Wow, feels like forever since we’ve seen a Pixar movie, especially one with the creative spark that defined its most memorable stories. After a trifecta of mostly eh from 2011 to 2013 (Cars 2 was Cars 2, Brave can go die in a fire, and Monsters University while likable was highly unnecessary), Inside Out breaks that streak with its incredibly creative premise and Pixar’s deft hand in tugging heartstrings. I believe we’re finally back, baby.
So apparently deep in our heads we are manned by a quintet of emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. They help us react to the world around us and in turn maintain important memories as well as keep up the foundations of personality (manifested in various island worlds). In one particular girl, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), things are awry due to a family move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Unsure of the situation, her emotions (Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling respectively) are at odds with how to make things work. However, before they can do any of that, Sadness (who is always kept at bay by Joy) causes a situation where she and Joy are jettisoned away from where the emotions man Riley’s disposition, along with her most important memories. So now it’s up to them to get back in time before the three remaining emotions, despite their best efforts to aid her, lead Riley to inadvertent self-destruction.
Still the rest of the movie remains vibrant enough not to make it all bad. The performances (especially Poehler’s Joy and Smith’s Sadness) are incredible as they play off each other throughout the movie. There’s a wonderful arc between them, slowly but surely coming to an accord that eventually figures how necessary emotions are to each other. Clichéd I know, but execution execution execution. The plot moves at an intensity where you’re left unsure about any upcoming events, especially with regards to Riley, who only has Anger, Disgust, and Fear to aid her. What ideas do they have to make Riley feel better? How worse will things get once their plans are set into motion? Pete Docter’s deft direction keeps you on your toes as those emotions are subjected to many twists, turns, and unexpected little moments and characters that just punch you in the gut. He has your complete and utter investment from the opening scene to the closing shot.
Addendum (since nobody really has covered it, probably for good reason): The preceding short before the movie, Lava, is one of the least impressive opening shorts in any Pixar movie to date. I appreciate how the song comes off as a nice tribute to the legendary Iz, but what could’ve been a bittersweet tale turns rather maudlin by the end. Eh. Just eh.