Directed by Pete Docter
Starring Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling
As far back as I can remember, Pixar films have been a part of my childhood. I grew up watching Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, etc. — films that fueled my imagination, filled me with wonder, and most importantly, kept me amused. I loved these films as a child, and it is safe to say that this love has never diminished. Unlike many other childhood favorites that I now dismiss as being simpleminded, vapid, or even wholly unenjoyable, I still cherish Pixar’s entire repertoire because they create visually beautiful, heartfelt, and timeless movies.
Inside Out is no exception.
The film follows Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), an eleven year old girl, as she and her family uproot their lives to move from their home in Minnesota to San Francisco. Many stories use this setup, of course, but what makes this film stand out is that we follow this narrative and Riley’s resulting emotional turmoil mostly from the inner workings of her mind.
Vocalizing Riley’s consciousness are five characters who determine her thoughts, actions, and personality: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). These five quasi-human characters are sparkly embodiments of their self-explanatory names, and they are just a small part of the extensive new universe Pixar created to cohesively and compellingly try to explain the complex workings of our consciousness. This universe is full of whimsical representations and explanations of the mental processes that we are so familiar with — how our personality is developed or why some of our memories fade but we never forget that silly jingle we heard once in a commercial. From little glowing orbs that represent our memories to a literal train of thought, the film explores many different functions of the mind. Although humorous and obviously untrue, these explanations are charming and somehow still make a lot of sense.
Through the changes that happen within this film’s universe, Pixar illustrates what it means to grow up and to mature. Over the course of the film, many of the mental characteristics of being a carefree child (i.e. imaginary friends, unconditional honesty, goofiness) are either dramatically altered or lost completely. Riley’s emotional growth is further reflected by the simultaneous maturation of Joy and Sadness, who start out believing that they are polar opposites, but slowly begin to understand and appreciate each other. The two realize that happiness and sadness are, in fact, intertwined, and as a result, Riley’s memories and traits transform from being one-dimensional (purely happy or sad) to more complex (bittersweet and nostalgic).
Through it’s a fairly simple story, the film raises many complex and vital life-lessons that serve both as new information to the younger members of the audience and as a reminder to the rest of us. We are reminded that even though it may seem easier to pretend that everything is all right, it is important to feel and express our sadness because suppressing it can be dangerous. We are also reminded to embrace and appreciate each other’s differences.
But most importantly, no matter how far removed you feel from your oh-so-wonderful preteen years, you will still know precisely how Riley feels. Inside Out perfectly captures and personifies something we have all experienced and will continue to experience: the emotional and mental turmoil that precedes self-growth. Thus, Pixar shows us once again that animated films are not always just for children. In fact, as I noticed the tears rolling down my face (which says a lot because movies rarely make me cry), I would argue that they can be even better and more meaningful to us as adults.