Inside Out

UK Release Date 24th july 2015
Director Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Starring Amy Poehler
Runtime 94 Minutes
Certificate U
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 27th July 2015

Remember The Numbskulls? Nope, me neither, but I suspect this is because they made the move to my childhood comic, The Beano, from rival comic, The Beezer at around the time I stopped buying comics. This makes me feel about as old as I am. The Numbskulls were a group of technicians that ran the mind and body of ‘The Man’ and, later in the comic strip’s life, a boy. These guys were concerned with the more practical elements of running a body but are a good demonstration that we’ve long anthropomorphised our own head’s inner workings. Which makes it more surprising that it’s taken Hollywood this long to get around to the subject. Now that it has though, it a blessing of the highest order that the idea has finally fallen to the creative pool of total genius that is Pixar….

And so we reach Inside Out, an emotions only version of The Numbskulls, set largely inside the head of eleven year old Riley. Riley’s happy existence suffers a somewhat concealed blow when her well-meaning parents move house from their native Minnesota to San Fransisco, pursuing her father’s job. It’s a very everyday event for a family and one that, initially at least, Riley seems to take in her smily stride. Other things are afoot though deep in her mind as her battling, growing emotions fight for control.

It’s a blindingly simple conceit but one that continues to pay out to me three days after the screening. An impressive feat for a live action movie aimed at adults. A truly astonishing feat for an animation, predominantly aimed at a far younger audience. The key here is that Pixar, or more specifically co-directors Pete Docter (veteran of Up and Monster’s Inc.) and Ronaldo Del Carmen (stepping up from the animation department of  Brave and Ratatouille) have managed to personify a set of base emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust) and the world that they inhabit in such a way as to make the most complex feeling presentable to a huge range of audience members, without for a second making it patronising or sentimental. Given the subject matter, the latter is a particular achievement, especially with an audience member as grumpy and cynical as me. 

The voice cast of the emotions are universally excellent, each absolutely nailing the correct level for their character. Amy Poehler (now apparently in everything and very much welcome in everything) is suitably relentless as the dominant emotion Joy, perpetually battling with the other emotions in the mistaken belief that everything can be solved by being happy about it. Phyllis Smith somehow manages to come across as utterly beguiling as Joy’s main nemesis / team mate Sadness - every sentiment uttered makes you want to grab her and reassure her that everything is going to all right. Bill Hader imbues Fear with all the right frantic slapstick to pinch the majority of the best lines, competing with Lewis Black (who else?) as Anger, an emotion not afraid to put The Foot down when required. Only Mindy Kaling’s Disgust comes across as less present than the rest, probably due to the emotion perhaps being a strange choice for the team. Add to that a particularly affecting performance from the much overlooked Richard Kind as Riley’s childhood imaginary friend Bing Bong and the inside of Riley’s head is brought to life in some style.

And to add to the stella voice performances we have two mainstays of Pixar’s unrivalled success; an intelligent, witty script and and explosion of imagination. Seven people share the credits for writing the movie so I have no idea who to single out but the team done good. We’re always banging on about animations that nail that perfect line between the kids watching and the adults they had to bring with them but Inside Out absolutely knocks it out of the park on this front. Partly because of the subject matter - delving into a child’s subconscious is a brave move but when you colour it with a superbly balanced amount of throwaway one liners and a deluge of knowing references (the Mind Workers busily tidying up the unused memories and gleefully re-issuing the same, pointless memory over and over for their own amusement are a creation of utter, utter genius), it all looks easy. I spent almost as much time belly-laughing in this movie as I did fighting back tears.

As for the visuals and the world that has been created, it perfectly fulfils the brief. Riley’s almost teenage mind is realised perfectly, her thoughts marshalled and organised into a series of islands (such as Hockey, Family, Friends), representing the preoccupation of a child her age. Into these islands are fed experiences coloured (literally) by emotions (represented as coloured steel balls). Occasionally, an experience will warrant a ‘core memory’ which is so pivotal to Riley that it is saved in a special place. At first, the emotions success is judged on just how many of these memories are represented as gold, or happy memories. It is imperative that the core memories are this colour, any other colour would be unthinkable. It all just fits so well, it is all just utterly believable. And as the movie progresses and Riley’s emotions become more complicated, the adventure that Joy and Sadness embark on becomes ever more real.

Described on paper it sounds corny or too simplistic but just like all wonderful ideas, the complexity only becomes obvious when you spend some time thinking about it. This is a movie that your kids are merely borrowing from you, you’re going to want it back sooner rather than later because, damnit, it means far more to you than it does them. 

In Short:

If I haven’t got this over already, then I just want to be clear - Inside Out is a magnificent achievement. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year and I strongly suspect it will be in my top two by year’s end. Docter, Del Carmen and their team have taken a complex, deep, challenging subject and blasted it through a kaleidoscope of visual ideas, tied it to a warm, intelligent, touching and downright hilarious script and presented it with the perfect set of voice acting talent. This is a ‘kids’ movie that, were its ideas presented by a Frenchman in live action, people would be clamouring for its inclusion in any number of awards ceremonies (whilst secretly hoping they were the only people to see it). It’s a movie that transcends it genre and will leave you at turns weeping with joy and laughing until you hurt. It is a movie that not only understands what an eleven year old is going through, it understands how to present that to not only fellow eleven year olds, but to big horrible grownups like me. Just wonderful.

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