Starring (voices): Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
Rated PG for Mild Thematic Elements and Some Action
No other studio is as reliable as Pixar Animation. Aside from "Toy Story 3" and "Monsters University" (I can't count "Cars" since I fell asleep during the middle of it), they haven't had a misfire, and have two undeniable masterpieces in their cannon ("Finding Nemo," "Brave") and the rest is up there. I think James Berardinelli put it best in his review of "Up:" "Pixar views their films as creative and artistic endeavors; Dreamworks and Fox see theirs as products. With Pixar, it's about the movie. With most other animated features, it's about the marketing."
I think that's why they are so successful (apart from utilizing top talent instead of whoever will sign the dotted line). They tell these stories not because they will make a quick and easy buck, but because they want to tell them. Pixar also encourages filmmakers to take risks. Both of these quotes came from Andrew Stanton, who directed "Finding Nemo," and considering the abomination that was "John Carter," I'm guessing he didn't have that freedom with that piece of garbage.
The premise of "Inside Out," about the activities of the five central emotions in a little girl's head, is so abstract that I was wondering how anyone thought this could work. It's such a complex and far-out idea that it seems unfilmable. But that hasn't stopped Pete Doctor and his co-director, Ronaldo del Carmen, from trying. The result is not an unqualified success (in fact, compared to the rest of the Pixar canon, it's close to a misfire), but I do think it is worth seeing.
In the world if "Inside Out," every person has five emotions in their brain: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust. They guide the actions of the person they inhabit. In the mind of Riley (Dias), the leader is Joy (Poehler), who has made it her mission to keep Riley happy, and that means actively preventing the other emotions from taking over (or failing that, solving the problems as quickly as possible). However, Sadness (Smith) is getting in the way, and a fight over one of Riley's core memories (which govern her personality), leads them to get sucked out of the Control Room and go deep into Riley's memory storage. Now, they must find a way back before Riley becomes unable to deal with her new life in San Francisco.
"Inside Out" at times has the sensibilities of an art film. While "Wall-E" certainly raised questions of whether or not children (Pixar's core audience), would connect to such a film (which its massive box office numbers definitively answered), "Inside Out" is even more out there. It's not necessarily difficult, just more intellectually demanding than you'd expect.
Part of the reason the film works is that the actors are perfectly cast. Amy Poehler tones down her snark and makes Joy into an effervescent and appealing character. No one does downbeat insecurity like Phyllis Smith, so her casting is perfect, as is Lewis Black as Anger. Mindy Kaling and Bill Hader round out the emotions as Disgust and Fear respectively. Of those, only Smith and Black are recognizable, and that's a good thing because in all cases it helps with their performances. Kaitlyn Dias makes for a good pre-adolescent, but due to the nature of the script, she doesn't have a lot of screen time. Ditto for Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane, although all are effective.
"Inside Out" never stops inventing itself. There's always a new twist or new adventure around the corner, and while that's appealing from a storytelling perspective, it makes it hard to get involved in the story. That's doubly true with so many characters and so much going on. Narrowing the focus a little would have helped the film immeasurably. The rules of how all of this works are also on the fuzzy side, which makes it a little difficult to buy into the film's world.
Nevertheless, "Inside Out" manages to entertain. It is by turns amusing, suspenseful and poignant. I'm okay with that.
Note: "Lava," the opening cartoon that precedes the film, is dull and irritating. I recommend coming in a little late so you'll miss it.