With DreamWorks churning out several movies per year and other studios like Blue Sky and Reel FX trying to step on the action, Inside Out proves, once again, that nobody jerks tears like Pixar.
The film takes place mostly in the head of Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias). Anderson is run by five principle emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader). These personified, color-coded feelings, mostly Joy, govern Anderson’s day-to-day responses and short-term memory. But during a schism over how to respond to a new school in San Francisco, Joy and Sadness are sucked into long-term memory after Anderson’s core memories, which create and power aspects of her personality. Joy attempts to navigate the labyrinth of Anderson’s long-term memory with the all-important core memories in tow, while at the same time reigning in Sadness, who is hell-bent on turning every memory she can get her hands on bitter. With her personality compromised and rage, terror and repulsion all she’s capable of feeling, Anderson spirals quickly into a deep depression.
The studio that brought to life worlds populated by toys and monsters has done it again, bringing viewers into yet another immersive, imaginative world that is at once completely familiar and wholly alien. Joy and Sadness explore Anderson’s imagination, her particle-collider enclosure for abstract thought and her cavernous dungeon of a subconscious, guiding viewers through the nuances of her character. As ever, viewers will leave the theater wondering at the rich world they just spent two hours in.
The cast is fantastic and a popular television fan’s dream team, with Parks and Recreation, The Daily Show and The Office all represented. Black as Anger is one of the best casting choices of the year, and hearing a 66 year old most commonly heard berating long-lived dictators and creationists while Jon Stewart takes a smoke break unironically talk about his resentment toward Mom and Dad will forever be surreal to anyone who knew him before this movie. The choice is rivaled by Poehler, back in full Leslie Knope. She gives the kind of rare voice performance that completely overcomes the lack of actual screentime. It’s a little sad they couldn’t find Nick Offerman a role, though.
Pixar also brings its penchant for emotional devastation back to bear, and this one is a doozy. Up was sad when Ellie died, but was mostly about the resulting adventure. Wall-E was set against the back drop of the fall of the human race, but stayed mostly a love story between the adorable robots.
Inside Out, on the other hand, is dark and primarily about what makes it dark. The film is mostly set in the mind of an 11 year old girl going through an emotional crisis. Viewers get to know Anderson from the inside, seeing her hopes and dreams and even her imaginary friend first-hand, but also must watch aspects of her personality literally crumble. Eventually, at the height of her despondency, she becomes unable to feel anything at all.
Perhaps even darker than this are the glimpses into her parents’ heads, which reveal that her mother (Diane Lane) is run by sadness and her father (Kyle MacLachlan) by anger the same way Anderson is dominated by Joy.
Viewers are put in a down mood even before the curtain by the preceding, ill-advised short Lava, a musical about a Jabba the Hutt inspired volcano who, alone in the world, is forced to watch all the island creatures and even clouds live out fulfilling relationships all around him. The last thing he sees is a potential lover rise out of the sea, unable to call out to her as his mouth is submerged. It all works out of course, but the short is simply not good enough to be as upsetting as it is, and it really takes away from Inside Out as an experience. The feature is excellent, but quite depressing enough on its own.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. My heart goes out to Charleston. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.