Colourful journey through the mind
Memo to all psychology professors — order your students to skip class and see Pixar’s latest 3-D astonishment Inside Out, which packs more wisdom on the working of the mind and emotional wellbeing into 94 minutes than a semester’s worth of lectures on Freud.
Indeed, Inside Out’s depiction of the inner life of an unhappy youngster is so complete and persuasive, you could imagine the founder of psychoanalysis himself walking out of the movie with fresh insights into key subjects, such as the nature of dreams (here depicted as a Paramount-like studio named Dream Productions) and the subconscious (a prison for “troublemakers”, such as a giant scary clown named Jangles).
While you don’t need a psychology degree to appreciate Inside Out, it is Pixar’s most adult film yet, a stunningly sophisticated, endlessly inventive examination of mental health in an era of bullying optimism and enforced high spirits.
That is not to say that Inside Out director Pete Docter has forgotten his core audience, the children. As with Pixar’s best work, Inside Out works on multiple levels, stimulating adults while firing the imagination of kids and communicating something of significance.
On the surface (literally), Inside Out tells the simple and familiar story of a preternaturally happy 11-year-old girl from Minnesota named Riley (voiced by Kaitly Dias) who adores her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) and lives for smacking around an ice-hockey puck.
However, the real action takes place deep inside Riley, where dominant emotion Joy (bright yellow and voiced by Amy Poehler) commands a USS Enterprise-like deck and control panel, issuing orders and keeping in check Riley’s other colour-coded emotions: volcano red Anger (Lewis Black), stomach-turning green Disgust (Mindy Kaling), the insipid lavender-shaded Fear (Bill Hader) and the permanently blue Sadness (Phyllis Smith).
All is going swimmingly until Amy’s tech entrepreneur dad moves the family to San Francisco, upending Amy’s world and creating chaos in her “headquarters” (one of many clever, cute equivalences), with Joy working overtime to keep everything in balance as the youngster begins a new life.
The one emotion Joy struggles to control is Sadness, who keeps touching the memory balls the emotions have a hand in creating and turning them blue, literally and figuratively. “I’m not sure what she actually does, ” complains the bright yellow Joy.
The rest of the film is centred on Joy learning the purpose of Sadness as the pair find themselves tossed out of Riley’s headquarters and lost deep in the recesses of her mind, which is crumbling all around as Riley’s world gets bleaker and she contemplates running away from home.
Docter’s conjuring of Riley’s consciousness is as evocative as it is hilarious, with Joy and Sadness meeting goofy characters, encountering her phobias (a giant broccoli), getting trapped in Abstract Thought (where they end up like Picasso paintings) and entering Dream Productions, which gives her experiences a Hollywood makeover.
However, at its core is Joy’s gradual understanding that Sadness is not a glitch in the system but integral, the key component to both her survival and her happiness.
Again Pixar shows a wisdom beyond every other children’s movie in the market with a climax not only dramatically satisfying and deeply moving but with something truly important to say to a culture obsessed with medicalising and eradicating the blues.
Ironically, no film you will see this year will leave you with a wider smile.
Inside Out is now screening.
Anger, Fear, Joy, Sadness and Disgust look out upon Riley’s Islands of Personality.