Disney-associated Pixar is arguably the first name in animation, and has come up with another winner in Inside Out, which mostly takes place inside the brain of 11-year-old Riley. Having just been hauled by her parents from the folksy Midwest to hipster San Francisco, poor Riley is beset by many challenges as she adjusts to a new school, new people, and a very empty house (the moving truck with all their furniture and clothing has been delayed). And the emotional roller coaster ride Riley finds herself on is personified by five distinct emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Sadness, and Disgust – who are cartoon-style humanoid characters running an elaborate “command centre” in her mind.
This is a very high-concept movie and it takes a few minutes to get oriented as the point of view toggles from the photo-realist “real world” that Riley inhabits to the colourfully stylized realm inside her brain, which is rendered as part amusement park and part maze.
And those emotion-icons are kept busy: aside from the main control panel (which resembles a Gameboy console), they oversee an elaborate system of transparent pipes that are conduits for Riley’s bowling ball-shaped memories. These regularly roll to various storage areas, especially the several “islands” where core aspects of Riley’s personality and values have developed over time.
After the move, things initially go fairly well for Riley, but the Sadness character makes a few mistakes that imperil the command centre. As the mishap escalates to the destruction of core memories and those all-important islands, Riley’s emotions turn inside out in a meltdown that the icons frantically try to rectify.
Some critics have suggested that Inside is like a pint-size version of the sci-fi mind-bender Inception, and there is some truth to that. It’s possible that some of its cleverness may appeal to adults a bit more than children. But the movie’s deliberately ordinary external world is marvelously contrasted with the realm of the five icons, who portray the genesis of human behaviour in an intriguing way.
The buoyant Joy character, who leads the quest to save Riley’s memories, is perfectly voiced by ex-SNL star Amy Poehler, herself a sunny goofball. But the show is stolen by Anger, a.k.a. Lewis Black, the hilariously grumpy stand-up comic famed for his splenetic tirades. The imaginative, appealing, funny, and warm-hearted Inside is indeed a treat.
INSIDE OUT ***
Stars Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Bill Hader
Directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen
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