Inside Out is the most emotional movie Pixar has ever made. Winning every Best Animated Feature award and truly becoming the return to form the studio needed. Turns out taking a year off after Monsters University was exactly the right call. Inside Out asks the question, what’s really going on inside an 11 year old girl’s head? After delivering emotionally resonant stories with Monsters, Inc. and Up, director Pete Docter decided to go straight to emotion itself. Getting the idea after observing his pre-teen daughter’s mood shift and associating it with his own anxiety growing up. The idea of emotions with emotions controlling emotions was so complex that Docter wasn’t even sure kids would understand it.
I was certainly puzzled by the idea when I first heard about it, but I’m actually very fascinated by “clever visual metaphors used to personify the abstract concept of thought.” The idea of emotions using control panels inside someone’s head has been done many times. Just not quite to this level of sophistication. Psychologists were contacted, 5 basic emotions were chosen, and the story went through many variations. With John Lasseter putting more focus on Disney, they had to contend without his influence. Inside Out quickly became my favorite original Pixar movie made since their heyday. I was won over by the creative animation, hilarious representations of thought, and even though I was a 20 year old adult, I was in the theater crying like a baby…
Inside Out included the equally emotional short Lava. A sort of random musical romance between living volcanos. Inside Out is basically one big tear worthy moment. If there’s anything Pixar has always excelled at, it’s pulling emotion out of any non-human characters. Be they toy, bug, monster, car, or robot. So it was clever to have a teaser that utilized clips from every emotional moment in a Pixar movie. With the exception of maybe Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University, Inside Out had to visualize emotions from scratch. The dazzling computer animation is colorful and imaginative with a unique take on emotions. Each emotion possesses an energy based appearance with particles instead of skin. Although there are dozens of distinct human emotions, there are at least 6 core emotions. Inside Out simplified things with only 5 after surprise was dropped. Emotions include: Joy 😀, Sadness 😭, Anger 😡, Fear 😱, and Disgust 🤢. Each emotion is given a corresponding color & shape most associated with that emotion.
Joy is a yellow star with pointy blue hair and a green flowery dress. Sadness is a blue tear drop with glasses and a sweater. Anger is a red brick with a business suit. Fear is a purple nerve with a dorky outfit. And Disgust is a green broccoli with a fashionable outfit. Inside Out has a respectable cast of mostly SNL alumni. Amy Poehler is a joyful Joy, Phyllis Smith is a sad Sadness, Lewis Black is an angry Anger, Bill Hader is a fearful Fear, and Mindy Kaling is a disgusted Disgust. Each actor and actress embodies their emotion’s defining traits, but they each manage to make them more three dimensional. Bringing up questions of whether or not emotions have emotions themselves. Their office-like banter isn’t overly hilarious, but they are fun in the cartoony sense. The emotional score helps of course. Inside Out is all about average Minnesota girl Riley Andersen. The perfect mind to explore since girls are far more complex.
The opening is heavy with information, but Joy tells it in a way that’s fun and breezy. Emotions are formed the moment a child is born. Riley is a happy baby and thus Joy is manifested with just a button to activate basic emotion. Memories are represented by a clever series of orbs that appear based on each emotion that’s felt at the time. Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger manifest whenever a new emotion is felt. Their headquarters is a brainstem and a console controls Riley’s actions. Another interesting concept is that core memories are what define a person’s personality. Represented by Islands of Personality including: Family, Friendship, Honesty, Hockey, and Goofball. Not sure how hockey is a personality, but it is something she’s a big fan of. Other clever representations include gears creating imagination, lightbulbs forming ideas, and a brain freeze literally freezing headquarters.
Although the emotions have no direct interaction with Riley, they’re more like parents concerned for her well being. That’s why Inside Out doesn’t technically have a villain. Anger literally has a fiery temper, but he’s just doing his job like everybody else. Really it’s Joy who causes most of the movie’s problems since she can’t figure out Sadness’ purpose on the team. Riley is a happy child, but all that changes when her parents move to San Francisco for unexplained reasons. Something I thankfully never had to deal with as a kid. San Francisco is apparently the worst place to live according to Inside Out. Riley’s new house is dingy, the movers misplace their furniture, pizza is topped with broccoli, and there isn’t even time to spend with family. Anger, Fear, and Disgust start making it a bad day, but Joy desperately tries to see the positives of the situation. Leading her to orchestrate an optimistic first day of school and repress Sadness by placing her in a circle.
Things take a turn when Sadness makes Riley cry in the middle of class. Creating a core memory that Joy tries to get rid of. Leading to an unfortunate series of events where the very unlikely Pixar duo Joy & Sadness end up away from headquarters with Riley’s core memories. Leaving Anger, Fear, and Disgust as the only emotions in Riley’s head. As Riley grows more and more despondent, she starts to lose each of her personality traits one by one. Probably the funniest joke is seeing all the emotions inside Mom and Dad’s heads as they try to talk to Riley over diner. Joy & Sadness are complete opposites, but Joy tries her best to find common ground. They trek through Long Term Memory, which is where all of Riley’s memories are stored (including one containing a Pizza Planet Truck). When memories such as useless facts fade away, mind workers throw them into a memory dump. Except for a catchy ear worm song that they send up just for giggles.
Along the way, Joy & Sadness run into Bing Bong. Riley’s unexpected imaginary friend absent from all marketing. Bing Bong is a cotton candy elephant cat dolphin hobo who cries candy and has the friendly voice of Richard Kind. Although he means well, Bing Bong’s directions aren’t always the best. Joy chooses to listen to Bing Bong instead of Sadness and they nearly end up deconstructed in a bizarre Abstract Thought machine that changes their animation style. They take another shortcut through Imagination Land. A place where anything Riley’s ever imagined lives. The funniest being an imaginary boyfriend generator. They take a literal Train of Thought to headquarters, but it stops as soon as Riley falls asleep. My favorite visual representation are dreams being like a movie production. With mind workers as visually distorted actors and individual dreams being like mini-movies. We can all relate to certain recurring dreams like losing teeth or not having pants.
Joy attempts to wake Riley with joy, but Sadness knows scaring her is the way to go. Phobias reside in our innermost subconscious. It’s there they find the closest thing Inside Out has to a villain. Jangles the Clown scares Riley awake and the train is back on track. Unfortunately, it’s at that time Anger has a terrible idea to have Riley run away from home. Riley’s actions topple the remaining islands and Joy falls into the pit of forgotten memories with Bing Bong. It’s at that moment Joy breaks down with the realization that Riley’s happy memories have a hint of sadness to them. Meaning sadness is what Riley really needs to be feeling. SPOILER ALERT! They find Bing Bong’s song powered rocket cart and Bing Bong bravely sacrifices himself to save Joy. I never had a specific imaginary friend growing up, but I weep everytime Bing Bong fades away forever. Through a series of bizarre circumstances, Joy & Sadness launch themselves back to headquarters.
Leaving Sadness as the only one who can convince Riley not to run away. Leading to the biggest cry imaginable when Riley finally talks about her feelings with her parents and they all hug it out. Inside Out has a beautiful message for kids that it’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Just as long as you have people around who care about you enough to help you get through it. John Ratzenberger voices a mind worker who installs Riley’s new adolescent console, more complex emotional memories are formed, and her personality expands even more. In the end, a perfectly well adjusted Riley runs into a boy hilariously frightened at the sight of a girl and a bunch of other mind’s are explored. Including a teacher, an emo, a popular girl, a bus driver, a clown, a dog, and a cat. Inside Out is a show of emotion guaranteed to give you the feels.