Pixar have, over the past couple of decades, crafted films which have toyed with our emotions. Their mastery of the emotional impact of strong storytelling is generally spot on. Heck, they even managed to tap into our anger with Cars 2 (seriously, it wound me up watching that mess unfold). But their latest film not only plays with our emotions, it literally plays with emotions.
Inside Out is all about the little emotions that live inside each of us, and control and guide us through all of our life’s decisions. The film starts as a newborn baby girl, Riley, starts off with one emotion, Joy ,voiced by Amy Poehler), who is quickly joined by Sadness (Phyllis Smith), and over time Disgust, Fear, and Anger join them in the headquarters which control the mind. All goes well through the years of the life, with key memories the team help craft helping build essential zones of personality, whilst other memories are stored in the bank for retrieval when required. However, when the Riley is 11, her family are uprooted when the father gets a new job, and the balance of emotions begins to go wrong. Sadness, whom Joy has managed to keep sidelined for years, suddenly starts affecting past memories, turning anything she touches blue. An attempt to stop her from damaging some key memories sees Joy and Sadness ejected from headquarters, and wandering in the memory banks. Without them there, the other emotions can’t prevent disaster, and aspects of the personality begin to fall apart.
Animation wise, we know what to expect from the team at Pixar, and once again they deliver. From the design of the emotions themselves, to the surreal nature of the internal memory stores, the film looks great. Story wise, the film is a bit weak, but at the same time extremely clever in the way it plays. Effectively the ‘ejected but need to get back to prevent disaster’ aspect of Joy and Sadness’ story is extremely formulaic, and nothing that we haven’t seen done hundreds of times before in a variety of films. As is the ‘two diametrically opposing personalities, where one puts the other down, must come to realise that both are equal in order to survive’. However, the genius comes in how this generic formula affects the other elements of the film, namely Riley herself. Anyone who has kids, and who has made life changes which affected them, will recognise the sulking, and shutting down of the personality whilst the child adjusts to the new environment, and this is what works so well in the film. Without Joy and Sadness, Riley strikes out as Anger tries to take control, shows her hatred of the move (Disgust), and feels nervous in the new surroundings (Fear), all in a very realistic way that many people will be able to relate to. As the film progresses, Riley’s journey becomes the genuinely emotional aspect of the film, and suffice to say this is another Pixar film that will bring tears out in even the sternest of folks.
Small additional moments show us the same emotions in control of others, such as her parents, and cleverly highlight how a child’s emotions aren’t very co-ordinated, with one emotion (in Riley’s case, Joy) taking control of the others, but adult emotions work together equally. An end credit sequence hilariously demonstrates a variety of characters and their emotions, and should ensure that you leave the screen with a huge smile on your face.
Inside Out is a great example of Pixar at their creative best, and highlights that the team work so much better when dealing with original ideas rather than the slew of sequels they have churned out in recent times (and in coming years as recent announcements have added Incredibles 2, Toy Story 4, and for some unknown reason another Cars film to their slate). An emotional film about emotions is just the right kind of crazy idea for the studio to make work.