CINEMA by Symeon J. ThompsonNews Weekly
Inside Out is a thoughtful emotional roller-coaster
, July 4, 2015
“Do you ever look at someone and wonder what is going on inside their head?”
Riley’s emotions in conflict
Answering this question is the premise for Disney Pixar’s newest computer animated film, the clever and compelling Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen. In doing so the film elegantly explores a simple yet sophisticated idea: the role emotions play in our lives and why they all matter.
The film is about Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), a tomboyish, hockey-loving 11-year-old girl whose family has moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, and the inner tumult that goes with that move.
The film opens with Riley’s birth, and the appearance, inside her head, of her primary emotion, Joy (Amy Poehler), a yellow-tinted Tinkerbell-like sprite with a blue pageboy haircut. Joy dominates and tries to guide Riley to be always happy.
Joy is soon joined by other emotions: Sadness (Phyllis Smith), a short, blue, bespectacled, sweater-wearing girl; Fear (Bill Hader), a lanky, purple, anxious nerd whose role is to keep Riley out of danger; Disgust (Mindy Kaling), a chic, green “cool girl / mean girl” who keeps Riley from being poisoned; and Anger (Lewis Black), a short, red, square, rage machine who shoots fire from his head when he gets going. The emotions guide Riley’s life, influencing her choices and actions, from “Headquarters” – a sci-fi-like control centre that represents her conscious mind.
Every memory Riley has becomes a glowing sphere, coloured according to the emotion associated with it. When she sleeps these memories are sent to long-term storage – apart from the core memories, those memories that are key to Riley’s understanding of herself. These memories power different “Islands”, representing the different parts of the personality.
The family has moved to San Francisco because Riley’s father (Kyle McLachlan) has gotten a new job there. Her mother (Diane Lane) manages the decrepit house they end up in, while Riley tries to cope.
One day, when Riley starts at a new school, Sadness touches a happy memory, turning it into a sad one; so affecting Riley that she ends up with a core sad memory. When Joy tries to stop it, she and Sadness are sucked into a memory tube and dumped into “Long-term Memory”, where all of Riley’s memories are stored.
Confusion now reigns in Riley, as Fear, Anger and Disgust try to run the show, while Joy and Sadness try to make their way back. As they try to return via “The Train of Thought” they go through such places as “Imagination-Land”, a place of fantasy; “Dream Productions”, a production studio; and the “Subconscious”, where “they take all the troublemakers”.
Docter is the man behind the clever Monsters Inc (2001) and the heart-wrenching Up (2009). He has said that he was inspired by his own experiences growing up, as well as watching his daughter as she grew.
Another inspiration was Disney’s 1943 propaganda cartoon, Reason and Emotion (available on YouTube); but more than this, Walt’s instruction: “For every smile, a tear”.
This led to the idea of making a film not just about growing up, but about what happens in one’s inner world as one grows up. Docter and his co-creators consulted neuroscientists and psychologists, and then simplified and creatively presented what they had learnt.
The result is astonishingly rich and vibrant, while still being simple and elegant. The computer-animated visuals are rich and exciting and playful, cleverly portraying complex concepts in a way that makes them easy to understand – at least for the grown-ups who see the film.
The kids will likely marvel at the adventure, and while they won’t get all of it – there’s even a Chinatown reference – they should get the key to it.
The core of Inside Out is the importance of all of one’s emotions. Throughout the film Joy tries to limit Sadness’ role and keep her out – going so far as to draw a circle for her and telling her to stay inside it. But this isn’t healthy, or human. Life is a many-sided thing, and there is a “time to every purpose under the heaven”, as the Byrds sang, drawing on Ecclesiastes.
This is a film about catharsis, about the necessity of giving one’s self the time and space to feel. It is not about letting one’s emotions run riot, but about giving them their due.
More, it is about how our emotions, all of them, connect us in deep and fundamental ways, and how they make the bonds that bind us to one another.
Inside Out is a beautiful and clever film, one that deserves to be seen and reflected upon.
Note: Screening just before Inside Out is the beautiful short Lava, a little Hawaiian-themed gem about love and longing starring volcanoes that is well worth catching.
Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).