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Inside Out review – a buoyant and sweet-natured comedy from Pixar
While it might not challenge their greatest films, this is a smart and visually inventive piece of entertainment
Monday 18 May 2015 13.18 BST
ete Docter’s new animation, Inside Out, does not deliver that shock of the new that was so stunning in the Pixar heyday of the last decade — all the dazzling technical spectacle of detail, colour and light that had us gobsmacked, and which we now take utterly for granted. This movie is a sweet-natured coming-of-age comedy, a kind of tween-transition crisis, though with a fundamentally sunny, Disneyfied worldview. It hasn’t anything as genuinely emotionally devastating as Up, or the subtlety and inspired subversion of Monsters Inc and the Toy Stories, which it certainly resembles at various stages. But it is certainly a terrifically likeable, ebullient and seductive piece of entertainment, taken at full throttle. There is that sheen of pure professionalism that I associate with its executive producer and presiding deity, John Lasseter
Like the earlier movies, Inside Out is about the secret imaginary quasi-adult figures who are the unseen, unsung guardian angels for kids. Riley (voiced by Kaitlin Dyas) is an 11-year-old girl who has had to leave behind all her friends in Minnesota when her parents move to San Francisco, where her dad is precariously setting up as an entrepreneur. But the move is making her depressed in ways that her parents have not fully appreciated — we appreciate it, because we are taken inside the mission control headquarters of Riley’s mind, perhaps a very U-certificate version of a similar idea in Woody Allen’s sketch for Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex. Riley, like every other human being and indeed animal, is controlled by five different mood-entities: the upbeat Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), the cringing Fear (Bill Hader), the ferocious Anger (Lewis Black), the fastidious Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and the miserable Sadness (Phyllis Smith).
They are in charge of creating glowing little memory balls which are stored in the control suite for the day and then, when Riley goes to sleep, dispatched to be warehoused off site with all the other long-term memories. This infinite memory-ball library is situated in a huge, Daliesque alien-planet landscape, which includes vast identity islands symbolising various aspects of her personality: honesty, love of family, etc. It all runs perfectly until Riley spirals into unhappiness: Joy and Sadness somehow become locked out of the command centre, leaving Riley in a disastrous state of emotional illiteracy and confusion. Her identity islands of childhood are crumbling and Docter shows that it is a cross between a Three Mile Island meltdown and a bad LSD trip.
As ever, with this kind of symbolism, there is potential confusion. When these mood-entities are effectively humans themselves, what does it mean in terms of drama or logic when Anger calms down, or when Joy becomes sad, or when Sadness cheers up? Well, of course, you just have to go with it, as it all part of the general lesson that Sadness is actually important: the primacy of Joy at the controls could be a problem. Unless Sadness is acknowledged and is permitted to take the wheel, there can be no happiness and no growing up.
It is tremendously buoyant and watchable, with some great visual invention. There is not much in the way of irony: Inside Out does not want to send itself up, except right at the end in the wacky gag-reel over the closing credits, as Docter unleashes a torrent of jokes which seem to have been pent up over the previous hour and a half. No great leap forward, this: but slick, smart and funny.