After Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) has a stressful move from Minnesota to San Francisco, it’s up to her emotions—Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black)—to figure out how to make her happy again.
I sincerely believe that Inside Out is one of Pixar’s greatest films. Not only is the animated work leagues ahead of every other studio out there (which, come on, we all knew that anyway), but Inside Out as a whole is a masterpiece of visual artistry and storytelling.
The science of emotions, how daily memories are logged into long-term memory, where our dreams and subconscious thoughts come from, and even how our personalities are crafted by memories—these are all lofty concepts for a movie targeted at kids. Hell, they’re even complex for most adults I know, including me. Yet Pixar took these concepts and explained them through easily understandable visuals and dialogue. From the literal train of thought that chugged through Riley’s head to anthropomorphic characters reflecting her core emotions (joy, sadness, fear, disgust, and anger), Pixar gave us the funniest and most heartfelt science lesson ever.
Even though this movie is targeted at kids (as a way to get them to talk about their feelings, which is brilliant), there are a lot of details adults in particular will pick up on. Like how each human character had a different controlling emotion. For example, Riley was born with Joy as her first and leading emotion while her mother’s lead emotion was Sadness and her father’s lead emotion was Anger. And if you recall correctly, her parents always said they were lucky to get such a happy little girl. Yeah, that’s because they started life with Sadness and Anger, so now we’re starting to dig into the genetic side of personality development and psychology (Holy balls, this is deep).
Or what about when Joy and Sadness disappeared with the core memories (all joyful, by the way) into Riley’s long-term memory, leaving Riley to feel nothing but Disgust, Anger, and Fear, which then led to the crumbling of the foundations of her personality. Hello, this is a metaphor for depression and anxiety. Anyone who’s experienced depression (Hey, yeah, that’s me) can tell you that this is exactly what it’s like. You might have different emotions disappear, but the result is the same—you don’t feel like you, your reactions to things that should make you happy are now angry or fearful, and you don’t even know who you are because your foundation is lost.
In case that’s not enough to show you how brilliant and inwardly-reflected this movie is, then I’ll give you this last point. At the end of the film, Joy realizes that not every memory can be one emotion; they’re often a combination of multiple feelings. Sometimes, they’re happy and sad. Or angry and fearful. Or sad and disgusted. Basically, the older you get, the more complex your memories are. That’s why Riley’s personality ended up being more complicated—because she had more core memories with mixed emotions directing her.
And now you know why I may or may not have shed a few tears during this movie (Okay, I definitely did because freaking Pixar).
Overall, Inside Out is one of the deepest, most beautiful animated films I’ve seen in recent years. It tackles the complexity of emotions and personality with fun, easy-to-understand visuals, and it’s aided by the awesome voice work of major comedians. Well done, Pixar.
Inside Out: A+
For my radio review of Inside Out on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 27:08 mark).