The next time I get worked up and shout pointlessly and uselessly in the direction of my children I’ll know that it was fireheaded red worker inside my head that made me do it. So will they. The three of us made our way to a Sunday afternoon showing because it was raining and the park was out. We emerged from the cinema with memories but whether they are happy or sad, or will be forgotten along the way, who knows. What is certain is that Inside Out is one of Pixar’s strongest non-sequel offerings in years and that, like all great films from that studio, it is both a defiantly enjoyable kids’ film but also one that has a lot to say for adults as well.
Riley is a midwestern girl who likes ice hockey and her family. She’s 11 and happy. But one day her family ups from the wide open Minnesota spaces and heads to a surprisingly bleak and angry San Francisco. Inside Riley’s head her emotions are led by the perma-happy Joy who fights to keep the memories and personality glowing yellow as around her Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear just fight to keep up. But it all goes wrong – not just for Riley in the ‘real’ world as school goes badly and her parents squabble, but in her head as Joy and Sadness get blasted away from the emotional control leaving her with just Distrust, Anger and Fear.
There are multiple stories going on. Joy (Amy Poehler, genius) and Sadness must make their way through the disparate territories of Riley’s mind; Distrust, Anger and Fear must try to keep together an 11 year old girl who is losing her happiness, imagination and reason for being; and that 11 year old must cope with being in a new city where they put broccoli on the pizzas. The scale of the film is vast but credit to the storytelling and direction it is never overwhelming. There’s a lot to get across whilst keeping everyone on board – and Inside Out manages it with ease.
It’s rare that a film is genuinely wise and funny. Inside Out most definitely is. It recognises, as the characters in the film come to acknowledge, that living is not just about Joy but about Sadness too. If that sound trite then that’s why Pixar have made a feature length film about it rather than leaving it to me to write in a tweet-length sentence. Being Pixar there are so many excellent supporting characters – the imaginary friend from Riley’s early years makes an appearance that will sustain whole PhD theses in years to come – and sight gags that you almost immediately want to see the film again. As per usual, the end credits contain some of the funniest material. I can only say that that’s exactly what I expect to see inside a clown’s head.
Other people have written at length about why this is a great film. I can only concur. Inside Out is a brilliant piece of cinema. It will fill you with Joy. But also Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. And that’s how it should be.