Growing up is never easy even if your parents don’t move you across the country far from everything and everyone you’ve ever known. My folks lived in the same house for 50 or so years. The year after I got married my wife and I moved to a small town in the Florida Panhandle. It was a less than pleasant experience for the three years we were there but we look back on it with a fondness that comes with hindsight and maturity as we realize everything we experienced there helped make us the people we are today. Your whole life is like that from, to paraphrase from literature, the best of times and the worst of times, you learn how to deal with both success and failure. It’s the pain that makes us appreciate the good times. Learning that lesson seems a bit unfair when you are young as we all want just the positive and feel the negative is something to be avoided. I don’t go looking for failure so I can appreciate success that much more but it usually finds me whether I like it or not. In the latest from Disney/Pixar, “Inside Out,” a young girl learns some valuable lessons and the parts of her personality that color her memories learn even more.
Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) is your average 11 year old girl. She loves her parents, loves to play hockey with her friends and loves her life in Minnesota. That all changes when her mom and dad (voiced by Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) move the family across the country to San Francisco for a business opportunity, forcing Riley to leave her friends and everything she’s ever known behind. The move throws Riley’s emotions into turmoil but they try to make the best of it. Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) is the self-appointed leader of the team made up of herself, Disgust (voiced by Mindy Kaling), Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith), Fear (voiced by Bill Hader) and Anger (voiced by Lewis Black). Together they make up Riley’s personality and oversee the creation of her memories. Joy believes every memory should be a happy one especially the core memories that make up the base of Riley’s personality. Just after the move, Sadness touches one of Riley’s core memories turning it from happy to sad. Trying to correct the problem, Joy and Sadness, along with all of Riley’s core memories, get sucked up into the pneumatic tube that transfers memories into long-term storage. Now only Disgust, Fear and Anger are left in the control room and try as they might, they cannot keep Riley on an even keel. She begins to act out, argue with her parents and withdraw from the world, saddened by leaving her old life in Minnesota. Joy and Sadness must be careful navigating their way back to the control room so they don’t lose Riley’s core memories in the giant chasm where old memories go to die. They get some help from Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (voiced by Richard Kind) but still struggle to get back where they belong and thanks to a misguided idea by Anger, Riley is planning to runaway back to Minnesota…alone.
We expect any Disney/Pixar film to be entertaining and nice to look at but they usually surprise us with the amount of depth and intelligence these “kids’ movies” contain. “Inside Out” is no exception to this and may be the smartest film in the studio’s long and illustrious history. Without talking above the heads of the core audience but not talking down to the adults, “Inside Out” manages to tell a simple tale in a way that is illuminating and far more clever than one usually gets from an animated film. It doesn’t hurt that it is beautiful to look at and more than a little funny.
While the entire voice cast is great the stand out has to be Lewis Black as Anger. Best known for his aggressive standup style and his rants on “The Daily Show,” Lewis Black is perfectly cast as the stumpy, red-bodied Anger. His line delivery mixed with the perfect animation makes Anger, who could have been grating and annoying, the character you wish had been the focus of the film. You may have seen a trailer where Anger asks if he can use the curse word Riley knows. In the trailer it’s funny but in context it is much funnier. You would think Anger, stomping around with the top of his head glowing then bursting into flame when he reaches his limit, should really be the one in charge of the group. I understand why he isn’t since this is a movie for children and that would send the wrong message. Maybe if there is a sequel, Anger and Joy will have a power struggle over who is running things. Lewis Black is certainly the reason many adults will enjoy the film.
Parents will also appreciate the story as it develops during the course of Joy and Sadness journey through Riley’s mind. The two learn lessons about their place in Riley’s life and their relationships to each other. While many people think and speak in absolutes such as, “Everybody thinks like this” and “Nobody wants that,” that simply isn’t how life works. While a majority of people may think one way or the other or do one thing or another, there are always those that have differing opinions and preferences. Joy believes all of Riley’s memories should be happy and is most contented when, at the end of the day, the group of memories transferred to long-term storage shares her color of bright yellow. Any that are Disgust’s green, Fear’s purple, Anger’s red or Sadness’s blue means to Joy she is a failure. The story shows that life isn’t just happiness. Sometimes, other feelings make up our memories and hence our personalities and that’s the way it should be. It’s a lesson many adults could stand to learn as well.
Prior to “Inside Out,” the short “Lava” played. It tells the story of a volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that watches the pairs of animals in love and wishes he had a companion as well. Pixar is terrific at telling heart wrenching stories in just a few minutes and they do the same with “Lava.” When it ended there were sniffles scattered around the theatre and it wasn’t allergies. If either “Lava” or “Inside Out” doesn’t at least make your eyes misty you have no soul.
“Inside Out” is rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action. The concept of upheaval and moving across the country to a scary house with a dead mouse in the corner might upset especially sensitive children. There is a train wreck shown that exposes some characters to a chance of physical danger. A character makes the ultimate sacrifice to save another and that was quite a gut punch for me personally. Foul language is, of course, not an issue.
From its imaginative depiction of the mind and the fairly realistic portrayal of a preteen girl in turmoil to some especially perfect voice acting, “Inside Out” may be Disney/Pixar’s best film for both a combined child and adult audience. It is so good, so funny, so well rendered, so moving, it should rank right up there as one of the greatest Pixar films in its history. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
“Inside Out” gets five glowing bright yellow stars out of five.
Three new movies open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of them.
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