Inside Out

Inside Out Movie ReviewDisney/Pixar
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action.
Running time: 94 minutes.
Three and a half stars out of four.

Here’s the main difference between me and my 5-year-old son. I mean, clearly, there are many, including the fact that someday soon he’ll be able to reach items on the high shelves in the kitchen without a step ladder. But this latest one lies in the way we each reacted to “Inside Out,” the new animated epic from Pixar, which takes place mainly within the mind of an 11-year-old girl.

Nicolas’ favorite part was when the girl’s sense of Fear (voiced by Bill Hader) runs around screaming with his butt ablaze, courtesy of a blast of fire from her Anger (Lewis Black). He also liked when Joy (Amy Poehler) was playfully talking to herself. “Joy is funny,” the budding film critic added. My favorite part was … everything else. The ambition. The intelligence. The complexity. The performances. The poignancy. Director and co-writer Pete Docter’s film is as beautiful as it is profound, lively as it is meaningful.

This is a movie that dares to explore existential crises, in the middle of the summer, in an animated movie that’s aimed at the whole family. And damned if it doesn’t pull it off. Like the best Pixar movies — “Up,” “The Incredibles” and my personal favorite, “WALL-E” — it functions quite powerfully on multiple levels at once. And similar to “Ratatouille,” in a lot of ways “Inside Out” isn’t really for kids primarily, even though the figure at its center, Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), is on the brink of adolescence, with all the recognizable angst that accompanies this shift.

Children will certainly respond to the movie’s spry energy, vibrant colors and clever humor. The script from Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley is one of the more substantive ones yet in a Pixar film — and don’t forget, Docter previously directed and co-wrote “Monsters Inc.” and “Up” — but it’s also very, very funny, often in a slapsticky way. Er go, the butt on fire.

A little bit on the premise, in case this all sounds a tad confusing and abstract. Riley has just moved from Minneapolis to San Francisco with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan). This would be a difficult transition to make at any time in your childhood, but especially now. Eleven is such an awkward age — such a jumble of extreme emotions — which “Inside Out” keenly understands and demonstrates by going inside her brain to show us what she’s thinking or feeling at any particular moment. Besides Joy, Anger and Fear, there’s Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith).

When Riley was a little girl, her experiences and memories were all so clear-cut, they were color-coded. The happy ones, like scoring her first hockey goal, remain in the infrastructure of her brain as orbs that glow a bright yellow; the unpleasant ones, like being forced to eat broccoli as an infant, radiate a dark green. And the feelings themselves were reliable in their consistency. Joy always has been perky and resilient and glass-half-full (and Poehler does nimble voice work in playing a character that’s the pixellated manifestation of her irresistible demeanor).

But lately, the blue and bespectacled Sadness has come to the fore, between the move and all the disconcerting changes occurring both around her and inside her. Reminiscent of Eeyore in the “Winnie the Pooh” realm, Sadness is dryly hilarious — so pathetic and so sweet — and so often, the voice of reason. She’s the one who’s willing to speak the raw truth in an uncomfortable situation. And Smith, with her vulnerable and beautifully nuanced performance, ends up being the movie’s unexpected MVP.

From here, “Inside Out” follows how Riley — and the many sides of her — adapt, or don’t. Her journey features many inspired, light moments, from the physical manifestation of a brain freeze while you’re enjoying a cold treat to an annoying TV jingle that gets stuck in your head. But it has plenty of dramatic ones, too, including the relationship Riley’s emotions have with her long-lost imaginary friend, Bing Bong, voiced heartbreakingly by Richard Kind. (Seriously, “Inside Out” rivals “Toy Story 3” for the kind of ugly crying it’ll provoke in you.)

It may meander a tad in the literal labyrinth of Riley’s mind as these figures struggle to work together to help her restore her shattered sense of self. But mostly, “Inside Out” remains sharp with some really sophisticated notions about the nature of memories — which ones we hold onto, where they sit in the brain, how long we keep them, how they shape our personalities and even how they help us forge relationships. It might sound dull or even didactic, but this being a Pixar film, “Inside Out” brings these concepts brilliantly to life.

If my son can begin to grasp the idea that happiness and sadness can co-exist within the same moment — but also cackle so hard at a bit of physical comedy that his face turns red and the veins pop out on his neck — then we’re onto something truly memorable here.

10 Comments on “Inside Out

  1.  by  Jack

    Great review. The only negative review I’ve seen of this film mentioned that they wished that “Logic” had been one of the characters inside Riley’s head, and it looks like they initially planned to have a “Logic” character but decided against including it probably because it might have made an already complex film even more complex. As a family film, Inside Out is a remarkable achievement. I’m glad I took my 5 year old son to see it. We both enjoyed it a great deal. There’s plenty in this film to entertain both adults and children.

    •  by  gigi

      Logic does not qualify as one of the basic feelings we have.

  2.  by  misery chick

    Wonderful review, Christy! You helped clarify some of the MANY things going on in this wonderfully complex film. I’m going to see it again after I’ve let it settle in for awhile.


    The first movie review of yours that I read was for “Walk On Water” (can’t remember the year but it was a looooooong time ago!). The subject matter meant absolutely nothing to me (an Israeli assassin hunting down an elderly Nazi war criminal—-
    blecchh, WTF?). Your review explained the human side of the main characters, and that was the hook that made me go see it.
    Since I had taken 3 years of German in high school, it was also a chance to see how much ‘auf Deutsch’ I could remember.

    Well…the film was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING-beautifully filmed, wonderfully written and sublimely acted. It had a hook in my heart from the very beginning (corny I know, can’t think of a more sophisticated way of expressing it!) and the final scene left me on a spiritual high.

    “Walk On Water” is in my top ten movies of my LIFE…and without your review I would have missed this amazing experience.

    DANKE SCHOEN!!!!!!!

  3.  by  Anthony Ford

    An excellent review, and summarizes the concept and purpose of the movie much more completely than I could. I took my 13-year-old daughter, and the way she discussed more than just the over-the-top scenes made me realize she went through some self-evaluation as she watched the movie. I’m a father who really spent more time with her as a toddler through age 10 than her mother did, and I used up most of the napkins that came with her lunch as I wiped at my eyes. I spent a lot of time identifying with the realization about things that were important as a kid being sidelined as kids grow up.

    I can’t imagine that a younger kid like yours could have gotten all that much out of it, other than the fun value of the comedic parts, mainly because they’re still in the middle of it all. But for preteens (age 10 and up) through grownups this movie is a winner. My heartstrings are still vibrating.

    •  by  Sterling M

      I too have spent more time with my ten year old than has her mother. As my daughter is closer to 11 than 10, and weirdly resembles the animated Riley, I had a front row seat to her experiencing the film and reflecting on how she related so closely to the emotional ride the movie’s character went on. I used up my popcorn napkins entirely…and not from wiping my fingers. It was excellent and deeply moving.

      •  by  Christy Lemire

        Thanks, awesome dads, for sharing your thoughtful comments. Glad you enjoyed the movie so much.

  4.  by  JozieLee

    Our 8 yr-old grandson saw it this weekend. He told us it was about emotions. Then he said, “You should go and see it then call me and we’ll talk about how it made you feel.” WHAT? This kid isn’t much of a move goer. And never discusses afterwards. I’ll be at tomorrow’s first showing.

  5.  by  JozieLee

    Beautiful animation. Just when you think animation has reached perfection someone takes a step further into realism.

    Cute story. Everything you pointed out about sadness and joy coexisting.

    Must say, tho, Lava stole the show for me. Made me homesick for a place I love so dearly. Sweet memories of family and the hope of sharing those memories with my grandson.

    Mahalo for your delightful review, Christy.

    •  by  Christy Lemire

      Thanks as always for chiming in, Jozie!

  6.  by  Ryan

    To anyone who may want to go watch this, bring some tissues! Also great review.