Inside Out is a story about all the little people inside our heads. More specifically, it is about the all little people inside the head of Riley, an eleven-year-old girl from Minnesota. They are Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). They run the control panel inside Riley’s head, and the five of them work together to keep Riley healthy and happy. But things take a turn for the worst when Riley and her family move to San Francisco, and they have their work cut out for them managing Riley’s feelings about leaving her best friend behind, moving into a new house, and going to a new school. When sadness starts creeping into Riley’s once carefree life, Joy and Sadness end up trapped in a remote part of her mind. The two of them have to learn to work together to get home, and to make sure that Riley can be Joyful again.
I know many people may hear that premise and expect the movie to turn out a bit cheesy, but let me assure you that it is anything but. Inside Out is Pixar at its best: its fun-loving, it’s hilarious, and its occasionally really heartbreaking. This should come as no surprise considering its directed by Pete Docter, the same mind behind Monsters, Inc. and Up. Like the best animated films, Inside Out functions on two levels: on the one hand, it’s a fun-filled adventure through Riley’s mind, featuring such destinations as the Imagination Land theme park, the Dream Productions movie studio, and the Train of Thought. But on the other hand, it is also a supremely well-crafted story, this time examining a young girl as she struggles with real sadness and depression for the first time in her life, and coming to accept that it’s okay to be sad sometimes.
There are so many things about this movie I could heap praise upon, but I would like to examine a couple in particular. First off, the casting of every character is simply spot-on. Amy Poehler, showing her experience since her stint in Studio Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arrietty, perfectly portrays the manic energy needed as the personification of happiness. Bill Hader is hilarious as Fear, and Phyllis Smith nails the depressed but never whining voice of perpetual sadness. And Lewis Black as the literal personification of anger? That’s fucking brilliant!
Another thing I’d like to point out is how the film manages to hit a wide variety of different tones while always maintaining a consistent feel. As previously mentioned, the movie maintains an atmosphere of adventure throughout, both in terms of Riley’s outer circumstances and her inner emotional journey. Like all Pixar movies, Inside Out is also extremely funny; I laughed out loud many, many times during my screening. Many of the jokes will go right over the kids’ heads straight for their parents, but there’s plenty of variety to keep audiences of all ages laughing. And also like all Pixar movies, there are one or two moments which are incredibly sad. I teared up a couple of times during the film, and I could hear many people in the audience full-on crying at one point, including fully-grown men.
In summary, Inside Out is a supremely good film. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s heartwarming, and it’s heartbreaking. It’s a fun adventure and classic coming-of-age story. It’s an example of the magic that Pixar can create when they are at their finest, and honestly I think it’s the best they’re made in years; no doubt it will receive universal acclaim. In fact, out of all the films I’ve reviewed this whole year so far (and there’s been a lot of them), I think Inside Out may be my favorite. So come on, let’s go meet the little people inside our heads.