Pixar has created something truly special with Inside Out, the studio’s latest feature film and 15th in 20 years. For awhile there, it seemed as if their best work was behind them. But I could not be happier to say that is definitely not the case. Their most wildly original idea to date, it’s not just a great Pixar film. It’s one of the very best animated movies ever made.
Inside Out is the story of Riley, an 11-year-old only child whose family relocates from Minnesota to San Francisco, and the personified emotions who live in her head: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). From the control center in her mind, the emotions work together to guide Riley through this tumultuous time in her life, which includes adjusting to a new school, a dumpy old house, and a father preoccupied by his work.
It’s a fascinating conceit, but I was worried the movie would struggle to find ways to insert agency for the characters into the story. Fortunately, the fine storytellers at Pixar were always one step ahead of me, moving the plot in directions I didn’t see coming. It’s hilarious and more clever than it has any right to be, but it also boasts some major emotional payoff at critical points. There are multiple instances where the kiddies might have to ask daddy why he’s laughing (or crying) so hard.
After a string of visually uninspired movies from the iconic animation studio, this one stands as maybe their most impressive achievement to date. There’s plenty of eye candy for children and adults alike to feast on. You’re probably well aware, but the human mind is a peculiar and rather dense place. The movie does a fantastic job of taking these idiosyncrasies and conceptualizing them in a way that’s impressive, but more importantly, fun. Vibrant colors pop off the screen, and there’s always something amusing and wondrous just around the corner to dazzle the audience next.
Inside Out conveys complex human emotions in a way that’s palatable for children to understand, but also poignant for adults. During one of the film’s most emotional moments, I heard quiet sobbing coming from the seat directly behind me. It was a young boy, and I overheard his father lean in and whisper, “It’s okay to be sad.” And you know what? The father was crying, too. And me. A lot. Sadness, as painful as it can be, is not only unavoidable but vital to our lives. It’s every bit as important as joy and all the other facets of our personalities, and it’s how those emotions mesh together that defines who we are, and who we become.
These characters, and this movie as a whole, will hopefully help children talk through complicated feelings that bring a lot of confusion into their lives. That’s an impact you don’t see very often from movies, let alone one marketed to kids. Is it the best Pixar movie to date? I think so. But you can decide on your own. Bring your kids, your significant other, your siblings, your friends, your pets, your pastor. Nobody should miss this movie.