If you are in search of a family film to watch at home this festive season, look no further than Inside Out. Pixar reminds audiences of what it does best with this Golden Globe-nominated animation, a heartstrings-tugging and dazzling story about growing up and the ‘little voices’ in our head.
Writer-director Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up) imagines the human brain as a sort of mission control centre run by figures that are the personification of key emotions. These are Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear. Together they work to gauge reactions to events and surroundings, build the personality of the body they inhabit and oversee the storage of core memories.
Inside Out’s action takes place primarily in the mind of 11-year-old Riley (voiced by Kaitlin Dyas). She is a jubilant only child with a passion for ice hockey and goofy behaviour. However, her peaceful life in suburban Minnesota is suddenly disrupted when her loving parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) pack up the household and move to a slightly run-down corner of San Francisco, where her father is trying to launch a company. The upheaval causes Riley to spiral into unhappiness, a feeling that has not had much traction before.
Up to this point, Riley’s behaviour has been dominated by the relentlessly optimistic Joy (an ebullient Amy Poehler in Parks & Recreation Leslie Knope form), with snippets of Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The latter is obviously a buzzkill and is usually left to wallow alone. But despite Joy’s efforts to boost morale in San Francisco, Sadness begins to accidentally touch buttons and colour previously fond memories, causing Riley’s mood to worsen.
An incident sees Joy and Sadness locked out of headquarters, forcing them to embark on a mission in the recesses of Riley’s subconscious, which appears to be a cross between a NASA operations room and a huge fairground. The pair even come across Riley’s long forgotten imaginary friend, an elephant-shaped cotton candy creature called Bing Bong (the always excellent Richard Kind).
Adults will immediately spot the message of Inside Out: human emotions are complex and often difficult to navigate, particularly when puberty kicks in. Sometimes it is okay to feel melancholic and happy recollections can be tinged with sorrow or seem bittersweet. Although the premise sounds mawkishly sentimental, Docter and his team make this film genuinely funny, clever and delightful. As to be expected from Pixar, the visuals are gorgeous and vibrant, especially the rainbow-hued emotions.
The ace animation is coupled with superb voicework from the cast, many of whom are alumni of Saturday Night Live and the US version of The Office.
With Inside Out, the award-winning studio behind Finding Nemo, Toy Story and The Incredibles proves it can certainly create magic when all engines are firing.
Inside Out is available on DVD now.