Don’t think too hard about Pixar’s latest high concept comedy and it will definitely reward you. Inside Out is the studio’s most complex and intriguing film, which takes place almost entirely inside the mind of a little girl named Riley. The heroes are her emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust – and their goal is to keep Riley as content as possible. Because if they don’t, her psyche crumbles around them.
These emotions don’t act entirely out of self-interest. They love Riley, of course. But it’s incredibly hard to watch Inside Out with your left brain fully functioning. You can get stuck in all the disturbing ramifications of this concept. Is Riley, and by extension every other human being, just a big giant fleshy robot housing these little emotions, who look like they are made entirely out of Floam? Are we all just unwitting hosts, subject to the symbiotic whims of our personified moods? Or is Inside Out merely an impossibly complicated metaphor with only one logical interpretation: that none of these colorful characters actually exist, and that they only represent the complex internal struggle of one miserable little girl?
Inside Out may wreak havoc with your sense of logic, but it feels right, and feeling is all that matters this time. Young Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) has moved to a new city with her parents, and her emotions are having trouble keeping her mentally healthy. Joy (Amy Poehler) struggles to keep Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and especially Sadness (Phyllis Smith) from taking over Riley’s conscious mind, but when her overzealous efforts backfire, it’s a dangerous calamity for everyone, inside and out.
Before long Joy and Sadness are stuck in the back of Riley’s mind – literally and figuratively – leaving only Disgust, Fear and Anger controlling her actions. Directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen practically punch the color out of Riley’s outer world, and absolutely devastate her inner world as soon as Riley’s happiness and capacity to understand her own misery become unavailable to her. One gets the distinct impression that genuine mental instability could very well be in Riley’s future, leading to a lifelong bout of actual insanity. The plot may be small, but the ramifications are staggering.
Joy and Sadness must navigate Riley’s labyrinthian imagination and memories to get back to her conscious mind, but first they must learn to work together, because – as they gradually come to understand – Joy cannot exist without Sadness, or vice versa. Their journey takes many unexpected detours through dreams and nightmares and into the arms of half-forgotten fantasies. A trip through abstract thought yields visual wonders, and a descent into the psychological abyss produces torrents of tears.
But although Inside Out will make you cry (a lot), it is also a witty film, packed with clever gags and amusing conceits. Catchy commercial jingles are a very real threat to the inhabitants of the human mind, and the production of dreams is fodder for plenty of rewarding inside Hollywood jokes.
The old chestnut that “this film will make you laugh and cry” isn’t so much a cliché here as a raison d’être, but unlike the weepy melodramas that usually bear that description, Inside Out actually wants you to think about the serious ramifications of these feelings. And, of course, wonder if somewhere inside your brain there might be a little blue person and a little green person who are duking it out for supremacy. Which would mean that you have multiple and distinct personalities inside you. Which would mean that, quite possibly, you are quite mad. And so am I. And so is everyone else. And maybe we should all just split our heads open to free these Floam monsters from their brain cages.
Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah, don’t think too hard about it. Inside Out is spectacular but kinda weird.