Pixar has done it again. Their new animation film “Inside Out” is a simple but sublime work which not only delights us with its boundless imagination but also touches us with its dexterous storytelling. At first, you will be amazed and amused by its witty and wondrous visual presentation of the inner workings of mind. And then you will be touched by its heartfelt drama glowing brightly and tenderly from the psychological areas you have experienced or will experience during your life.
Its story mainly alternates between two realities. One is the life of a 11-year-old girl named Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), and the other is the inner world inside her mind, which was formed shortly after she started the first day of her life. In the middle of this world, there is the main control center where five basic human emotions operate: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. While Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler, who imbues her character with that irrepressible pluckiness we saw from her TV sitcom series “Parks and Recreation”), a bright, ever-optimistic figure in the glowing appearance of a blue-haired yellow girl, usually takes the charge along with Riley’s many joyous childhood moments, other emotions also can take the control whenever it is judged to be necessary in Riley’s young mind. Fear (voiced by irreplaceable Bill Hader), a constantly high-strung figure in the appearance of a thin purple guy, makes it sure that Riley is conscious of any possible risk or danger if she has to be, Disgust (voiced by Mindy Kaling from TV sitcom series “The Office”), an aloof, haughty figure in the appearance of a sassy green girl, lets Riley be mean or cranky when she feels like that, and Anger (voiced by Lewis Black, who is as aggressive as you can expect from him), a belligerent figure in the appearance of a red stocky guy, rages with fire as Riley gets angry or furious.
In case of Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith, who appropriately channels that daunted passivity we saw from her character in “The Office”), a sad, melancholic figure in the appearance of a blue chubby girl, she has been a burdensome presence for Joy to deal and live with since their first day with Riley. Joy simply wants Riley to be happy and joyous all the time, but Sadness often disrupts the mood with her blue aura. She knows what she causes, but she cannot help herself, like we often cannot help ourselves as dealing with our strong feelings.
As Riley grows up under her good parents somewhere in Nebraska, these five emotion characters have mostly worked nicely together in their control room, and we see how the control room is operated as developed bit by bit. When Riley was very young, the control room looked blank and simple as we can expect from babies, and then it becomes more sophisticated and colorful as her mind absorbs many things from her life day by day. Various memories are respectively stored in the glass balls individually colored with associated emotions, and most of them are sent to the storage area for memories while several crucial ones are stored in the control room as “core memories”.
Watching this process, I was reminded of how we can be regarded as biological computers in neurological view. In fact, our mental activities are virtually based on millions of tiny electrochemical signals transferred throughout our body at every second. Our mind is shaped by not only the development of a hardware called brain but also the upgrades we receive from our daily life experiences. We expand our mind as it is gradually and constantly shaped by our life, and, as amusingly shown in the film, we all have our own special places in our mind. They can be for your family or your best friends – or your major interests.
On one day, Riley’s life faces a major change. Her parents, voiced by Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane, decide to move to San Francisco for the father’s business opportunity, and that means Riley will be separated from many things in her life. She tries her best after she and her parents move to their new home in San Francisco, but it is not easy for her to adjust to her new environment. She begins to feel sad and unhappy, and she comes to miss what she had to leave behind.
Meanwhile, Riley’s mind is put into an emergency situation reflecting her troubled emotional condition. Along with Sadness and a bunch of core memories, Joy happens to be sucked into the tube system for transferring memory balls to the storage area, which consists of the endless stacks of memory balls. This area and the other areas of mind have the workers who mostly look like colorful jelly beans, and we also see the dark pit of oblivion, into which many past memories being forgotten are thrown away (I’d love to see what will possibly happen there during hypnosis).
While Fear, Disgust, and Anger try to handle this serious circumstance for themselves in the control room, it is pretty clear to Joy and Sadness that they must bring back the core memories to the control room before it is too late. As Riley becomes more troubled and depressed, many parts of her mind lose their vibrant colors and then are collapsed into nothingness one by one. As a guy who is still struggling to adjust himself to the first real job and the accompanying new environment, I know one or two things about feeling bad or depressed, and, in my humble opinion, those alarming moments in the film depict well a depressed state of mind. During one of my recent bad days, I felt like nothing but a void not so different from that dark pit of oblivion in the film, and the impulse to erase everything in my life began to pulsate inside me as I went down and down – until I managed to survive that short but gloomy period.
Literally dragging Sadness at times, Joy searches for any possible way for them to return to the control room as soon as possible, and the director/co-writer Pete Doctor, who won an Oscar for his classic Pixar animation film “Up” (2009), and his animators throw many various goodies into their bountiful mix of glorious style and creative imagination. Probably because of my dark sense of humor, I particularly enjoyed the spooky but hilarious sequence involved with the area of subconscious where our deepest fears reside. I and the other audiences always laughed at a certain running gag in the film, which is very funny for its precise comic timing while also being very revealing for its insight on the susceptibility of human mind. In case of a zone associated with abstract concepts, the movie gleefully pushes one zany idea to the extreme, and the result is another spirited moment you have to see for yourself. Michael Giacchinao’s score deftly swings around multiple tones and moods, and it works as a fabulous sonic accompaniment to the film.
And all these fantastic moments and many other ones are grounded well in the strong sense of connected realities, which makes us care equally about what is happening inside and outside. Busily juggling many ideas and jokes, the screenplay by Doctor and his co-writers Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley, based on the story by Doctor and his co-director Ronaldo Del Carmen, maintains the dramatic connection between two worlds through their effortless storytelling which trusts our intelligence and sensitivity. Through her bumpy adventure, Joy comes to realize that she and Sadness are not far from each other as being the equal parts of who Riley is. Through Joy, Sadness eventually finds her own value in Riley’s mind. Through Sadness, Riley learns a lesson about her feelings as well as her parents’. The movie wisely lets us see for ourselves how much she is emotionally matured inside in the end, and young audiences might get their first grasp of the complexity of life from that.
One of the most touching elements in the film is the character voiced by Richard Kind, a veteran actor whom I came to notice through his supporting turn in the Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man” (2009). While making his character endearingly goofy right from the first appearance, Kind brings considerable poignancy to his voice performance, and I remember well how some of the audiences around me strongly reacted to the scene where his character accepts what has been destined to happen someday since the very beginning. Sentimental you might say, but it comes with genuine sentiments mixed with a bittersweet truth of life.
Starting with “Toy Story” (1995), a groundbreaking work which brought me and others into the new era of animation feature film, the Pixar Animation Studio has continuously advanced while never looking back. Although its recent works such as “Cars 2” (2011), “Brave” (2012), “Monster University” (2013) felt mild compared to its supreme works including “Wall-E” (2008) and “Up” (2009), they were better than many other lesser animation films none the less, and now “Inside Out” shows us that Pixar has lost none of its magic yet. Smart, insightful, empathetic, and entertaining, it succeeds in many ways as reaching to various audiences who will process it in each own mind. In short, this is the best animation film of this year.
1. I watched the film in 2D. This is a bright, colorful animation film, and you don’t need 3D glasses to appreciate that.
2. Short animation film “Lava” is shown before the movie begins. It is a simple musical love story about one lonely volcano island yearning for his true love in the middle of ocean. It is told entirely through its title song, performed by Kuana Torres Kahele and Napua Greig.