Pixar have genuinely out-done themselves here, returning to form with a film that easily matches the likes of Up and Wall-E.
You know a film’s going to be good when its first ten minutes have you grinning like an idiot and it can make you care deeply about the wellbeing of something that’s part elephant, part cat and part dolphin. With Inside Out, Pixar make their glorious return to the big-screen and remind us all that they are still kings of the animated film.
The film follows the emotions (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust) which live in the head of an eleven year old girl named Riley, as they try to cope with moving home, starting a new school, and making new friends. When Riley’s most important memories get lost, Joy and Sadness must adventure deep into the winding labyrinths of Riley’s mind to recover them. On the way they are joined by Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend, and travel through Abstract Thought, Imagination Land, the Subconscious, and Dreamworld.
All the stops get pulled out as Pixar once again manage to express the inexpressible, and condense some of the more important parts of the human condition into soft shapes, vibrant colours, and the kind of story that a child can not only understand but love. From why you can always remember advert jingles to how dreams are made, the whole film is bursting at the seams with ideas and details that would each on their own be brilliant, but within Inside Out are par for the course.
The film is consistently funny, combining the kind of slapstick, goofy humour necessitated by making a film aimed squarely at children, with the vastly different more mature jokes aimed at the parents of those children. With plenty of action sequences driving an engaging plot (one that again attracts both children and their parents, though each for very different reasons), the only thing missing is an emotional payoff. But of course, this is Pixar, the guys who made Up, so they know exactly what they’re doing, and hit you, as they say, right ‘in the feels’ with a blow that could make even a grown man cry.
It’s also worth mentioning, briefly, that though voice-casts rarely make or break animated films (voice-acting seeming to be one of those roles where if done correctly it isn’t really noticed), both Amy Poehler (Joy) and Phyllis Smith (Sadness) perform phenomenally in this film, as does Bill Hader, whose character (Fear) is easily the funniest aspect.
The part of this film, though, that really shows the kind of elevated filmmaking that separates Pixar from their competitors is the character of Sadness. It would be so easy to make Sadness the villain, who should be separated, looked down on and feared by the children, and if that had been the route that Inside Out had taken it would have been a perfectly acceptable children’s film. Instead, the whole point of the film is how bad an idea that is, how damaging it is to hide sadness, or to try to not be sad. Inside Out is about being sad, how being sad every now and then is important, how putting on a happy face every day doesn’t work, and how you can’t ever be your happiest until you have first been sad. And that’s something that every child (and even lots of adults) should learn.
Inside Out (2015), directed by Pete Docter, is released in the UK on 24th July and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Certificate U.