty,” where one of the emotions stays awake to watch over Riley’s dreams. Fear spends almost the entire time critiquing the dream like most of us do when watching B horror movies: “She’s a terrible actress.” “We saw this yesterday!” “Boo, pick a plot and stick with it!” It’s very MST3K, and I adored it.
Of course, most of the focus is on Joy and Sadness, polar opposite emotions who have to work together to get themselves and Riley’s core memories – the memories that inform the major facets of Riley’s personality – back to headquarters. Without giving too much away, their journey and their development is the linchpin of all three stories; Joy is the head emotion, and what she says usually goes. The fact that Sadness is her polar opposite often informs how the emotions – including Joy herself – treat Sadness, and why Sadness isn’t quite sure what her purpose is. Their physical journey across Riley’s mind is exhilarating; their emotional journey is touching and relatable.
Pixar pulled out all the stops for set design in INSIDE OUT. The mindscape Joy and Sadness explore is bright, colorful, and stunningly creative. They wander through Dream Studios, where Riley’s dreams are produced every night, which is essentially a Hollywood studio backlot. Joy even has a fangirl moment upon meeting Dream Unicorn, a unicorn actress who starred in multiple installments of Riley’s dreams. Imaginationland is based on Disneyland and built like a theme park, with attractions like the French Fry Forest and Lavaland, where the floor is made of lava. Long-Term Memory looks like a cross between a BEAUTY AND THE BEAST library and a David Bowie LABYRINTH, with brightly colored shelves curving and winding as far as the eye can see. Headquarters itself looks like a 1960’s space fantasy: bright colors and curves and soft textures everywhere, with just enough chrome accents to catch the light and make it pop. (Fun fact: the filmmakers based the shape of Headquarters on the hypothalamus, the cognitive center of the brain.)
The art and animation in INSIDE OUT is absolutely stunning, with Pixar once again pushing the envelope in terms of technology. The brightly colored, highly saturated world of Riley’s mind contrasts directly with the drab, desaturated Real World of San Francisco, a new and foreign city that, in Riley’s mind, can’t compare to her home in Minnesota. Disney and Pixar’s skill at using the shift in color and framing to reflect events and convey shifts in tone is put to good use in this movie; San Francisco eventually brightening its colors is a good sign, and you know there’s trouble when Headquarters starts to go grey and dark. Character design is also absolutely out of this world, with each emotion conveying their role at a glance. The filmmakers even made Joy a source of light and rigged and animated her to be such. Keep a close eye out while watching the movie; you can see Joy cast light on whatever she touches.
On a deeper and more personal note, INSIDE OUT touched on stories that I can definitely relate to: I’m an Air Force brat and I moved half a dozen times before I graduated from high school. Watching Riley deal with the changes in her life, and watching her emotions try to keep her afloat through all of it, struck home with me. (There’s a reason this movie made me cry.) I wish I’d had a movie like this when I was younger and we had to move; it would have made it easier to tell people how I was feeling and what I was going through. Hopefully, younger kids will be able to use the story and the characters in this movie to help them explain their thoughts and feelings to adults when they might not otherwise have the words. (At one point, the movie reaches a situation that closely parallels if not directly represents clinical depression; with any luck, depressed kids may be able to use that scene to explain what they’re experiencing to the adults in their lives.)
INSIDE OUT is a well-written, strongly acted, beautifully animated movie, probably Pixar’s best since Up. I cried three separate, distinct times; I laughed more times than I can count; and I will definitely be seeing it again just as soon as I am able.
What do you think of INSIDE OUT? Are you interested in seeing it? If you’ve seen it already, what emotion is in your driver’s seat? What do you think your core memories are? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!