After two years without a Pixar movie, Pete Docter's Inside Out was highly anticipated. And it's not only because of the two year gap; it's also because its concept was one of the craziest ever cooked up by the Emeryville Studio, which is saying a lot (WALL•E's story was also pretty out there).
So, could the Pixar people make this mad idea work? Oh yes. Yes, they did.
Read the spoiler-free review below.
Inside Out asks the question: what is going on inside our heads? The answer is given through the character of Riley, an 11 year-old girl who grew up in Minnesota. When her family has to move to San Francisco, Riley's emotions (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust - who basically run the girl's mind from Headquarters) struggle to make her as happy as she was before the move. Joy feels it's her duty to make Riley's life perfect, and wants to be in control of everything. She tries to keep Sadness as far away as possible from the commands, but a chain of events lead to the unthinkable and leaves Headquarters in unprecedented turmoil. The emotions have to work together to save the day, but is that even doable?
If I were to describe Inside Out in only one word, I would say clever. This may just be Pixar's cleverest film to date. The way the human mind works is not an easy thing to explain visually, and yet everything is crystal clear. Within the first minutes of the movie, you get how it functions. The memories, the personality islands, long-term memory… It all makes sense.
The danger with such a strange concept is that you may forgot to tell a story. You may be so eager to explore the way the mind works, that you forget your characters. Thankfully, that's not the case here. Pete Docter does a brilliant job balancing crazy imaginative situations within Riley's head with character development. At its core, Inside Out is a deep story about the difficulties of growing up, and the film never forgets that.
The story jumps from the real world to Riley's head quite often, but never loses the audience. Amazingly, you're never frustrated when it goes from one setting to the other one, and it's fun to see how they are constantly influencing each other. It's quite the juggling act from Pete Docter. A cleverly executed juggling act.
One other risk could have been to explore other characters' minds as well: why only see what's going on inside Riley's head? Why not show what's happening with the emotions of Riley's Father, Riley's Mother, her teacher…? Well, it happens, but very briefly. The main story is really about Riley and her emotions, and I think it would have been a mistake to venture into other minds for too long.
The humour is great. It's the same kind of silly jokes Pete Docter treated us with in Up. There's an equivalent to the repeated 'SQUIRRELL!' line in Inside Out, but I won't reveal what it is, because it's just too good - by the way, kudos to the marketing team: some of the funniest and more surprising bits weren't spoiled in the trailers, which is a rare feat these days. There's also some amazing slapstick comedy in Inside Out: the characters evolving inside Riley's head are cartoonish and can stretch pretty well, so it's good that the filmmakers are taking advantage of that.
But, as you can imagine, everything in the film isn't fun. There are some poignant moments, and some of them might just make you cry. I wouldn't say Inside Out is more moving than Up or Toy Story 3 (that's pretty challenging), but some scenes are still incredibly moving.
The world Pete Docter and his crew created for this film is imagination at its best. Not just wild imagination: the Pixar folks did their research, as they always do. They learned a lot of things about the human mind before they established the way they would represent what's happening in Riley's head. The result is a believable yet wonderful backdrop for the emotions (and other characters) to inhabit.
The characters are fun, relatable, memorable. The funny thing about this movie is you'll think about events as if the characters from the movie were real. After I left the theatre, I had a conversation with someone who saw the film with me, and we were talking about real life decisions. At one point I said 'That was probably Fear guiding you'. I believe Joy & Co. will go down as some of the most iconic and unforgettable Pixar characters.
Michael Giacchino's score is sweet and beautiful, particularly Joy's theme; but I wouldn't say this is Giacchino's best Pixar score, or his most memorable. That being said, it's still amazing.
Amy Poehler leads a pretty perfect voice cast. She gives a fittingly energetic performance as Joy. Phyllis Smith is exceptional as Sadness, as she makes her character touching and more than one-dimensional. Mindy Kaling (Disgust) and Bill Hader (Fear) are also great, and Lewis Black playing Anger is a particularly genius idea - each time he explodes with fury, it's amazing to hear - and to look at.
That being said, Richard Kind's character and his interpretation may just be my favourite of the movie. The rest of the cast is equally remarkable.
The animators did a tremendous job, which will surprise no one. The animation effects are also top notch, especially the way the five emotions are depicted: they are not made of solid matter, but rather of sparkly particles.
Inside Out is, in my opinion, a nearly flawless film. Everything the filmmakers attempt works - and some of these attempts are pretty risky. Pete Docter made a bold decision embarking on this project, but in the end it pays off and gives us one of Pixar's best films. It's a sweet story about growing up, but it's also a treasure of imagination and cleverness.
Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter and co-directed by Ronnie Del Carmen will open in the US on the 19th June, and in the UK on the 24th July.