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Friday, June 19, 2015

Chris's Review: Pixar wonderfully mixes the Joy and the Sadness in ‘Inside Out’

Okay, Pixar. You did it again. You got me. You tugged on my heartstrings. Inside Out, the new film from the reigning king of animation, hit me right in the feels. And it couldn’t have caught me at a more apt time – just a little over a month after the birth of daughter (This is my second review already this week to mention my new daughter. I am sensing a trend).

The film–a delightful explosion of color and creativity–is about a young girl, 11-year old Riley, dealing with all the joys, pains, and angst of growing up. The story is wonderfully told from a behind-the-scenes perspective inside of her still developing mind, where she is controlled by a quintet of universal emotions – joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. These five emotions run the control center of the brain, where they observe everything, and most importantly, are the keepers of Riley’s core memories – a set of fundamental memories that have profoundly shaped her overall personality (family, friendship, honesty, goofball, etc.).

As usual, Pixar nails the voice cast for the film. If better actors for these roles exist, you would be hard-pressed to find them. Amy Poehler voices Joy, the leader and emotional guide. She is styled like Tinker Bell with blue hair and her personality is reminiscent of Poehler’s own bubbly, but driven optimist on Parks & Rec, Leslie Knope.

Phyllis Smith (Phyllis from The Office) is oh-so-perfect as the melancholic Sadness; Bill Hader is pitch-perfect as the up-and-down panic of Fear; beloved curmudgeon comedian, Lewis Black, brings his over-the-top shouting shtick to Anger; and the always delightful Mindy Kaling nails the teenage attitude and indifference of Disgust. It is interesting enough that two of the cast members hail from TV’s The Office because the interplay between the five comes across as very much like a workplace-set sitcom.

The scenes outside the mind are highly realistic and instantly relatable. We were young once and can understand what Riley is going through as her family relocated from her comfort zone in Minnesota to the unknown in San Francisco. And for parents, the experience is two-fold because you can relate to Mom and Dad’s point-of-view as well.

The most remarkable aspect of the film is the amazingly clever and comprehensive world-building that went into creating all the areas of Riley’s mind. When Joy and Sadness are accidentally expelled from the control center, they must traverse through the depths of the human mind to get back before irreversible mental harm is put upon Riley’s young, impressionable mind. During their journey, they must traipse through the labyrinthine library stacks of Long-Term Memory, the movie set world of Dream Production, the wacky wonderment of Imagination Land, and the dark fading abyss of Forgotten Memories. There are also Personality Islands, the Train of Thought, and Bing-Bong, an imaginary half elephant, half seal clown made out of pink cotton candy. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but the human mind is a truly a complex place, and the film reflects that it in an easy-to-follow and relatable way.

And like most (perhaps even more so this time around) Pixar films, Inside Out reaches a depth of tenderness, sincerity, and poignancy that few animated films (and even live action ones) can effectively access. At its foundation, it is still a film made for children. It is bright, colorful, and fun - filled with wacky humor and excitement. But at the same time, it touches on several complex (i.e. adult) themes, such as depression, loneliness, memory, nostalgia, repression, and anxiety. The film also expertly covers topics, such as abstract art, with wit and laughter.

It is more than admirable that Pixar can present all of this in such child-friendly package. Inside Out is a film that can and will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. It is not only one the best films Pixar has produced in a while (aka the sequels slump), but also one of the best they have ever done.

Inside Out opens Friday, June 19 in theaters nationwide. Check you local listings for showtimes.

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