Inside Out full movie review - An Allegorical Masterpiece...
I often dreamed about movies, but never BEFORE watching them.
It happened with "Inside Out", I had heard so many great things about it and the ubiquitous multi-colored posters were so eye-catchy, that the film was "inside" my mind already, fittingly so, and now that I saw it, I can say that it will stay there... for a while.
"Inside Out" is indeed the kind of movie that makes you want to emulate Amélie by turning around in the theater and see the smiling faces of the people around. I don't know for you, but after a few minutes, my eyes were literally glued to the screen, and from the expression on my face, you could tell that Joy's smile and optimism were irresistibly contagious.
The entrance of Joy (Amy Poehler) and the genesis of the other emotion-related creatures in the mind of little Riley, echoed both my memories as a child and my current life as a little girl's daddy. Now, I look at her cries, her tantrums and the way she makes funny faces when told to behave herself in a whole different light. In less than five minutes, the film had already hit a sensitive chord, not that I doubt an animated film could achieve such a sentimental 'stunt', "Mary and Max." and "Up" had also done a terrific job on that level.
It's worth mentioning "Up" because the two films hold a few similarities, beside being from the same director Pete Docter. Indeed, after tackling the loneliness of old age and the mourning of lost dreams, it's time for a brighter mindset, no pun intended. Riley is a preteen girl, still young enough to make monkey faces with Daddy, think of boys as playmates and sleep with soft toys, but she's old enough to react with maturity and empathy as her parents expect from their happy girl (in parent's language "understanding") and all the emotions help Riley to face this critical time of her life, by pushing the right button (inside) at the right moment (out), literally.
So, as the title suggests, the film is set in two worlds, the real world with Riley moving with her parents from Minnesota to San Francisco and the inside of her head, the "headquarters" where emotions lead the show. The Chief Emotion is Joy, a blue-haired Tinkerbell-like creature with hair shaped like a star and radiating such an illuminated yellow she doesn't have a shadow. Joy looks at the bright side of life, and makes it a point of honor not to let Riley surrender to sadness? the poor, short, rotund, bespectacled Sadness (Phyllis Smith) who can't push any button, and that doesn't do any good to her already low self-esteem.
With a bossy emotion like Joy, Riley is a naturally happy girl, but as you would read in every 'Stay Positive' or 'Emotional Intelligence' book, each feeling has a reason to exist. Anger allows us to defend our integrity and fear is about self-preservation, sadness is a reaction to things we can't control and disgust, well? disgust actually feels like a 'filler' because it doesn't have more reason to be there than, say, surprise or distrust. Never mind, the real outsider is Sadness. In other headquarters, thing go differently: the mother's chief emotion is Sadness and a mustached 'Anger' controls the father (by the way, I enjoyed these little glimpses on other headquarters, a nice touch for a film full of them).
Now to the emotions, voiced by Lewis Black and based on his stand-up routines, Anger is a red fire brick dressed like a tired businessman, Fear is a purple raw nerve voiced by Bill Hader and Disgust is a broccoli-shaped fashion victim voiced by Mindy Kaling. Cinema is an Art of imagery and I don't think there's been a film as visually stunning without going for complex forms and settings; it's all in the colors, shapes and personalities. Emotions are people, memories are balls with the same color than their emotional value and Riley's mind is an enchanting Oz-like place, surrounded by Goofball, Family or Friendship Islands, where the core memories are 'stocked'.
I was critical toward "Inception" because the film had a similar concept but didn't have much to offer except for predictable CGI special effects. In "Inside Out", emotions, dreams, imaginary friends, little things that define us, everything is materialized in a creatively allegorical way. This is escapism at its best and it didn't have to go as far as the Lost Falls. Recreating an entire world is the biggest challenge of animated cartoons, but "Inside Out" created an entire new world and made its functioning coherent, easy to follow and scientifically viable in a weird way.
But I make it sound like a technical achievement, the film also fulfills its premise in the storytelling department. By accidentally preventing Sadness from saddening a happy memory during the first day of school, both Joy and Sadness are expelled from the headquarters and get lost somewhere in the brain. They must get back, otherwise, Riley will only be controlled by anger, disgust and fear. And the oddest thing is that Riley's behavior still looks familiar from an outsider's perspective. Seriously, how many times we've met young kids behaving exactly like Riley?
The film unexpectedly provides some interesting insights about kids' behavior and the way they repress positive emotions, to the point that even the 'negative' ones can't control them and make them capable of anything. Some parts are so intense they catch you off-guard, but they help to show the importance of emotions depending on the context. And during this unforgettable journey, Joy will also understand the power of sadness as a vehicle for happier emotions... no high spots without low ones.
I start with smiles and I conclude with tears, because after all, this is still a Disney film, and paraphrasing the Master: for every laugh, there should be a tear. Hear, hear, Joy!