Mark Reviews Movies

Inside Out (2015)


4 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Pete Docter

Cast: The voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan

MPAA Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and some action)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 6/19/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 18, 2015

With its opening scene, Inside Out announces itself as something special. A newborn baby girl, swaddled in a blanket, opens her eyes for the first time. We next see inside her mind—her "head," as the film calls it. It is an empty space of pure white, save for the window through which the girl's mind perceives the outside world. Out of that nothingness erupts a bright, yellow light. It's the spark of consciousness—the ability for a person to comprehend what the person experiences on the physiological levels of sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch.

For this infant, the sight of her parents seems to will consciousness into existence, and it takes the form of a shimmering yellow being with blue hair and an unceasing ability to see the best in every situation. It's her first emotion: joy or, better, Joy. That is not only the entity's name but also a feeling of such tremendous significance that it must be capitalized.

Another light flashes. A tiny ball like a yellow marble rolls down a ramp to the center of the space. Within that sphere is the image of the baby's parents looking down at their first child with unconditional love.

It's a memory. We know the girl won't be able recall this particular memory at will, but it's there nonetheless. It exists beyond memory. It's a sort of knowledge. She knows—in this instant and for the rest of her life—that her parents love her. That will become an engrained part of who she is—a "core memory," as the film calls it, that will help to form her personality.

There's a flood of feelings and sensations that the opening scene unleashes, and perhaps the most notable and persistent one is the feeling of how right the scene is. If we ever figure out how the human brain works, we will still only be cracking the surface of the human mind or consciousness or, if one wants to put it in the film's terms, the inside of a person's head. We know it exists, because we experience it almost every moment of every day. We can put it into words, but even those words are the products of how our mind perceives itself. It's one of the great mysteries of life and human existence, and here is a film uses that mystery as a springboard to leap at the possibilities, grasp at them, and take hold.

What daring this film possesses. With what imagination it envisions the unknowable. With what mastery of tone it alternates between creative playfulness, thoughtful considerations of how the mind works, and earnest concern for the characters—of the human and emotional varieties—at the heart of this story. Co-writer/director Pete Docter's computer-animated film suggests greatness at the start and follows through on that promise.

Joy (voice of Amy Poehler) is only the first emotion to be felt by Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias), the girl in whose head we spend a good portion of the film. There's also the teardrop-shaped Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith), the wiry Fear (voice of Bill Hader), the fashionably green Disgust (voice of Mindy Kaling), and the stout, fiery Anger (voice of Lewis Black). In the headquarters of Riley's mind, the emotions vie for control of the panel that instigates the girl's emotional responses. As she grows up, Riley's personality forms as islands around the headquarters—her sense of family and honesty, her love of hockey, and her tendency to be a bit of a goofball.

The plot sees an 11-year-old Riley and her parents (voices of Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) moving from Minnesota to San Francisco on account of dad's job. Reality sets in as Riley and the emotions realize that something is amiss. Fear makes a list of disasters that could happen on her first day of school, while Disgust can't stand that Riley's new bedroom is in the attic of the family's new house. Anger starts to get a little short with Riley's father (which, in a particularly funny scene, brings us inside the mind of each of her parents), and Sadness seems possessed in the way it wants to take over every action and tints newly created memories with melancholy blue.

Eventually, something goes wrong with Riley's core memories. Joy and Sadness become lost among the shelves of Riley's long-term memories, where devious workers decide which memories to dispose of and when to send the jingle from an old commercial to the forefront of Riley's mind. The remaining emotions are uncertain of how to react. There are stretches in which Riley is incapable of experiencing any kind of emotion. The Islands of Personality, powered by the core memories, start to fade and collapse into the pit where forgotten things go to evaporate into nothingness.

Read these events as a study of confused girl dealing with things beyond her control, or see it as an examination of the onset of depression. The film works either way and in an assortment of others, and that's because Docter, co-director Ronaldo Del Carmen, and co-screenwriters Meg LaFauve and Josh Cooley establish a tangible dynamic between Riley, the situations she encounters, and the emotions in her head. They work in tandem in such a way that it's uncertain which aspect is controlling the others.

That's the mystery of the mind. Are we the product of circumstances? How much control do we have over our emotions and vice versa? This is a film that doesn't care to answer such queries, but it is one that's clearly enraptured with the possibilities presented in those questions.

We travel through Riley's mind, from the tunnel where abstract thoughts are deconstructed (represented through abstract art—objects and characters becoming increasingly reduced versions of themselves) to the imaginary constructions of her youth, which are being demolished to make room for more mature things (such as an imaginary boyfriend who lives where all such creations reside). Joy, Sadness, and Riley's imaginary friend Bing Bong (voice of Richard Kind), a creature made of cotton candy with the face of an elephant and the tail of cat (who cries candy, of course), take a ride on Riley's Train of Thought to return the core memories to the headquarters. This comes after visiting her subconscious, where a giant clown awaits to haunt her nightmares, and the Hollywood-styled studio where her dreams are produced.

The film's capacity for such inventions seems limitless. It keeps surprising us not only with the specificity of its ideas but also with the way it turns Riley's mind into a living, functioning place. We get to know how it operates, and hence, we end up knowing Riley, through her mind and its inhabitants, with an unexpected degree of empathy. By the end of the film, we want to continue with her in her emotional development (Rarely does a film demand a sequel, but such is the case here).

This is a marvelous film, brimming with humor and understanding. Inside Out is a unique, enthralling creation of boundless energy and inspiration.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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