With Inside Out Pixar have staged a triumphant return to form. Directed by Pete Docter the film tells the story of Riley, a young girl, struggling to adjust with her family’s relocation from Minnesota to San Francisco. However, Riley is actually the film’s setting rather than its main protagonist with the majority of the action taking place inside her mind. This is where the film truly shines and earns its place in the very prestigious ranks of Pixar’s best output. The crux of the narrative follows Joy and Sadness, two of five personified emotions, after they are expelled from Headquarters into the Long-Term Memory archive. Whilst they attempt to return Fear, Anger and Disgust try to emulate the actions of Joy in order to help Riley cope with this drastic change to her life.
Much like the studio’s other greatest works, Inside Out deals with weighty topics in a masterful way that makes for a fun, exciting and moving film. Its humour is laugh out loud funny and scenes of sadness can be choking. There is no mediocrity or disconnect and it achieves an emotional response without having to resort to manipulating its audience with cloying sentimentality. Many of Pixar’s favourite themes are woven into the film but without feeling like a return to familiar or well-worn ground. The loss of childhood, the importance of family and the anxiety that can arise in the face of the unknown are all present here. Yet what separates it from the studio’s previous efforts is the overt emphasis on child psychology. Whilst it has been sub-textually present in films such as Toy Story, never has Pixar crafted a story where it is so integral. It is this focus that makes it both important and rewarding for parents taking their children to see it. By consulting with psychologists Pixar have built genuine insight into the ways in which a child’s psyche operates. With confidence and wit they have incorporated the subconscious, imagination, memory and emotion in a way that is universally relatable. The film’s success lies in its ability to be simple and complex. Furthermore, by confronting these issues it builds a platform in which children can recognise the problems they are facing and find solace knowing that they are not alone in experiencing them.
On a technical level the film is of a calibre that is expected of Pixar, with quality animation being somewhat of a guarantee. Although this does not mean the film should go without praise as it utilises a number of interesting techniques to enrich the experience. Whilst inside Riley’s mind there is a fluidity to the animation, a vibrancy of colour and a feeling of weightlessness, especially with Joy. When the action transitions into the external world there is a washed out colour palette and a deliberate attempt to affect the framing and movement of a real camera. These little details add tremendously to the film in a way that is subtle yet effective. It is also necessary to give credit to the unanimously excellent voice acting. Particular highlights include Amy Poehler as Joy, Lewis Black as Anger and Richard Kind as Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong.
Inside Out is an example of what Pixar can achieve when they hit their creative stride. It is a truly sophisticated piece of filmmaking that manages to be thoroughly entertaining for people of all ages. Arguably one of the most cerebral films of the year and certainly one of the best, there is a strong case for a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. For those who love Pixar’s early work, go see Inside Out.