A new Pixar film is always serious business. The studio which hit an almost unprecedented string of stunning films; starting with the groundbreaking Toy Story (1995) until arguably 2010 with Toy Story 3. Since then, we’ve been gifted Cars 2 (2011), Brave (2012) and Monsters University (2013), which even the most ardent Pixar fan will concede as lesser output. However its latest, Inside Out is quite possibly their crowning achievement.
Set across two worlds, one within the 11-year old Riley Anderson’s mind and the outside world, the central narrative is simple: Riley and her parents have moved from Minnesota to San Francisco as her Father is setting up a new business venture, leaving Riley to settle in. This causes a huge shift within Riley’s mind where her process is controlled by a central console by five personified emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phylis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling).
The central concept inside Riley’s mind is the building of her ‘core memories’ that begin to build islands that contribute to her personality (for example, a hockey memory is core which leads to hockey island). After the creation of a sad core memory, Joy and Sadness end up being sucked out of head quarters and into the long term memory sector, leaving Anger, Disgust and Fear in charge of Riley as she is beginning to settle in to her new life in San Francisco. With the personality change that ensues, Riley begins to act like a completely different person.
One of the genius aspects of the film is that outside her head, Riley is shown in situations that everybody can empathise with – the car journey to her new house, her first day in school, hockey try-outs – however it’s the way the emotions play off each other inside her head which makes the heart of the film. This is where the film demonstrates exactly how funny it is, by taking the moments we all know and showing how we react both on the inside and the outside.
As with Pixar at its greatest, the humour works perfectly alongside a level of profundity and depth. At one moment we’re laughing with Anger as he loses his temper, the next we’re gazing at childhood memories as they’re slowly fading – this is where the film stands toe to toe with the greats. The execution of such a brilliant concept is outstanding and complex yet easily accessible and not too clever for its own good.
There are several areas within the mind that we explore – including a beautiful lampooning of the Hollywood studio system as Dream Productions – which serve as great plot devices whilst also giving greater insight into Riley and her process of adapting to her new surroundings.
With all this being said, even within the constructs of Riley’s mind, there are many ideas we’ve been shown before by Pixar such as a journey back to where the characters belong, the daily slog of working, making sure that a child’s world is as pure and happy as possible. Not only by putting these through a new filter but in their execution, the film never feels like retreading old ground or rehashing old jokes.
To pick on one key strength to the film it is the universality of its emotion. I am not, nor will ever be an 11 year old girl who moved away from my friends but it is the representation of emotions and the different reactions of the mind that are instantly recognisable. At their absolute peak, Pixar have had the ability to make you laugh and cry within seconds of each other – always balancing the heart and humour of their films. By combining these with beautifully balanced storytelling and perfectly rendered animation, Pixar is back – possibly better than ever.