Movie Review - Inside Out

It hasn't been a huge criticism, but most animated films, especially recent ones by Pixar and DreamWorks, have not done a good job with animating human characters. Ever since traditional 2D animation became niche, 3D computer animation has never made convincing human characters in my mind. Whether it's anthropomorphized toys or animals, everything else has felt more real than the people. The human characters have always been more like caricatures or obvious cartoon figures. This film is the first time that I've looked at human characters in an animated film and felt them to be real. Intellectually, I knew it was animation, but I was momentarily lost in one crucial scene where I stopped seeing caricatures or obvious cartoon figures and I started seeing actual people, almost as if Pixar had decided to shoot the real-life actors instead of advanced algorithms.

That crucial scene is a heartfelt one between Riley, an 11-year-old girl, and her parents who have moved her from their home in Minnesota to San Francisco because of her dad's new job. Riley tries to cope with the change but things go wrong. Avoidance becomes the name of the game, but eventually she has to confront her parents and it leads to that crucial scene.

We see Riley coping with that and all other things in her life through avatars for her emotions that literally live in her head and at times steer her actions and reactions like the bridge crew of a colorful, bubbly spaceship. The captain of the so-called spaceship is Joy, voiced by Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation and Saturday Night Live). The reason Joy is the captain is because after Riley was born and became conscious, Joy was the first emotion to be created within her, and, as captain, Joy sees her job as keeping Riley happy. She mainly does this by managing Riley's memories as well as the other emotions.

Sadness, voiced by Phyllis Smith (The Office), was the second emotion created. She is the epitome of Debbie Downer, or she's the equivalent of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. There are three other emotions that makeup the bridge crew in what's referred to as Riley's headquarters. Anger, voiced by Lewis Black (The Daily Show), is the epitome of the grumpy, old man, practically a misanthrope. Disgust, voiced by Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), is a combination of arrogance and aloofness. Her job is keeping Riley from embarrassment or humiliation. Last but not least, there's Fear, voiced by Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live), who is the epitome of the nervous Nellie or the cowardly lion. He's nervous and also nerdy, highly organized, there to keep Riley from danger or being scared.

Written by Peter Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley, Riley's mind as all people's minds basically are laid out as cities. Actually, taking from the recent Tomorrowland, Riley's mind is somewhat reminiscent of a theme park. The theory is that the whole thing is built on memories. The memoreis are represented as being reflective spheres. Most are the size of softballs, maybe slightly bigger.

Some might not remember, but this idea of memories as being reflective spheres was utilized in the film The NeverEnding Story II (1990). This movie goes a step forward and introduces something called a core-memory. Core-memories are bigger like the size of bowling balls and they're more important. They are the basis or the foundations for Riley's personality.

Within Riley's head, her personality is represented as islands. Once a core-memory is created from a pivotal experience that Riley has, an island is built based on what the core memory possesses. The first and most important island is Family Island. There are four others though. They're Honesty Island, Friendship Island, Hockey Island because Riley loves the sport of hockey, and Goofball Island because Riley likes acting goofy at times. Again, the islands look like areas in a theme park or carnival. Yet, it's all built over other places, which also could have been pulled from a carnival.

Directed by Ronaldo Del Carmen and Pete Docter who won the Oscar for Up (2009), the film embarks on a fun journey and a very exciting one. It's also extremely imaginative and humorous, as it's one giant metaphor for the brain and how it works. It also makes a great joke about how dreams work, which could be a riff on Inception (2010) There's a section concerning abstract thought that felt like a repurposed gag from The Simpsons, but the filmmakers make it their own. Some might notice the Pixar formula at work, but there is freshness to it.

Anyone who knows me knows that any movie that can make me cry automatically gets a perfect score. Like with Up, Docter had me wiping my eyes by the end. He touched and moved me to tears. He knows how to tap those feelings, both on screen and in our hearts, and he does it well.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 35 mins.

Not many people took to Lava, the short film attached to this feature, but I thought it was an equally emotional little Hawaiian musical that was very cute and sweet, and brilliantly animated.


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