Audiences have held mixed feelings toward Pixar Animation Studios over the past few years. Many of their more-recent efforts have made people angry, upset and even disgusted, with others still fearing that the company had lost its ability to produce quality films. Thankfully, this Pixar release is a film which eases those concerns, instead eliciting an abundance of Joy.
Eleven-year-old Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias) is the sole daughter of a middle-class Minnesotan couple, and lives a relatively happy life. Guiding her through life are the five emotions which live inside her mind: Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and their self-appointed leader Joy (Amy Poehler). Whilst they have their differences, all five get-along and are able to co-operate during times of difficulty. Well, for the most part.
After her Dad is given a promotion at work, Riley and her emotions suddenly find themselves moving to San Francisco, dealing a blow to their camaraderie. Joy, being the upbeat and resilient leader, wants to ensure that everything goes well for Riley; but after Sadness accidently tampers with one of Riley’s core memories, which are central to maintaining her identity, a flapped Joy finds herself and Sadness being sucked out of the control room and into the depths of Riley’s mind.
With Joy and Sadness now lost, Anger, Fear and Disgust are left responsible for guiding Riley through her new life in California. But without a leader to guide them or her core memories, all the remaining emotions do is leave Riley confused, homesick and unable to adjust to her new surroundings. If Riley is to be truly happy in San Francisco, Joy will need to find her way to the control room, a seeming impossibility with Sadness in tow.
One of the greatest strengths of Pixar Animation Studios is their ability to turn familiar concepts into fresh and original stories, with Inside Out being yet another example of this practice. The film takes a well-worn idea of having individuals controlling the brain, applies its own unique twists, and presents it in a way which is humorous – there’s a bountiful amount of funny scenarios and character traits within, more than is usual for a Pixar release – and often quite clever.
Take Riley’s emotions, for instance. Although their names are indicative of a one-dimensional personality, all five protagonists are fully-developed characters with their own motivations, and aren’t necessarily driven by Joy, Anger and so forth – they all possess feelings of frustration and anguish from time to time. Were these charming characters not as complex, chances are their routines would have quickly become tiring. What’s more, each protagonist makes a positive contribution to the story.
This being a Pixar film, there is much more to appreciate besides. Bright colours, top-rate rendering and the occasional moment of slapstick make the animation a delight, well-above the standard of any other studio. The voice-casting is faultless, with each of the actors nailing the persona of their emotions, especially Phyllis Smith as Sadness. And the soundtrack, penned by Pixar stalwart Michael Giacchino, only rouses the emotions further. And that isn’t all.
The most extraordinary thing is that Inside Out manages to be deep and thoughtful without ever being complicated. It feels as though Pixar has only applied a smidgen of their creativity to this project, and had many more ideas to contribute; yet at the same time, it feels as though it doesn’t need to delve any further. The film is so engrossing, and even though it has been two years since it was released, this reviewer is still amazed at how brilliantly it tells such a simple tale.
At the risk of sounding like a critic who desperately wants to be quoted on the back of a DVD case, this reviewer would go as far to say that Inside Out is the best film of the decade, bar none. As well as possessing the Pixar mainstays of first-rate animation and great voice-acting, the film captivates the viewer with its blend of warmth, wit, heart and, yes, Joy. An absolute must-see for everyone.
This film was previously reviewed for YO Bendigo on July 8th, 2015.