There are spoilers in this review. Duh.

I’m always curious about Pixar’s audience, in the sense that I wonder if children really enjoy the movies more than the adults do. While watching Inside Out, this came up a lot, because a great deal of the humor seemed adult to me. Certainly the emotional resonance of the storyline can give a good message to kids – it’s okay to be sad sometimes and to have all these confusing emotions! – but the nostalgia and loss of memory and childhood are much bigger concepts. Like the beginning to Up and the end of Toy Story 3, I was certainly emotional at them and so were most adults I know. But I’m not sure it hit children the same way, because it’s about growing old or growing up. Inside Out is bright and shiny and has silly moments, but I try to picture myself as a six year old watching this. How much of it would I get? As opposed to something like Frozen and Tangled, Disney’s usual entertainment, which I think is far more broad for children. Pixar is smart. So are children, and I hate when things are dumbed down for children. At the same time, this is about experience. But I’m getting ahead of myself, like usual. Inside Out is the newest Pixar movie with a strong voice acting cast and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98%. Pete Docter is the director, and he was the same director as Up and Monsters Inc. So a master of his craft, and this movie is no exception.

This movie takes place in the mind of an eleven year old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). We see her from the start of her life, and the creation of the emotion Joy (Amy Poehler) who becomes in charge of Riley’s mind headquarters. As Riley gets older, she establishes several other emotions, including Anger (the perfectly cast Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (the real hero of this tale, Phyllis Smith). Whenever Riley has a very strong beautiful memory, it is saved as her “core” memories and they create what look like theme park worlds about her favorite things. Family, friends, hockey, and goof ball, for example. Unfortunately everything changes when Riley’s forced to move out of her happy home to San Francisco with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan). Everything goes wrong quickly, with their house not being very exciting, the city is strange to them, and her father is stressed with his unstable new business. Riley’s mother asks her to keep on a happy face to take the stress off her father, even though Riley herself is straining to keep her own feelings about the move at bay.


Joy also tries everything possible to keep Riley happy and their little ship working. Unfortunately Sadness keeps stepping in, drawn to Riley’s memories and wanting to be more of a teammate. Joy dismisses her often, especially since they are clearly opposites. Unfortunately while trying to get Sadness away from the Core memories, the two of them are sucked up and discarded into Riley’s storage of other memories. Joy keeps a tight hold of the Core memories, and she can’t let Sadness touch any of them or it will change Riley forever. But with the two of them gone, the other three have to take over, and let’s just say no one wants Disgust, Anger, and Fear to be their primary emotions. Everything gets from bad to worse with Riley, with her first day being terrible, having no friends, she’s disconnected to her other friends, and she gets frustrated and messes up her hockey try out. Joy is horrified to see Riley’s theme park worlds breaking apart and tries to drag Sadness back to the headquarters. They come across Riley’s former imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard King), and he agrees to help them get back if they’ll help her remember him. This guy had “tragic future” all over him, since his warm spirit and hidden sadness were right there for anyone to see.

A general summary of the ending is that Joy realizes how important Sadness is, and that by denying Riley access to the major emotions, she’s actually hurting her. It’s only with Sadness that Riley is able to find balance. To say that this movie isn’t heartbreaking at times would be a lie. Of course it’s heartbreaking. It’s Pixar. I’m convinced they plot all around how they’re going to make you emotional. This movie was interesting in that I didn’t start feeling things until halfway through; it’s a slow burn. There’s a lot of action and “we have to go from point A to point D, C, and B.” But man when that last 15-20 minutes hit, it’s like get the damn tissues. Like I said before, I think the message that it’s okay to be sad sometimes, it’s important even, is a great one. It’s a universal message, because at any age I think people fight sadness or think they have to keep a smile on their face like Joy. But it’s because we are sad sometimes that we also feel joy when it’s gone, and that’s a great concept for kids to understand. Plus I also like that they didn’t just “fix” it for Riley; this isn’t a case where they all move back and everything’s perfect again. Life isn’t like that. She just has to start over with her family and there was happiness to be had, once she was allowed to mourn.


It should be mentioned that there are a lot of laugh out loud moments in this. Lewis Black as Anger is hilarious. There’s a whole sequence where we get to see into the parents’ heads, where they have their own five emotions looking like them. At that point in their life everyone seems more settled. It was interesting to me that her mother had Sadness as a primary emotion, and her father had Anger. The moment was a little stereotypical (frustrated at husband from her, distracted by sports from him), but it also led to a great meltdown between Riley and her parents. It’s a beautiful movie with colorful animation and a lot of neat ideas about the way memories look and how they’re handled. Apparently they did take into consideration actual studies about the brain and how it works, which just melted into the more creative aspect of how we visualized it in animation. My favorite part is when they’re taking a short cut and turn into abstracts. You have to see it to understand, but it had me laughing out loud the whole time.

A lot of people are talking about how this might be the best Pixar to date. I’m too close to watching it, so I don’t know that my opinion would be fair. Some of the other films have faded in memory, although I loved them dearly at the time. I do think it’s heads and shoulders better than most animated movies out there, which is exactly what Pixar is best known for. Their material is smart, emotional, and universal. It certainly is a creative film. I know people mentioned that it’s not “original” in the sense other things have gotten into the heads of their characters before. Uhhh okay. There are only like nine original stories, so that’s not saying much. Inside Out is very creative however, and that’s what matters. It can take an idea, whether it’s been used or not, and make it colorful and different and fascinating. I was only mildly interested in the movie when I saw the trailer, but I went because it’s Pixar, and I know they are always at the top of their game. Trust those instincts if you have them, because the story is a great deal more nuanced and layered than it seemed on the surface. It comes highly recommended by me and 98% of all the critics.

  1. Cindy says:

    My niece is six and I can tell you the movie and it’s themes definitely resonated with her. And it’s a big thing with a lot of kids that don’t realize that sad things aren’t always terrible.


    • Dee says:

      Good! I’m glad to hear that, because I kept wondering if kids younger than 10 would really connect with it. I am really glad it had a message like sadness is okay, even necessary. That’s important for people to know, I think.


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