Movie Review: Inside Out

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When a young girl moves cities, her emotions struggle to cope with the change.

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Pete Docter & Ronaldo del Carmen, 2015

Eleven-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) has lived in Minnesota her whole life, but she’s excited about moving to San Francisco with her parents. This is largely because of the emotions that live in her mind. Joy (Amy Poehler) is used to getting her way up there, dominating the other emotions with aggressive positivity. She gets her way with most of them, but Sadness (Phyllis Smith) proves a puzzle. When the move to a run-down, empty home without any of Riley’s possessions, a new school, and pressure from her parents start getting to Riley, the emotions become increasingly flustered – and Sadness starts acting up. An accident causes Joy and Sadness to get ejected from central command and lost in the world of Riley’s brain. With Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) running the show, Riley’s new life just got a whole lot tougher.

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Okay, let’s get this out of the way first up: I’m not as enamoured with Inside Out as most people seem to be. For a movie about emotions, I found it oddly unaffecting. There’s an extraordinarily complex world being built here, one that’s a lot deeper and more personal than those of films “what if x was real” Pixar films like Toy Story and Monsters Inc, because it exists inside each and every one of us. The areas of Riley’s brain are clearly very thoughtfully planned, and each of them intrigues, but the stars of the show are the emotions. By nature, these have to ring true, and this is where I had a problem. In Inside Out, while our main character is ostensibly Riley, she has absolutely no agency. Her emotions are in the drivers’ seat, and Riley is simply their vehicle. She reacts according to their decisions, rather than the other way around. While this gives children a vocabulary for how to describe their feelings, it means that Riley’s identity is wrapped up entirely in how her emotions respond to things that happen to her. It’s clever, but ultimately unfulfilling.

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I usually share one poster, but man, this French one is SO GREAT, I HAD to use it.

Having said that, Inside Out is a well-made movie. To start with, it looks gorgeous. The visualisation of the inside of our minds is inventive, attractive, and fascinating; it seems like only the tip of the iceberg, even though the film covers emotions, dreams, memories, abstract thought, and imagination. I was constantly intrigued by the mechanics of the world (do the emotions have their own emotions in their minds? Why are some of Riley’s emotions male, when we don’t see that in any other characters? For that matter, who don’t any of Riley’s emotions look like her, when other people’s do? Are all our emotions caused by mind accidents, rather than what’s actually going on around us? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?). There are a lot of sweet moments in the film, too. Sadness is particularly weird and wonderful, and Mindy Kaling is perfect as Disgust, whose design is fabulous. There are a few weird plot holes, but for the most part the story moves well. Richard Kind voices a really fun, sweet character. The folks at Pixar are masters of storytelling, but this time they may have simply bitten off more than they could chew.

Inside Out on IMDb

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