Pixar's Mind Games Pays Off With “Inside Out”
By Scott Kurland
Film: Inside Out
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyliss Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Richard Kind, Diane Lane, and Kyle MacLachlan.
Director: Pete Docter; Co-Director: Ronaldo Del Carmen
Pixar has always been known as the studio who set the bar high when it came to thinking out of the box. For all the other films about flying dragons, singing ice princesses, and stop-motion stories of girls with blue hair written by Neil Gaiman, they would be nothing with out one very important thing: the story. It all began with a man (John Lasseter) wanting to examine what our toys do when we aren’t around ("Toy Story"). From there, we got a collection of brilliant stories about simple ideas like bugs, monsters in our closets, and a rat who can cook French cuisine. Somewhere along the way pixar lost itself with “Cars” and ....well mainly “Cars”. If we are nitpicking, we can say Pixar had production turmoil with “The Good Dinosaur” but, come November, we shall see...it better not suck. This week’s film is Pixar’s most ambitious concept yet, “Inside Out,” taking place in the mind of a preteen girl. The real question is: Does this movie stack up? And, if it is as good as all the hype surrounding it. Let’s find out shall we?
“Inside Out” is the story of five emotions; Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyliss Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). They all live in the mind of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), an 11 year old girl who has recently moved from Minnesota to San Francisco. When Joy starts to notice that Riley’s mind is more susceptible to Sadness’ influence, she fights to keep the norm she has maintained over these past 11 years. All her efforts result in both her and Sadness being tossed out of Riley’s control center. Now Anger, Disgust, and Fear are left captain-less and must figure out how to make Riley work. All the while, Joy and Sadness discover who one another truly are.
I just want to start out by saying that this film sounds like the biggest risk Pixar has ever taken. There is so much relying on the plot idea of “the inner workings and emotions of an 11 year old girl.” The characters could have been underdeveloped, the story had potential to be very boring, and finally, the biggest question of all time, is there an audience for a film like this? “Inside Out” is aimed at a children’s demographic, but it really is the most adult theme Pixar has tackled. If you ever truly wanted to know what someone was thinking, this film answers it.
Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen found a way to explain thought process in a way adults and children can grasp. The kids will see the visuals and behaviors of Anger and Fear and it will click for them. The parents will be able to spot the subtext in the characters. For instance, Joy isn’t just representing happiness. Joy is also naivety, optimism, and silver linings. The same can be said about Sadness, she isn’t just tears and sorrow. Sadness is one of the most complex and thoughtful characters ever depicted on screen. She is logical, empathetic, and full of compassion for everything in Riley’s life. There's a scene where Sadness has one of the most realistic conversations with a forgotten memory of Riley's, and it will melt your heart. Docter and Del Carmen are telling the audience that each emotion isn’t as black and white as you’d expect.
I have to hand it to Pixar, they always, ALWAYS pick the right voice actors. You can’t look at this voice cast and not think, “wow Pixar really nailed it.” Amy Poehler’s voice, no matter what her role is, (be it in television or film) screams positivity and rays of happiness. Poehler brings a lot to Joy, but one scene sticks out the most. Before her story really begins, Joy is watching an old memory of Riley figure skating and she follows Riley in the command center; mimicking her every move. The detail in Poehler’s voice-over about how much she loves her life in Riley’s head is so convincing that I thought this character was a real living breathing person.
Every one of Riley’s emotion’s has a huge part in this film. It isn’t just Joy’s story. Phyliss Smith from “The Office” is so sweet and somber as Sadness. She was definitely cast because of how adorable she is. Smith always comes across as someone’s mom or aunt. You can’t help but root for her, and that is why we needed her as Sadness. That argument can be made for Black, Hader, and Kaling. We know Black’s persona on stage as an angry comedian ticked off at society, so it is perfect that a 66 year old Jewish man be the voice of hostility in an 11 year old female.
As much as I loved Joy, Sadness, and Anger, the scene stealers for me were Bill Hader as Fear, Mindy Kaling as Disgust, and Richard Kind as Riley’s Imaginary friend Bing Bong. Hader as Fear had me dying with laughter. Fear is played as this sort of middle management supervisor who has no plans for promotion. He creates spreadsheets, does analytic reports and, like all middle managers, freaks out over the details. Hader makes everything better in a movie, just like Mindy Kaling. I don’t really watch “The Mindy Project”, but I do adore Miss. Kaling because of “The Office” and “The Five-Year Engagement.” Kaling’s voice is perfect for a Pixar film, and she plays Disgust like a fashionista on a vendetta. Kaling adds depth to Disgust, because it is an emotion that really can’t be fully grasped. Kaling plays it very simple here, which most wouldn’t do. In the wrong hands, Disgust would be a snobby Valley girl. Kaling makes her so much more. I won’t go too much into Kind’s performance as Bing Bong, all I can say is he is wonderful and he broke my heart. His true storyline would spoil the entire movie, and because he is tremendous in it, I won't ruin it for you the reader.
The execution of “Inside Out” feels very much like live sketch comedy television. This is a film that continues to evolve as it is depicting itself on screen. That live television feeling might be why they cast SNL people like Poehler, Hader, Bobby Moynihan, and SNL legendary writer Paula Pell. What Docter and Del Carmen have created is a thing of beauty. Riley’s mind is one of the greatest amusement parks, television studios, and warehouses I have ever seen. The advancements in CGI technology have created a small two-hour masterpiece on film.
Even though “WALL*E” and “Ratatouille” are my favorite Pixar films, “Inside Out” has the potential to be one of their best. This is a perfect family film. It has enough visual jokes to make children laugh but, like I said before, the parents will love how smart this film is. Pixar has once again returned to form with a magnificent opus like “Inside Out”. I pray they don’t go into “Cars” territory with “The Good Dinosaur.” I highly recommend everyone old and young see “Inside Out”.
Review Rating: A