Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 94 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 8+. The Pixar film is about the emotions running the mind of an 11-year-old, and her emotional ups and downs after a family move. The film is set inside her mind and some of the jokes about abstract thought and the subconscious might go over children’s heads, there is some scary dream imagery with a dog split into two and a creepy clown; an implied joke about the homosexual heritage of San Francisco; the suggestions of romantic crushes and schoolyard bullying, but not their actual inclusion; and the death of a character, which will absolutely wreck you.
Pixar returns to original ideas with ‘Inside Out,’ a fantastically creative and deeply emotional film. It makes a strong case for the best animated movie of the year.
By Roxana Hadadi
Pixar movies are often defined by two emotions, joy and sadness, so perhaps it’s self-awareness from the animation studio that its latest film, “Inside Out,” is focused on the personified versions of those feelings. And what a great film it is: “Inside Out” is undoubtedly the best animated release of the year so far, full of sincerity, empathy, humor, and gentleness, perfectly tuned for parents and children alike.
Well, children of a certain age. The young girl at the center of the film, Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), is 11 years old, and that’s probably how old children should be to see “Inside Out” and truly get it. Its focus on the mind is simultaneously detailed but light-hearted, and while parents will understand jokes about abstract thought and the subconscious, older children might, and younger children certainly will not. At a recent press screening, most children younger than about 8 years old seemed to focus on the bright colors and wonderful animation of “Inside Out,” but become confused by or check out of the plot; they’re not going to get it. This is one for the older kids.
The film focuses on Riley and the five emotions responsible for her feelings and personality, who are led by Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler, of “They Came Together”), a zanily energetic sprite of a thing who sprinkles like a star. She, along with Fear (voiced by Bill Hader, of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2”), Disgust (voiced by Mindy Kaling, of “This is the End”), Anger (voiced by Lewis Black), and Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith, of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked”), are responsible for all of Riley’s feelings, behaviors, and choices, and their decisions create Riley’s core memories and her “islands” of personality.
At the beginning of the film, Riley is defined by her love for her family and friends, her passion for hockey, her goofiness, and her honesty, and Joy wants to keep her happy by limiting the influence of Sadness on her life. But when Riley and her family move from Minneapolis to San Francisco, her routines are upended and her personality changes—worsened when Joy and Sadness accidentally get lost in Riley’s mind. If they don’t find their way through her long-term memory, imagination, subconscious, and dreams, then her personality will be lost forever. And with Fear, Disgust, and Anger influencing Riley while Joy and Sadness are lost, there’s potential for disaster with every decision they make.
The most important relationship in the film is between Joy and Sadness, with the former first rejecting the latter (“I’m not actually sure what she does,” Joy snarks of Sadness) until she realizes how intimately they are linked, and how that understanding develops is a nice narrative journey for the film. No one wants to be sad, but the purpose sadness serves is an important one for our growth and our understanding of ourselves, and it’s nice to see that played out onscreen.
Plus, the characterizations of the feelings and how they interact with each other will be good starting points for conversation within families after viewing the film. What emotion understood Riley the best? What if another emotion was the leader, not Joy? What do we think our own emotions would look and act like? Families could dissect those themes for a while.
But “Inside Out” isn’t just insightful; it’s also wonderfully funny—especially when the film cuts to other people’s minds, and how the emotions in them are running things—and beautifully animated, with memories stored like colorful bowling balls and the “islands” of personality depicted like elaborate carnivals.
At one point in “Inside Out,” Joy confidently states, “There’s always a way to turn things around,” and what the film does best is showing how true that statement can be, for a variety of different personalities and people. How “Inside Out” acknowledges and accepts everyone, exactly as they are, is its greatest strength.
Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.