Inside Out

This film is brilliant, in every sense of the word. More than ever this is one to see in standard 2D because you don’t want the colours to be dulled but even if you are watching it through dark glasses nothing can take the edge off how smart it all is.

Pixar have long been interested in the transition from youth to adulthood and what you leave behind as you grow up. Toy Story 3, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and Brave all deal with this to some extent or other but they must have thought they were previously being too oblique as Inside Out tackles it full on. The whole thing is explicitly about the mind and motivations of one eleven year old girl. It’s basically Child Psychology: The Movie

The set up is similar to that of comic strip The Numbskulls which featured in various UK comics, including Topper and The Beano, since the 1960s. Whereas that story had the little people inside the person’s head operating their special senses though, here the young protagonist Riley is controlled by anthropomorphic representations of her emotions; Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. These five characters operate a console in a tower in the middle of their girl’s psyche. They may be housed in her brain, they may be in her consciousness, they may even be in her sole, it isn’t clear. It doesn’t really matter. They are inside her somewhere and it is a place where metaphor and neurology meet in a spectacular, vibrant way.

The world of the human mind is explored far beyond this control centre too. At one point odd couple Joy and Sadness suddenly find themselves lost in Riley’s memory banks which is made up of shelves and shelves of tiny coloured glass balls like a harlequin version of the monochrome hall of prophesies in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. To get back they need to cross a chasm of lost ideas via the islands of personality. Unfortunately Riley’s emotional instability, partially caused by the absence of Joy make this an unpredictable and shaky landscape. As some of the infrastructure crumbles and our heroes stand on the borders of the little girl’s depression, trying not to get stuck in the subconscious it is in some ways reminiscent of Inception, a film with which this shares some thematic similarities. The bit where they take a short cut through abstract thought is both ingenious and scary and the moment when they mix up crates of facts and opinions and find them hard to separate is genius. It’s like Alice in Wonderland written by Sigmund Freud.

Of course any number of animated films give us mismatched couples on a quest in rainbow fantasy lands. What sets Inside Out apart is the way it contrasts this with Riley’s life in the real world. Pixar have never shied away from the upsetting realities of human existence with Up’s concentration on mortality and Wall-E’s environmental warning standing as the best examples of this. The story here has Riley and her family moving from Minnesota to San Fransisco leaving the young girl’s friends, hobbies and security behind. As a result her happiness begins to ebb away and she slips into real despair. The stakes here are far bigger than some cartoony characters trying to get home; a fragile preteen is slowly losing everything that makes her who she is at the precise point she should be developing into the woman she will become. This whole aspect of the film is moving and very well observed. Parents will be able to relate to it as will anyone who has ever been a kid themselves. With this Inside Out does more than entertain, it makes you think about your own psychology. It isn’t overstating it to say that this film could genuinely help children understand their own emotions and for those facing their own heartbreak watching it could be very important.

Is this one for the kids? 

The best family movies appeal to audiences of all ages without having to rely on the occasional placement of knowing gags for the grown ups. Inside Out manages this with style. The Ghibli films do it with simple strength of story but here things are layered in a way that will allow different people to view the narrative in very different ways. Your response to this movie will depend on your age, your gender and your experiences but no matter your situation that response will be good.

The film is rated U so there is little to alarm a young audience. More mature viewers, on the other hand, may find some of it painfully bittersweet.

The Ripley Factor:

Riley is a young girl and Joy, Sadness and Disgust are all female so this is not a film without women at its centre. It is possible to debate the appropriateness of the emotion’s gender allocation (Anger and Fear are both guys) but I don’t really think there is much to worry about there. More problematic is the opposing physicalities of the two main players. This is not something that occurred to me while watching the film but having had it suggested by someone else I can see the issue. The problem is that Joy is slim with a pixie cut while Sadness is short and dumpy with glasses. It is rare enough for women who aren’t shaped like Disney Princesses to be presented as positive role models in Hollywood, now it seems that extends to animation too [sic].

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