Emo­tions take cen­ter stage in mag­i­cal and in­sight­ful ‘In­side Out’


Pixar stands alone, and “In­side Out” shows you why.

At once so­phis­ti­cated and sim­ple, made with vis­ual magic and emo­tional sen­si­tiv­ity, ca­su­ally prob­ing deeper ques­tions about what mat­ters in life, “In­side Out” typ­i­fies the best of that car­toon colos­sus. It goes not only to places other an­i­ma­tion houses don’t dare, but also to places the rest of the pack doesn’t even know ex­ist.

The same could be said for Pixar main­stay and “In­side Out” di­rec­tor and co-screen­writer Pete Doc­ter. The third an­i­ma­tor to be hired by Pixar in 1990 and Academy Award- nom­i­nated for his work on “Toy Story,” “WALL-E” and “Mon­sters, Inc.,” Doc­ter hit his stride when he took home the an­i­mated fea­ture Os­car for di­rect­ing “Up.”

Like that film, “In­side Out” man­ages to be hon­est and un­afraid but never cheaply sen­ti­men­tal where emo­tion is con­cerned, evok­ing a large­ness of spirit whose abil­ity to be mov­ing sneaks up and takes us by sur­prise. Its ex­am­i­na­tion of the life and thoughts of an 11year-old Min­nesota girl named Ri­ley An­der­son is mem­o­rable both for what it does and the re­laxed way it does it.

“In­side Out” doesn’t just deal with Ri­ley’s ac­tions. It com­bines imag­i­na­tive con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion

with in­ven­tive an­i­ma­tion to tell a par­al­lel story, to show what’s go­ing on in Ri­ley’s mind (“Meet the lit­tle voices in­side your head” is one of the film’s ad lines) as five dif­fer­ent emo­tions push her to act in dif­fer­ent ways. It was, Pixar cre­ative chief John Las­seter has said, “one of the most dif­fi­cult films we’ve ever made.”

This vi­su­al­iza­tion of the mind was not done off the top of any­one’s head, so to speak. Doc­ter and co-writ­ers Meg LeFauve and Josh Coo­ley con­sulted closely with se­ri­ous sci­en­tists, some of whom claimed hu­mans have to deal with up to 27 dif­fer­ent emo­tions. The five that made most lists were se­lected and then, in a process that took years, the story and the re­la­tion­ships be­tween emo­tions were re­fined and an ideal cast of ac­tors was as­sem­bled to en­er­get­i­cally voice them.

At first there is only Joy (Amy Poehler), a bouncy, glow­ing pixie type alone at the con­trol con­sole in what ev­ery­one calls head­quar­ters. “Just Ri­ley and me, for­ever,” she en­thuses, ever the op­ti­mist, but it is not to be. In just 33 sec­onds, Sad­ness ar­rives, and soon af­ter come Anger, Dis­gust and Fear, each with an agenda to ad­vance and a role to play.

A ner­vous string bean type, Fear (Bill Hader of “Satur­day Night Live”) wor­ries a lot and keeps Ri­ley safe. “We didn’t die to­day” is a typ­i­cal pro­nounce­ment. “I call this day an un­qual­i­fied suc­cess.”

Dis­gust (Mindy Kal­ing) pro­tects Ri­ley from things that might not be good for her, while Anger, a short squat guy with a very short tem­per (comic Lewis Black), wants you to know, as Joy very deftly puts it, that he “cares very deeply about things be­ing fair.”

Which leaves us with Sad- ness, an emo­tion with a pur­pose no one can quite put a fin­ger on, who is given to say­ing things like, “Cry­ing helps me slow down and ob­sess about the weight of life’s prob­lems.” Voiced by Phyl­lis Smith of “The Of­fice” and beau­ti­fully vi­su­al­ized with big round glasses and a huge turtle­neck sweater, Sad­ness is a puz­zle even to her­self.

Joy, by con­trast, is a con­fi­dent in­di­vid­ual who likes to say, “We can fix this” and “We can do it.” It’s Joy who shows us around head­quar­ters, ex­plain­ing how mem­o­ries (vi­su­al­ized as glow­ing globes that are color-coded by emo­tion) are cre­ated. Core mem­o­ries, the re­ally im­por­tant ones, have com­bined to cre­ate a se­ries of per­son­al­ity traits called is- lands (Goof­ball Is­land, Friend­ship Is­land, Fam­ily Is­land) that com­bine to “make Ri­ley Ri­ley.”

So far, so good. But then, in an abrupt jolt at the end of the “In­side Out” pre-credit se­quence, the fam­ily (in­clud­ing Mom [Diane Lane] and Dad [Kyle Ma­cLach­lan]) abruptly moves from Min­nesota to San Fran­cisco so Dad can go to work for the in­evitable start-up com­pany.

Nat­u­rally the move up­sets Ri­ley, and it causes chaos in head­quar­ters as well. Sad­ness, it seems, can’t stop her­self from touch­ing happy core mem­o­ries and turn­ing them sad, and when she and Joy get into a tus­sle about this, they both are ac­ci­den­tally ejected from HQ and trans­ported to the end­less cor­ri­dors of Long Term Mem­ory, where things re­ally get in­ter­est­ing.

For as imag­ined by Doc­ter and his co­horts, these outer reaches of the mind are filled with nu­mer­ous ar­eas of fas­ci­na­tion. They are pa­trolled by Mind Work­ers like For­get­ters who pe­ri­od­i­cally as­sign rec­ol­lec­tions to the dreaded Mem­ory Dump, as in “noth­ing comes back from the Dump.”

On their own with­out a map and des­per­ate to get back to head­quar­ters, Joy and Sad­ness ex­pe­ri­ence Imag­i­na­tion Land (where the French fries grow tall as se­quoias), the Hol­ly­wood­style Dream Pro­duc­tion area, the Train of Thought (it’s a real train) and the Sub­con­scious, where, Sad­ness ex­plains, “they take all the trou­ble­mak­ers.”

Mean­while, back at HQ, Fear, Anger and Dis­gust are on their own run­ning Ri­ley’s mind, which leads to the kind of emo­tional states and gen­uine prob­lems for Ri­ley that are com­pletely con­sis­tent with the pre-teen state of mind. The ques­tion is whether Joy and Sad­ness, helped by Ri­ley’s al­most for­got­ten imag­i­nary friend Bing Bong (voiced by Richard Kind) can make it back in time to stop real dam­age be­ing done to Ri­ley’s life.

Be­cause the Pixar brain trust (which, be­sides Doc­ter, in­cludes ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers Las­seter and An­drew Stan­ton) is bril­liant at story, the saga of “In­side Out” finds room for crisp ac­tion, gen­uine jeop­ardy, car­toon slap­stick, even adult hu­mor like a jest that ref­er­ences “Chi­na­town.”

Even bet­ter, as in the best of Pixar, are thoughts and in­sights about the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.

Though it doesn’t seem that way at first, the five emo­tions are not ri­vals joust­ing for power and con­trol; they are united by want­ing the best for Ri­ley. And when Joy be­gins to un­der­stand the value and pur­pose of Sad­ness, that leads to mo­ments no one is go­ing to for­get.

Pixar / Dis­ney

JOY (VOICE OF AMY POEHLER) and Sad­ness (voice of Phyl­lis Smith) catch a ride on the Train of Thought in “In­side Out.”

Pixar / Dis­ney

SAD­NESS, left, Fear, Anger, Dis­gust and Joy help guide an 11-year-old girl in Pixar’s “In­side Out.”


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