Home » 2015 » Inside Out •••••

Inside Out •••••

Inside_Out_(2015_film)_posterStarring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black
Director: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Screenplay: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Animation/Comedy/Drama, Rated: PG
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Date: June 19, 2015

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Well, Greg, it’s time to review the heroes in Pixar’s latest release, Inside Out.


I’m turned inside out with anticipation. Let’s recap.


We meet Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), an 11-year-old girl whose family is moving from Minnesota to San Francisco. We also meet various components of Riley’s internal emotional state. There is Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).


We’re shown around the landscape that is her brain. There are the core islands of family, friends, goofiness, and her favorite pastime – hockey. Each memory is a tiny orb that is colored by whatever emotion Riley was feeling when the memory happens. Joy is the predominant emotion and basically runs the show. But Sadness wants to take over when Riley is having trouble in her new situation. Riley misses her friends and house back in Minnesota.

So, Sadness gets into all the memories and starts to color them blue. Joy wants Riley’s memories to be happy so she attempts to stop Sadness and they are both whisked away from “head” quarters into Riley’s memory storage bank leaving Fear, Anger, and Disgust to fend for themselves and color all of Riley’s memories. Now it’s up to Joy to return the core memories to Riley’s frontal cortex and restore Riley’s happy feelings.


Greg, Pixar has done it again. This film studio’s ability to craft wonderful and moving hero stories that appeal to audiences of all ages is unmatched in the movie industry. With Inside Out, Pixar has especially grabbed my attention because it portrays the conflicting psychological makeup of the average human being. As a psychologist, I believe that Pixar’s rendition of people’s psyche rings true. We are presented with five conflicting emotional states that compete with long-term memories, imaginary friends, dream states, trains of thought, and executive functioning.

The visual depictions of all these mental processes are innovative and amusing. Moreover, the resolution of Riley’s internal conflict is deeply moving and reveals some fundamental truths about how we deal with life’s ups and downs. Inside Out tells a simple story about average people encountering a common situation. Yet the simplicity of the movie’s premise belies its intelligent handling of the way we struggle to resolve our human pain and difficulty.


As a military brat who moved on average every 18 months, I empathized with Riley’s emotions over moving away from a home she loved. Writer and director Peter Docter didn’t miss a beat. The story moves along at a rapid pace and exposes a lot of the inner workings of our minds. The conflict between the different emotions was hilarious not only for the excellent voice acting, but also because it was so relatable for anyone who was eleven years old at some time.


I was struck by the diversity of the ensemble cast featuring different emotional elements bouncing off each other in a manner reminiscent of John Hughes’ Breakfast Club. Yet the hero story focuses on Riley as a lone hero engaged in an inner war with herself. Imbedded within this lone hero journey is a buddy hero story involving Joy and Sadness. As with most buddy duos, Joy and Sadness do not get along at first. Soon they realize that they need each other and forge an unshakable bond that is essential for Riley to grow in her maturity. In total, we have a complex hero story with at least three layers, and Pixar masterfully manages to weave these layers together into a beautiful, coherent whole.


I agree Scott. One thing I noticed about this ensemble is that there is a clear leader. Joy is not quite the protagonist, but she is the mastermind of this group. We also get a glimpse into the minds of other characters. They also had the same five-emotional ensemble, but different emotions would be the leader.

There is a wonderful cast of supporting players. There’s Bing Bong – the part cat, part elephant, part cotton candy imaginary friend who cries hard candies. And the cleaning crew who dispose of unused memories. We meet the guards of the unconscious who aren’t too bright. And there was a wonderful use of the “Reality Distortion Lens” (an homage to Steve Jobs) by the minions who managed Riley’s dreams.


Inside Out is one of the year’s best films. We are treated to a unique and clever glimpse into the inner workings of the human psyche, bolstered by an entertaining dialogue, creative visuals, and an intelligent view of how human growth occurs. I laughed, I cried, and I heartily recommend that this movie be nominated to our Reel Heroes Hall of Fame. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), I award Inside Out a rating of 5 Reels out of 5.

The hero story was a complex tale of a child’s lone journey represented by her internal mental turmoil, particularly her two primary emotions of Joy and Sadness in battle (and in ultimate union) with each other. I’ve never seen a more psychologically rich and interesting hero’s journey. Our primary emotional hero mastermind, Joy, receives crucial mentoring from Bing Bong and her parents. There is a rewarding transformation in Riley, made possible by inner-struggle, perseverance, and assistance from others. So many of the elements of the classic hero’s journey are represented well here. Again, my rating is a full 5 Heroes out of 5.

Greg, you captured the strength of the supporting cast very effectively. All the characters are impeccably drawn and know their place within the structure of the story. Riley’s family, her emotional elements, and the other minor characters all produce a movie experience that dazzles and shines in every possible way. I award the cast a full 5 out of 5 rating points.

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As much as I hate the phrase, Inside Out is an instant classic. At Agile Writers the first step in writing a novel is defining the demographic the story is aimed at. Pixar obviously aims its movies at children, but creates a tapestry rich enough to engage viewers of all ages. That’s no mean feat. Inside Out hits it mark on so many levels. This is a story of a young girl ripped away from an ideal life and how she handles it. But it’s also a coming of age story. We watch her internal world crumble as she leaves behind childish things and takes a big step towards adulthood. I give Inside Out 5 out of 5 Reels.

When Pixar announced this project a few years back, I was skeptical. The idea that you could tell a story about something as amorphous as emotions is fraught with peril. But Pete Docter pulled it off. By limiting the scope to 5 primary emotions, with one of them as the leader, Docter reigned in what could have been an overwhelming project. Joy is wonderful as the leader of this ensemble. Aside from being ever-optimistic, she’s also a leader. It’s wonderful to see a hero for young women who takes charge (and isn’t labeled as ‘bossy’). I give Joy and her troupe 5 out of 5 Heroes.

The supporting players were so varied and entertaining as well. Although the parents play a small role in the film, they were loving and supportive. The mentor/sidekick character of Bing Bong helped Joy maneuver the special world of the brain’s memory system. The other secondary characters were more than mere walk-ons. They were clearly defined with specific roles in the functioning of Riley’s thoughts. I give the supporting cast 5 out of 5 Cast points.

I second your nomination for this film to enter our Reel Heroes Hall of Fame. It’s been a long time since we allowed a film in. And for good reason. A filmmaker has to really hit one out of the park to set itself above all the others. And Inside Out definitely cleared the fence of quality.

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4 Comments

  1. Fantastic film! I’m glad it made it into the Reel Heros Hall of Fame. It is certainly well deserved.

  2. I was very excited to see this film. I felt the representation of the emotions were entertaining and thought provoking. Pam and I saw it together and wondered aloud which emotion is our leader. Made for interesting conversation. You mentioned that this could have become difficult portray on the screen. The only ‘issue’ I had was the each of the emotions had their own emotions, of course that just sends us down a bunny hole, so I just stopped thinking about that and enjoyed the ride.

    Yet another excellent review and I agree – excellent film, do we ever think an animated feature could be nominated for Best Picture by the MPAA? This seems like it could be one that could get close.

    • Good question, Patrick. There is definitely a bias against animations in the Best Picture category. According to Wikipedia, only 3 animated films have ever been nominated and none have ever won. Thanks for reading our reviews!

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