“Inside Out,” the new animated feature from Disney/Pixar, partially takes place inside the mind of a young girl named Riley. There, sentient emotions operate inside Headquarters, each one representing whatever she is actually feeling: Joy, Disgust, Fear, Anger, and Sadness. After she is uprooted from her life in Minnesota and moves to San Francisco following her father’s announcement of his new job, Riley’s emotions begin to conflict as she tries to control her emotions and navigate life at a new house, new school, and new friends. Likewise, an accident inside Headquarters causes great difficulty and Joy and Sadness to be sucked out, so they must team up to find all of Riley’s memories and return home before it is too late.
Directed by Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.,” “Up”), this film could be considered a return to form for Pixar following the mostly lukewarm or decent reception of their previous films, including “Cars 2” and “Monsters University.” While not overtly original, the way the concept is handled is what makes the movie so unique. As every emotion is one part of the total personality, so too are their characterizations and character design. Even the level of detail on the animation is noteworthy, such as the energy particles the emotions sometimes leave behind or the realistic facial effects of newborn Riley. The same can also be said of the visual design, with bright and vivid colors remaining prominent inside Riley’s mind. Clever visual motifs include the Long-Term Memory resembling a large cerebral cortex, Imagination Land with its french-fry forest, and the backlot of Dream Productions, where dreams are filmed.
In addition, each cast member perfectly suits their animated counterparts, with Amy Poehler providing the necessary exuberance for Joy and Lewis Black in the all too fitting role of the irascible Anger. Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling round out the rest of the lead cast, portraying Sadness, Fear, and Disgust. Perhaps the most interesting character is Bing-Bong, who used to exist as Riley’s imaginary friend when she was younger, and has the the tail of a cat, face and trunk of an elephant, and the lower-half of a cotton candy stick. He provides an extra dose of humor and character throughout.
The story is neatly-structured in a way that doesn’t leave any part of it feeling rushed. The quality of the animation, as is typical of Pixar, is superb. Some standout moments of humor in “Inside Out” include a running gag containing the memory of a gum commercial, the filming of the re-enactment of the first day of school by Dream Productions using their “reality distortion filter,” and a sequence visually depicting abstract thought, where the characters briefly become abstract shapes themselves and gradually turn into flat, two-dimensional lines.
“Inside Out” reminds us of the excitement, suspense, and most importantly, joy we feel when going to the movies.