Directed by Pete Docter (2015)
Several years ago, when we accepted the inevitability that my son would eventually age out of Pixar films, my wife and I pledged that we’d continue attending each and every one of them, whether our kid wanted to or not. I think they’re among the most immersive and enrapturing “total film” experiences available, and I say this as someone who doesn’t cotton much to either animation nor to children’s movies of any kind. I’m happy to discuss my Pixar favorites – and why they’re my favorites – with anyone who’ll listen: “Wall-E”, “Monsters Inc.”, the first and third “Toy Story”, and now, my very favorite of all: “Inside Out”.
This one really got a lot of adults (and children nestled in the sweet spot of just-pre-adolescence) right where they live. Pixar has inherited and in many ways surpassed the creative magic and whimsy of Disney himself in many of their films, and this one has me nearly agape at how phenomenally they conjectured their team of animated core “emotions” that control a pre-teen’s inner life: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. Behind the scenes and in the brain of our heroine, a recently-uprooted Minnesotan girl named Riley relocated to San Francisco, our team struggles to help her hold onto her childhood memories while helping her negotiate the perils of near-adolescence. It’s rough work, and naturally many pitfalls and pratfalls ensue.
“Inside Out” vaulted to the top of my all-time Pixar chart because I’ve never seen a children’s movie pack this much emotional punch into 90 minutes, while also being humorous and goofy enough for the little ones & slyly conversational for any of their more clued-in parents. It operates on many levels, and only the best kids’ movies can truly do this in a way where everyone walks out not just satisfied, but truly overjoyed and emboldened to discuss & dissect the film. The voice casting is perfect – Amy Poehler as “Joy” and Phyllis Smith (from the American “Office”!) as “Sadness” couldn’t be better. I know this is a site that purports to study cool, obscure & inventive film from the past several decades, but filmgoers won’t get much more in the way of an “advance” in storytelling or conception than this one – so why should we pretend otherwise?