Is Inside Out Pixar's Greatest Achievement? Review
Devising characters from a person’s emotions sounds left field, even for Pixar. The studio has made its name through gorgeous features about family and friendship, animating various beings and objects: insects, sea creatures, monsters, and toys. Yet Inside Out, which stars an 11-year-old’s Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust as principal characters, is Pixar’s best and most profound film yet.
The ‘real life’ plot is straightforward. On the brink of puberty, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) loves hockey, goofing around, and being with her friends and family. Her life so far has been happy. All this is threatened, however, when her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, where Riley is confronted with a series of new challenges.
We see all this from the perspective of Riley’s dominant emotion thus far: Joy (Amy Poehler). Along with Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), she monitors Riley’s actions from a control room. At first, Joy demonstrates her good work by rifling through Riley’s memories, showing them to be mostly happy. While she understands and appreciates her co-workers Fear, Anger and Disgust, letting them have their turn at the controls when appropriate, she can’t make much sense of Sadness, who seems to only mope around. In keeping with the emotion she represents, Sadness doesn’t know her purpose either, and is convinced of her insignificance.
The novelty of moving to a new home, school, and city take Joy and Sadness on a trip through Riley’s mind away from their familiar control room. This showcases the creations of directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen—visual representations of imagination, dreams, the subconscious, and abstract thoughts. Their universe is beautiful and witty. It’s a pleasure to discover, alongside the characters, how they have pieced apart the human mind.
Inside Out is also very funny, particularly when it moves from Riley’s head into that of other characters. Her parents’ minds are spot on ruminations of the day to day of adult life, although a little gender stereotypical. It also serves up tender humour in the form of Riley’s many cheerful memories.
Ultimately, the film leads its audience to the real purpose of Sadness. Herein lies Inside Out’s brilliance. In addition to being compelling, amusing, and moving, it is also wise. It concludes that negative feelings are helpful and useful - and this overarching acceptance of negative emotions is in line with recent research about what makes us emotionally healthy. It transmits a valuable life skill to children while nudging adults.
Inside Out digs deep into the drama of our small, day-to-day lives. It’s entertaining, beautiful, and concludes with something directly useful, yet philosophical. It’s Pixar’s most daring film and greatest achievement yet.