I've been watching Pixar films for as long as I can remember. Yet I also have this paradoxical feeling of being acutely aware of just how radically new the studio’s art style seemed when the original Toy Story debuted over twenty years ago. With each successive film that came out, Pixar felt continually on the cutting edge, not just in its incredibly sophisticated visual approach, but also through its storytelling. Ironically, Inside Out feels like the first Pixar film to feel utterly timeless, as though it was generated out of whole cloth, instead of the ones and zeros that made it. This is perhaps because it is a story about emotions, so you can’t get much more universal than that.
One of the very fine lines Pixar—or, I should say, co-directors Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen—walks is the one between using a voice cast that today’s audiences will know and love, while also working with people who are able to embody the role and not just draw in a large crowd. The creative team behind Inside Out seems to understand that the best mainstream comedy of today is coming from television, not film, so it makes sense that Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black and Mindy Kaling fill the main roles. Not only are these people terrific comedians, but they are also good actors in their own right.
So when I hear traces of Poehler’s indefatigable Leslie Knope in her rendition of Joy, that is just a product of my seeing the film in its contemporary moment. Future audiences will rather be swept up in the genuineness of Poehler’s delivery, as well as the strikingly profound depths of Smith’s unhappiness as Sadness.
I’m a sucker for Pixar’s sky-high concepts (unless they involve talking, marketable vehicles), and Inside Out delivers in a bigger way than any other film before. The aforementioned team of comedians comprise the five major emotions of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), whose psychological profile has been thrown into disarray when she and her family are uprooted from their idyllic winter wonderland in Minnesota to accommodate Dad’s (Kyle MacLachlan) new job in San Francisco. Joy and Sadness, along with Fear (Hader), Anger (Black) and Disgust (Kaling), respond in their own kind to the upheaval, the ensuing panic of which causes the former two to become separated from the emotional command center, leaving the latter three in charge.
It would be very easy for the film to succumb to facile, winking jokes about tweens and their insufferableness, but Inside Out delves into far deeper territory about the pain and loss of growing up. Although the film is nearly six months old, I don’t want to reveal any details about the plot, which you may be able to divine if you’ve been an eleven-year-old girl yourself. Joy and Sadness meet with a very important character during their journey back home, one that forms the foundation of Riley’s subconscious and early life. Suffice it to say that the screenwriters, Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley, along with the voice actor, deserve recognition for preventing the character from becoming as irritating as a lesser film would make him.
I love Inside Out. I’ve seen it twice now, and both times were a heavily emotional experience for me. I don’t intend any puns, but instead imply that I was crying quite a bit throughout the film’s runtime. Both tears of joy and sadness.