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Inside Out

D: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen / 94m

Cast: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan

When a girl named Riley (Dias) is born the first emotion she forms is Joy (Poehler), followed by Sadness (Smith). As she grows up, Fear (Hader), Anger (Black) and Disgust (Kaling) form as well, but Joy ensures she supersedes the others. When Riley is twelve her father (MacLachlan) starts a new business in San Francisco; this means moving from their home in Minnesota. Riley puts a good face on things (thanks to Joy), but Sadness is never too far away from trying to influence her reactions and behaviour. When Riley’s mother (Lane) asks her what her favourite memory from the trip was, what starts off as a happy memory soon turns sour because Sadness has touched this particular recollection, and changed its composition.

At her first day at her new school, Riley talks about the hockey team she played in but this memory also becomes tinged with sorrow. In her mind, Sadness has touched this happy core memory and changed its composition as well, despite Joy’s efforts to stop her. A struggle ensues between them, and through Joy’s efforts to stop Sadness changing any more core memories, she, Sadness and the remaining core memories are sucked up into the dump tube and find themselves stranded in Riley’s long-term memory. With two of her core emotions removed from her mind’s control room, Riley finds it difficult to control her feelings, and friction develops between her and her parents.

This leads to her personality islands, areas of her mind that have been founded on her core memories, beginning to crumble and collapse. Joy and Sadness can see this happening, and they double their efforts to return to the control room. As they look for a way back they meet Bing Bong (Kind), Riley’s old imaginary friend. He helps them navigate their way through Riley’s long-term memory, and hitch a ride on Riley’s Train of Thought, which always passes close to the control room. Various obstacles cause their return to be delayed, and while Fear, Anger and Disgust do their best to make the right decisions for Riley’s emotional behaviour, she becomes more and more withdrawn and disillusioned. Eventually, Fear decides the best course of action is to prompt Riley into running away back to Minnesota. She steals money from her mother’s purse and sneaks out one evening to the bus station. As she does, Joy makes an important realisation about Sadness, one that will hopefully return things to how they were before.

Inside Out - scene

The last few years have seen Pixar stuck in a kind of creative rut. Since Toy Story 3 (2010), they’ve released only one original movie – the beautiful but flawed Brave (2012) – and two further movies featuring returning characters: the disappointing Cars 2 (2011), and the enjoyable but somehow flat Monsters University (2013). Also, another proposed movie, Newt, fell by the wayside (although Docter’s spin on it has led to Inside Out being made). With the company taking 2014 off, it seems as if a minor resurgence has occurred, because Inside Out is Pixar’s best movie since Toy Story 3, and in many ways their best movie to date.

This is due mostly to the decision to avoid sugar-coating Riley’s emotions and her reactions to the move from the home she loves to a place where she has to sleep on the floor because her furniture has been delayed in arriving. It’s a movie about the emotional changes that are needed to deal with being uprooted and having to “start all over again” in a strange place. It’s also about recognising that you can’t be happy all the time, and that it’s okay to be sad sometimes. For adults this is a lesson we’ve all learnt, but for a twelve year old it’s a frightening prospect, and one of the strengths of the script by Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley, is that it accurately and succinctly portrays the doubts and fears and confusion of trying to deal with such issues when your experience of them is so limited.

By focusing on five particular emotions, the script also covers the more basic human emotions, and this allows the script to be more astute than if the full range of emotions had been included. Joy is endlessly upbeat and constantly striving to make Riley’s life a continually happy one. Sadness is becoming more of an influence on Riley, and she’s also the gloomy one, who when tasked with talking about something she likes, responds with “I like being outside… in the rain”. Fear is like a paranoid health and safety inspector, always on edge and expecting the worst. Anger is, predictably, a hothead, prone to aggressive outbursts at the slightest provocation. And Disgust is resolute in her dislikes, dismissive of most things and also a little bit manipulative. Each character is portrayed with skill and understanding by the cast, and there’s much fun to be had in amongst the pre-teen trials and tribulations (when a new console is installed in Riley’s control room, Disgust asks, “What’s this button? Pu…berty?”).

Some viewers may find Joy and Sadness’s efforts to return to the control room to be a little long-winded as various parts of Riley’s mind are explored to varying degrees, but what should be appreciated is the sheer inventiveness and impressive art design that has gone into these sequences, especially the room called Abstract Thought, where Joy, Sadness and Bing Bong begin to lose their body shapes. It’s a clever, standout moment in the movie, and a reminder that when Pixar are playing their A game, no one else can touch them. Of course, the visuals are up to Pixar’s exemplary standards, with several scenes boasting a clarity of image and matching emotional heft that on at least two occasions are likely to bring a tear or two to the viewer’s eyes.

In assembling the material, Docter and his team have done a remarkable job. The cast are uniformly excellent (but with special mention going to Smith and Kind), the character design is impressive, and there’s yet another evocative score courtesy of Michael Giacchino. It’s all been put together with precision and care, and is by far and away one of the best movies of 2015.

Rating: 9/10 – funny, sad, thrilling, poignant, knowing, endearing – Inside Out is all these things and more, and shows that serious topics can be approached with honesty and hilarity, and with neither hampering the other; superbly done, and with The Good Dinosaur also heading our way this year, a clear indication that Pixar are well and truly back on form.