Movies: Inside Out

Voices By: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling
Directed By: Phil Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Written By: Meg LaFauve, Josh Cooley & Pete Docter; Story By: Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen
Pixar, 2015
PG; 94 minutes
3.5 stars (out of 5)


I wanted to like this movie more than I did. Which isn't to say it's a bad movie; it's not. But there is something necessarily amorphous about dealing with feelings. The action in Inside Out is . . . not very action-y. And all the jokes are pretty low-hanging fruit, so I felt this one lacked Pixar's usual cleverness.

Outwardly, this is the story of 11-year-old Riley dealing with a family move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Her parents are understandably stressed, and Riley is, too. A new school + difficulty making friends + pre-adolescence = not a fun time. Riley ping-pongs between excitement and optimism and feeling angry and sad.

But as we all know from the trailers, the "real" story is of Riley's emotions trying to cope with this new situation. Joy (Poehler in Parks and Rec form) is generally understood to be the leader, and therefore we're given to understand that Riley is usually happy and upbeat. Joy works hard to keep Sadness (Smith) at bay, but the changes in Riley's life—at least, I assume this is the catalyst—provoke Sadness into wanting to touch all Riley's happy memories and tinge them in, well, sadness.

At some point Riley's "core memories" end up . . . sucked into some other part of her brain, I guess? And Joy and Sadness go with them and are tasked with returning these memories to Headquarters. With them absent from the control room, Anger (Black), Disgust (Kaling) and Fear (Hader) must attempt to keep Riley happy though they are ill equipped to do so. The result: Riley tries to run away back to Minnesota.

The bottom line is, for me, the whole thing was a bit too vague. While it's a fair stab at the moodiness of pre-teens, and might even have made a good pseudo-story of depression, the final result lacks something. There is nothing particularly compelling about the story. It's an interesting, high-concept idea that falls flat in execution.

Joy and Sadness work their way through Riley's long-term memory and are eventually guided by an old imaginary friend (Richard Kind). They visit the place where Riley's dreams are manufactured, they ride her Train of Thought, and it all suits the plot as they are trying to get back to Headquarters, but . . . ::shrug::

Slowly, the story reveals that Sadness (and sadness) has her (its) uses. This seems to be the moral of the story, but the resolution is so watery, it doesn't come through with any punch. I'll admit I teared up a few times, but no Pixar movie is complete without those moments in which they turn the screws, and certainly a movie about emotions is going to have its fair share of those.

The end credits prove that less would have been more as we're treated to quick insights into other characters' minds and emotions. These are the funniest moments in the movie, sadly happening after it's over, with Lewis Black coming in as first runner up, and that obvious-but-still-funny boy's brain joke taking honorable mention.

All that said,  I'm sure I'm being far too analytical about it. If I just allowed myself to feel . . . Ah, forget it. Bottom line: I was excited to see Inside Out and was ultimately slightly disappointed by it. But I guess they can't all be winners. Ribbon for participating.

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