With Inside Out, Pixar delivers a simple yet richly themed animated feature that stands as one of the best visual metaphors for growing up thanks to well-executed inventive storytelling, creative world building, and excellent voice acting.

Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school. [Pixar]

Inside Out is the best animated movie to come out of Pixar to date. Long after it has finished its run in the cinema, it will forever make us think about how the way we think and feel.

While the idea isn’t original, the movie still visualizes the pains of growing up through an inventive story. Joy, sadness, disgust, fear and anger all try to help Riley but just like emotions in real life, they often end up clashing with each other. It’s an accurate depiction of conflicting emotions that are much more intense during our formative years, when we’re all trying to figure out how to cope with life while trying to figure out ourselves.

Pixar uses a general narrative hurdle that most kids experience in their lifetime. The studio plays it safe compared to other struggles that you could throw in (such as divorce or loss of a pet). But thinking from a studio perspective, this will enable the characters to establish themselves which will make it easier for the next sequel to dive into headier (pun intended) concepts.

This layered family centered story is handled well. The movie switches between Riley’s interior world as her emotions try to solve a “technical problem” and real life as she tries to cope with her new surroundings. Thanks to the premise and a well-executed plot, Pixar is able to entertain a wide audience – the colorful adventure of joy and sadness will amuse kids while themes explored along the way will hit adults right in the feels.

Apart from the universal pains of growing up, Inside Out slyly tackles deep themes. When you peel back all the whimsy two important lessons are revealed: blind optimism and control. Inspiration porn teaches us that positive thinking will solve everything, which is far from the truth. We are told to control our “negative” emotions and always be happy, which is actually counterproductive.

Perfect casting brings to life the movie’s emotions. Joy and sadness are loveable thanks to Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith. The animated Bill Hader is perfect as fear. Mindy Kaling pulls off an amusing valley girl as disgust. Lewis Black fits anger to a tee. Richard Kind is also perfect as Bing Bong the imaginary friend. These characters could’ve been annoying but thanks to solid performances and a well-written script, they’re adequately fleshed out characters worth investing in. The movie also took the time to show that different people have their own variations of these emotions in their head, including a sneak peek at Riley’s parents’ mind.

Our destined to be iconic characters all live in a world that creatively illustrates memories and mental processes. Inside Out uses story book colors, mechanical elements, and a retro style to produce an amusing timeless landscape.This includes islands with mechanical avatars for core memories, a subconscious represented as an underground dungeon, and a labyrinth of shelved memories. Even the emotions are decorated with old school details. The musical score help set the mood for different places.This time around Pixar takes the time to explore and layout an adventure.

As joy and sadness find their way through this interior world, the resolution will bring you to tears. For the first time, a character isn’t fridged for the sake of development. The movie uses internal conflict instead of a caricature villain – which is a big step for Pixar’s storytelling M.O. – and delivers a memorable pay-off.

In the end, Inside Out doesn’t just prove to be a technical achievement for Pixar. The studio is able to deliver an animated movie that is both simple and deep. Studio Ghibli has achieved this (the recent The Tale of Princess Kaguya for example) many times as it caters to and helps shape a sophisticated younger audience in Japan. It’s time for Pixar to evolve beyond its emotionally manipulative tearjerkers (see: Up).

Inside Out is not just about growing up. It’s also about dealing with complex feelings that arise as we try to figure out our way through life – loneliness, loss, and disappointment. Most importantly, the movie teaches kids that it’s okay to let go, embrace their feelings, and deal with their emotions instead of suppressing it. It also tells parents to recognize these feelings and communicate with their kids.

My Rating: 10/10

Alternative Movie Poster by Matt Needle

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