‘Inside Out’ is fun for all ages

Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, and Mindy Kaling in Inside Out (2015)

Inside Out (2015)

Directed by Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen

7.5/10  PG

“Inside Out” is Pixar at its most revolutionary. But it’s also their most complex feature to date—maybe even too mature for the young demographic they aim to entertain.

Eleven-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) are uprooted from their happy Minnesota home to the West coast when dad gets a new job in San Francisco. The emotions in Riley’s head—Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling)—have to cope with her new house, new school, and new life, but grief slowly begins to take over. Together, Joy and Sadness will have to team up to make Riley feel like her old self.

Casting “Inside Out” must have posed its own interesting scenario—the pressure was on to find actors worthy of representing emotions, not just characters. Amy Poehler is the team’s dauntless leader, a fittingly quirky and upbeat Joy. Phyllis Smith, in her first role as a voice talent, encapsulates everything that Sadness needs to be—she allows the character to remain likable, like a female Eeyore. Lewis Black is also not known for lending his voice to big-screen characters, but his anger was a hilarious addition. Even Richard Kind, playing Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (a pink cotton candy elephant-dog), is the best guy for the role.

Richard Kind and Phyllis Smith in Inside Out (2015)

A story this inventive could have only come from the mind of someone like writer/director Pete Docter, the man behind “Monster’s Inc.” and “Up.” “Inside Out” gracefully handles the difficult concept of depression in a way that children might be able to grasp. The message, in essence, is that no single emotion can do it alone. It’s okay to be angry or sad sometimes. The script isn’t without flaw, but kudos to the writing team for explaining emotions as both abstract concepts and cognitive functions. This is not the typical Pixar script. It can be funny, but more often it’s insightful. But what might have been a chance for Pixar to focus on animation—the emotions have to make their way through Riley’s imagination, her memories, and her dreams—seems like a missed opportunity, at least aesthetically. “Inside Out” is by no means unattractive, but it’s relatively plain by Pixar standards. Instead, the focus remains on the story and the characters.

“Inside Out” is easily Pixar’s best feature since “Toy Story 3.” It’s an ambitious project that focuses more on story than animation—and I’m not mad about that.

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